The LA Rams shouldn’t try to forget the last time they played the Dallas Cowboys. Rather, games like that should be front and center as Sean McVay attempts to piece together what went wrong in 2019 and how they can make it right in 2020. And they’re getting a chance to do so early against the Cowboys.
When they were in Dallas last Dec. 15, the Rams lost 44-21 and it truly crushed their playoff aspirations. LA rushed for 22 yards while giving up 263 on the ground. What will happen when the two teams face off again on Sept. 13 during the grand regular season opening of SoFi Stadium on Sunday Night Football?
We can’t answer that now, but a Rams win over a team that consistently underachieved with Jason Garrett and has gifted an undeniably talented roster to Mike McCarthy would immediately tell the NFL world that LA can still compete with NFC contenders. And they’d be avenging one of their painful losses of 2019 on top of that.
Then in Week 2 and Week 3, the Rams take a road trip to face a pair of 2019 playoff teams.
First off it’s the Philadelphia Eagles, who last played LA in 2018 and scored a 30-23 victory in the Coliseum. The Eagles won the NFC East last season practically without a wide receiver on the roster and yet they’re hoping to have DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Marquise Goodwin, and first round pick Jalen Reagor. Philadelphia may also have the league’s best offensive line, a pair of good tight ends, and a defense that now also has Darius Slay and Javon Hargrave.
A 2-0 start would not just be a 2-0 start, but would mean handing losses to two potential competitors for one of the three wild card berths.
Their third and final game of September comes in Orchard Park, New York, to face the Buffalo Bills, a team that went 10-6 and finished second in points allowed last season. Adding Stefon Diggs rightfully got the most attention, but the Bills also signed Mario Addison, a player who has had 39 sacks in the last four years for the Carolina Panthers. Moderate offensive improvements could offset potential defensive regression and many expect Buffalo to be the first team to unseat the Tom Brady-less New England Patriots.
This appears to be a difficult opening three-game stretch for the Rams, but I also don’t think people are yet to anoint any of these three teams as “playoff teams” until we get a bit deeper into the pudding. However, if LA came out of it at 3-0, beyond that being good for the obvious reasons, it also sets them up for a potentially great 8-game start.
Which is going to be key given that the Rams have a second half schedule that for all intents and purposes will serve as the basis for where they finish in the NFC West.
From Week 4-Week 8, the Rams play the Giants, at Washington, at the 49ers, host the Bears, and travel to face the Dolphins. Their bye hits right in the middle of the season and when they return, LA will play five of their six divisional games in the second half. That includes both games against the Seattle Seahawks, both games against the Arizona Cardinals (both of whom have reasonable postseason arguments at the moment), vs the 49ers, at the “Tompa Bay” Bucs, and their two home AFC East games against the Patriots and Jets.
A 7-1 start could be what helps the Rams get to an 11-5 finish if they could survive a brutal second half at 4-4. Or, as is often the case with the NFL, three teams on the schedule who look good are actually bad, three teams who look bad are actually good, and in actuality we have no idea what games will make or break LA’s season.
Practically, they all do that. Psychologically, a 3-0 start vs three teams perceived to be pretty good could be a slight advantage if it erases any doubt about whether or not the Rams are headed for delight or doom.