While LA onboards 38 rookies and undergoes a youth movement, they will play four of their first five games against playoff teams from a year ago. The youngsters won’t have the opportunity to ease into the NFL—the team will need them to perform sooner than later against some of the top rosters in the league:
Week 1 - at Seattle Seahawks, 1:25
Perhaps the Seahawks won’t seem lethal for as long as Geno Smith is the starter, but his athleticism does give them a low floor. Jaxson Smith-Njigba joins DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett to form one of the most potent receiving corps in the NFL, and Seattle has added impressive, young talent on the defensive side of the ball.
The Rams kept it close last year in the season finale, and now they’ll start off with the Seahawks. Can they give Seattle a scare in Week 1?
Week 2 - vs San Francisco 49ers, 1:05
Perhaps it’s a silver lining to play the 49ers early while Brock Purdy works his way back from the UCL injury he suffered in the NFC championship game, but San Francisco still has an incredibly talented roster from top to bottom.
Starting 0-2 against NFC West opponents would be tough to come back from, especially when both the Seahawks and 49ers expect to be in the playoff hunt at the end of the year.
Week 3 - at Cincinnati Bengals (MNF), 5:15
The stars are aligning for the Bengals to avenge their loss in Super Bowl LVI. Joe Burrow leads one of the most talented and dynamic offenses, and this will be a tough test for a young defense that is trying to find its footing.
I can’t help but shudder at the thought of Cobie Durant, Robert Rochell, and Derion Kendrick covering Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins.
Week 4 - at Indianapolis Colts, 10:00
While the Colts are the only team in the first five weeks that did not earn a playoff berth a year ago, they are still much improved after hiring head coach Shane Steichen from the Eagles and selecting athletic quarterback Anthony Richardson at #4 overall in last month’s NFL Draft. The Colts’ offense seems fairly underrated based on individual players such as Michael Pittman, Jonathan Taylor, Alec Pierce, Quenton Nelson. The defense is a work in progress but they still have steady veterans in Shaquille Leonard and Stephon Gilmore.
Week 5 - vs Philadelphia Eagles, 1:05
LA’s fifth game represents its third against a team in either the AFC or NFC championship games from a year ago, which emphasizes how the Rams are starting the season against the best of the best. It’s not wise to assume the 2023 season will unfold like it did in 2022, and in the NFL change is the only constant.
With that said, the Eagles will still prove to be a formidable test—their defensive line rotation will test LA’s rebuilt OL. A very multiple offense led by Jalen Hurts will challenge Raheem Morris’ young defense.
If the Rams are either 0-5 or 1-4 after five weeks, they must turn to 2024
It’s difficult to see the Rams winning more than one or two games from this stretch, which could end any playoff hopes before the midway point. If that’s truly the case, Los Angeles has no choice but to embrace their youth movement and work towards a high draft choice for the spring. They can’t make the same mistake that the Houston Texans did a year ago by winning late in the year and handed the top draft selection to the Chicago Bears.
To me, that means turning to Stetson Bennett as the starting quarterback and ushering in a new era of Rams football. It’s unlikely that Bennett will become LA’s full-time starter, but one of the most fatal mistakes losing teams make is waiting too long to see what they have in a player.
The Washington Commandeers kept trotting out Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke over 17 weeks before they finally gave Sam Howell a shot—and now they are risking a full year of a roster capable of winning to start a player with only 19 passing attempts under his belt. After a long, 14-year career we know who Matthew Stafford is, and it’d be ill-advised for the Rams to continue to start him if they seem headed for a separation anyways.
That’s not to write of Bennett completely. The weaknesses noted in his scouting report aren’t insurmountable and he landed in a good supporting situation in Los Angeles. There’s no way to know what a quarterback’s ceiling is without seeing them on the field surrounded by other professionals—and Bennett deserves his opportunity before the Rams potentially draft a top prospect next year.
Reasons for optimism
The NFL is a league of parity. When the schedule comes out each year, one of the first things we look at is strength of schedule, but you’re better off flipping last year’s standings on their head almost. There will be teams considered front runners in May that will tumble down the standings in free fall, and at the same time perennial bottom feeders will finally find their way off the lowest rung.
In the same vein that the Rams’ collapse a year ago was devastating to fans, you can take solace in the fact that the bad days won’t last long. Right now the Rams are only half-way committing to their youth movement, hoping to have the best of both worlds by keeping high-priced veterans like Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald.
If things go south quickly in 2023, it’s time to fully embrace the rebuild and play as many young, developing players as possible.