The 2021 Rams will have way more similarities than differences to the team they were in 2020. I won’t go through the long list of similarities, but it’s easy to point to the one big difference: Matthew Stafford is under/behind center instead of Jared Goff.
That’s the paradigm shift on offense that completely changes how LA will approach every play next season. The Rams went 10-6 last year and they beat four playoff teams, including the Buccaneers, plus a sweep over Arizona in which any Cardinals win would’ve sent them to the postseason.
The schedule for next season was announced on Wednesday and then on YouTube, the team posted their 2020 highlights against teams who they will play again in 2021.
It’s a good idea to re-visit who the Rams will have “rematches” against next season, even though there will be a much different player at quarterback.
Week 1 vs Bears
2020: 24-10 win over the Chicago Bears
It’s another primetime game for LA and Chicago. Last October, the two teams met at SoFi Stadium on a Monday night and the Rams eventually pulled away to lead 24-3 by the fourth quarter. Nick Foles started for the Bears and went 28-of-40 for 261 yards with four sacks taken and two interceptions thrown.
Jared Goff had one of his best games of the year, going 23-of-33 for 220 yards with two touchdowns and a fumble. Josh Reynolds and Gerald Everett, both now with other teams, caught touchdowns. Robert Woods lost a fumble. Allen Robinson caught four of four targets for 70 yards.
The Bears didn’t ditch Foles yet, but they signed Andy Dalton to be the immediate starter and then traded up for Justin Fields to be the long-term answer. I would be surprised if Fields is ready for the NFL next season, let alone by Week 1, so I expect Dalton to be the starter. I also wouldn’t rule out Foles as the backup.
Week 3 vs Bucs
2020: 27-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Another Monday Night Football game from last season, but this time it is not in primetime. It’s interesting that the Rams beat the Bucs — and they never trailed in the second half, maintaining some level of control throughout — and then Tampa Bay looked so dominant after back-to-back 27-24 losses to the Rams and Chiefs.
Could LA have knocked Tom Brady out of the playoffs if they had managed to first knock Aaron Rodgers out?
There are virtually no notable changes to the Bucs roster for next season. They drafted outside linebacker Joe Tryon in the first round.
Week 6 at Giants
2020: 17-9 win over the New York Giants
Probably one of the three toughest defenses that the Rams faced last season. This game was early in the year, when Goff was looking like a transformed version of the player who had struggled in 2019. Cooper Kupp had 69 yards and a touchdown, including 55 yards on one play. Not a lot of offense in this one.
Giants are a tricky team to judge right now. They added Kenny Golladay, drafted receiver Kadarius Toney in the first round, and they expect to get Saquon Barkley back behind Daniel Jones. This should be a much different Giants offense and if Jones is even an average quarterback, you’d think that he’ll find a way to be successful within this personnel grouping.
Much hinges on internal improvement from Jones and the offensive line. New York could be a playoff team next season though.
Week 12 vs Packers
2020: 32-18 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round
Without a healthy Aaron Donald, the Rams struggled to be as dominant defensively as they were in the regular season. Those are the qualities of an MVP. Which is also the reason that the Packers won the game, because of an MVP. Will they have that MVP in 2021?
I gotta say that given what we’ve learned this year, Aaron Rodgers might have actually been jealous of the roster that he helped beat that day.
I don’t overlook, however, that this game was much closer than the score implies and it turned on a couple of questionable penalties and non-penalties thrown around at key moments. Cam Akers went to Lambeau Field for the first time and had 90 yards on only 18 carries, also scoring a touchdown.
As long as Rodgers is around, the Packers won’t be much different than they were last season. Center Corey Linsley went to the LA Chargers and the team drafted cornerback Eric Stokes in the first round.
The NFC West
Home: W 23-16
Road: L 20-9
Playoffs: W 30-20
The Rams split the season series, losing the pivotal game in Week 16 when Goff went 24-of-43 for 234 yards and an interception, also breaking his thumb in the process. It was a close game and then a couple of weeks later, the Rams went back to Seattle and pretty well dominated. The Seahawks are similar to the team they were last season.
Home: L 23-20
Road: L 24-16
It’s been a struggle. Four straight losses to Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers. The Niners traded up to draft Trey Lance, a quarterback I don’t expect to see next year. San Francisco should improve because of players returning from injury, but I won’t overlook Shanahan’s spotty record through four years.
This still hasn’t stopped the 49ers from winning the last four, even when Garoppolo is struggling or out.
Home: W 18-7
Road: W 38-28
I think the Cardinals hopes are pinned on the development of Kyler Murray and if he takes that third-year step forward like Josh Allen. The team added center Rodney Hudson and a healthier offensive line could be an important piece of the puzzle, but Arizona also signed A.J. Green and drafted receiver Rondale Moore. The Cards also signed running back James Conner.
Defensively, J.J. Watt and first round linebacker Zaven Collins are upgrades to a front-seven that gets Chandler Jones back from injury. Will Isaiah Simmons take a leap forward after settling into one position? Arizona went 8-8 and they definitely look improved to me, but isn’t Kliff Kingsbury the clear number four head coach in the division?
Maybe that changes next season.