There’s no question that one of the major stars of the National Football League for the 2021 season is not a player, a coach, an executive, a broadcaster, a journalist, or an owner. This particular NFL darling doesn’t have arms, but it will reach around the world. It won’t score touchdowns, it will showcase them. And it won’t strive to reach the Super Bowl — it already punched its ticket.
On Sept. 12, the NFL will unveil this star to the world (again) on NBC at 5 p.m., Los Angeles time: The all-powerful, all-encompassing, all-five-billion-dollars-worth home of the Rams and Chargers that will for
eversome-amount-of-time be known as SoFi Stadium.
Though the LA Rams played eight home games at SoFi Stadium in 2020, none of those contests had the key ingredient to any successful stadium opening: people. Fans will be able to pour into the stadium for a primetime contest against the Chicago Bears in Week 1 for the first time this season, and that will make the Rams’ home games this year one of the most intriguing football destinations of the moment.
But the Rams will also have to play even more games this season away from SoFi Stadium than at home.
The NFL added a 17th game to the regular season schedule in 2021 and the rules state that this year the AFC will be hosting NFC teams in those contests. In the case of the LA Rams, that means a Week 17 road trip to face the Baltimore Ravens in Maryland. That figures to be a difficult matchup against a team that has gone 30-7 in the regular season since quarterback Lamar Jackson replaced Joe Flacco in 2018, including a 16-4 record at home.
Is this the Rams’ best — a.k.a. most exciting, most intriguing, most important — away game of the season?
The Ravens are a tough draw defensively, Jackson won MVP in 2019, and Baltimore figures to compete to be the top seed in the AFC once again. But LA will have a number of notable away games in 2021 and I don’t think that any of their AFC matchups are important enough to take precedence over key contests within their conference and division.
The Rams open their away schedule on Sept. 19 against the Colts, but Indianapolis has uncertainty at quarterback with Carson Wentz in and out of practices for a number of different reasons through training camp — including foot surgery and landing on the COVID-19 reserve list. Wentz already came with a “warning” label from Philadelphia when the Eagles dealt him to the Colts, so it’s not a given that he will be an upgrade over Philip Rivers.
Los Angeles also has a key Thursday Night Football matchup against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5. That Oct. 7 primetime game could potentially determine an early-season leader in the NFC West and the Rams must circle all their divisional road games on the calendar; win those games and you’ve already checked some “Ws” where you could have had some semi-acceptable “Ls.” But the Seahawks haven’t really proven themselves a worthy opponent against Sean McVay or Aaron Donald yet, so it might not take precedence here.
That’s where a Week 10 Monday Night Football game against the San Francisco 49ers could take priority over that game against Seattle.
The 49ers were only 6-10 last season and have disappointed in three-out-of-four seasons under head coach Kyle Shanahan, but the talent on the roster is undeniable. Not just between the two quarterbacks fighting for playing time, but also with regards to Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Williams, all of whom have all-pro potential or credentials.
Better yet, getting a win over the 49ers in San Francisco means that McVay is making progress in a rivalry that has gone the Bay’s way far too many times recently. The 49ers have won eight of the last 11 meetings, and four of the last six at home. Getting a win in San Francisco on Monday Night Football would no doubt be huge.
But it’s not the best away game of 2021 ...
For that, I think we need to go on the other side of the Bye week that happens following that Monday Night game in San Francisco: A Week 12 afternoon contest on Nov. 28 at Lambeau Field.
The Los Angeles Rams against the Green Bay Packers.
Matthew Stafford vs Aaron Rodgers.
The Rams and Packers first met as franchises back in 1937, a 35-10 win for the Packers over the Cleveland Rams. The Rams would only win one of their first 14 meetings with Green Bay, but then found incredible success in the series when they moved to Los Angeles in 1946.
After beating the Packers in their final two chances as the Cleveland Rams, the LA Rams then won 22 of the next 29 games against Green Bay.
Then the Packers dominated much of the ‘60s, before things turned back in the Rams’ favor for most of the ‘70s.
Recently, the Green Bay Packers have taken charge, winning six of their last seven games against the Rams, including last season’s divisional round loss at Lambeau Field. The only exception being a 29-27 win for LA back in 2018, in which Jared Goff threw for three touchdowns, Todd Gurley had 195 total yards, and Greg Zeirlein kicked a go-ahead field goal that became a game-winning field goal when Ty Montgomery fumbled the ensuing kickoff.
But that’s all in the past and this year’s game between the Rams and Packers will be the 97th meeting between the franchise’s in history with the series currently TIED at 47-47-2, including playoffs.
The Rams hold a 46-45-2 lead in the regular season.
If you’ve never seen a game at Lambeau Field, then there might never be a better time to do so than in Week 12 when the LA Rams are in town. Because while the Rams might have the shiniest new home stadium in the NFL, the Packers have the second-oldest. New or classic? Classic or new?
This year, somebody has to break the tie.