The St. Louis Rams are coming off of the worst five-year stretch in the history of the NFL. They have held a Top Two draft pick in four of the last five drafts (Chris Long, Jason Smith, Sam Bradford and the RG3 pick that was traded). They are about to have their third head coach in four years (Scott Linehan, Steve Spagnuolo and now Jeff Fisher). They are about to start their fourth consecutive season with a new offensive coordinator.
On the surface, the Rams are a mess.
A closer look would reveal otherwise. The Rams were a 7-9 football team in 2010. Sam Bradford, the 2010 offensive rookie of the year, passed for over 3,500 yards. The defense was 12th in the league in points allowed, with young players like James Laurinaitis and Chris Long looking like future Pro Bowlers. Steven Jackson, the battering ram running back, was one of the best at his position in the NFL.
2011 rolled around, and the Rams, not the San Francisco 49ers, were the team favored by several people to win the NFC West. However, a rash of injuries decimated the roster, wiping out the defensive secondary and offensive line. 2011 exposed the Rams for what they were—a talented young team, but one that didn't have the depth to sustain the injuries that every NFL team has to overcome.
So as the team enters the 2012 season, with another round of free agency and the NFL draft, the Rams are a deeper, more talented, more mature football team. I think this Rams team is better than the 2010 team that went 7-9, and I think this Rams team has a very good chance to make the playoffs.
Today, I'm going to predict every game on the Rams schedule. Thanks for reading along.
The Lions are the model of how you turn around a franchise.
The Lions went 0-16 in 2008, then 2-14 in 2009, then 6-10 in 2010. They finally broke through with a 10-6 season last year. The catalyst for their turnaround was QB Matthew Stafford, who in his third season was finally able to stay healthy, and was fantastic in 2011.
Detroit had talent—they just had to get healthy. They needed one more draft to put the missing pieces in there, and then look what happened.
I think the same thing can happen for the Rams and their own third year QB, Sam Bradford.
Having said all of that, I don't think the Rams will beat Detroit in Week 1. The Lions are more talented than the Rams, period. I do think the Rams can make it hard on the Lions passing game, and it will be interesting to see if the Lions can run the ball. This won't be a blowout, but I just don't think the Rams' offense can move the ball consistently against Suh and company.
Final Score: Lions 27, Rams 17
Get ready for a week of "what if the Rams had drafted RG3 and traded Bradford instead."
It's going to happen, so just get ready.
RG3 is going to be a very good pro, but this is only his second game. I think the Rams' D—and in particular the Rams' secondary—will be too much for Griffin. Expect him to roll out and make a couple of big plays, but also expect the Rams to rack up five or more sacks against the rookie.
The offense will have a tough time with Washington's defense. We'll see if Rodger Saffold is able to handle Brian Orakpo this time, as he totally dominated Saffold last season in St. Louis. I think this will be the first big game of the season for Bradford, as he will lead the Rams to a much needed win.
At the end of the day, and for the next decade, the Rams will be glad they kept Bradford.
Final Score: Rams 24, Redskins 10
I think the Bears have a chance to be a very good team. It hurts them playing in such a tough division, with Detroit and Green Bay both being elite teams, but Jay Cutler has a lot of weapons this year.
Matt Forte is one of the best players in the NFL, as he can do a lot of damage from the RB position. Cutler will also be reunited with WR Brandon Marshall. Cutler and Marshall had a lot of success in Denver together.
Throw in Alshon Jefferey—the rookie WR from South Carolina who could be a stud—and the Bears have the look of a dangerous team on offense.
The Bears' D is traditionally good, but I have questions about that side of the ball as they get older. I also have major questions about the Bears' pass protection. Cutler has been abused as a QB during his time in Chicago, and this could give the Rams a chance to win. The Rams can rush the passer, and they have one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
This is a game the Rams could steal if they get after Cutler. It won't shock me if they win this one, but as of today, I am tallying this one in the loss column.
Final Score: Bears 24, Rams 20
This is a game the Rams must win. Seattle is a good football team, with Marshawn Lynch running the ball, and new QB Matt Flynn should give the Seahawks a much more consistent passing game. I am a big fan of the Seahawks secondary, and they will give the Rams problems trying to pass the ball.
This game is going to be a bar fight. Steven Jackson and Lynch will both pound the run all game long. This favors the Rams' offensive line, a unit that will be among the most improved in the NFL next season.
In the end, this game is going to come down to one big play—a punt return, an interception or maybe a sack that causes a fumble. I think the Rams will make that big play and win a crucial game.
Final Score: Rams 21, Seahawks 18
Do you think Jeff Fisher will elect to kick it to Patrick Peterson?
The Rams nearly beat the Cardinals twice last season, and as we all know, the Rams were a depleted team in 2011. To be fair, the Cardinals were also beat up, with Kevin Kolb missing both games against the Rams. Ryan Williams, the Cardinals starting running back, was also injured when they played the Rams.
So basically throw last year out. These are two teams hoping to put 2011 behind them.
The Cardinals, in my opinion, have the best receiving duo in the NFC West with Larry Fitzgerald and Malcolm Floyd. Fitzgerald is a dominant receiver. Floyd could be a similar player to Fitzgerald. As I typed that last sentence, it gave me chills.
Covering these guys isn't going to be fun, but the Rams have an awesome secondary and a great pass rush. Kevin Kolb has not meshed with Fitzgerald yet, and I think the fact that this is a home game for the Rams will be the difference. With this win, the Rams will be 3-2, above .500 for the first time since 1917.
Okay, it hasn't been that long, but it feels like it. This will be a big win for the Rams; they should start to build some confidence.
Final Score: Rams 34, Cardinals 17
Miami only passed for 193 yards per game last year. That's probably why they went out and drafted themselves a QB (Ryan Tannehill, No. 8 overall). The problem is, Tannehill might not be ready to play right away.
I think the Dolphins will be faced with a tough choice—throw Tannehill to the wolves and lose a bunch of games, or send somebody else out there to lose a lot of games.
Either way, the Dolphins will probably lose a lot of games.
They traded Brandon Marshall to the Bears, so as bad as their passing game was, it will actually be worse in 2012. Marshall might be crazy, but he puts up numbers. This is going to make their offense very one dimensional. That means the Dolphins will be relying on Reggie Bush to run for tough yards, which is usually not a game plan that produces a W.
The Dolphins also have a rookie head coach, Joe Philbin. He is about to see the difference in talent between the team he now coaches, the Dolphins, and the team he used to help coach, the Packers.
I think by this point in the season, the Dolphins will be reeling, while the Rams will be building up momentum after a pretty strong start. Basically, I call this "the total opposite of what happened in 2011" when the Rams started the season playing the Giants, the Ravens, the Packers, the Saints and the 1987 All Madden Team.
Okay, I made that last one up.
This is a road game, so it will be tough, but the Rams will pick up a huge win.
Final Score: Rams 27, Dolphins 20
Green Bay will be on a mission in 2012. After winning the Super Bowl in 2010, and then dominating the regular season in 2011, they got whipped by the Giants—at home no less—in the 2011 playoffs.
I just have a feeling we are going to see another high-scoring Packers team that blows teams out every week.
Having said that, the Rams will be 4-2 at this point during the season, and we'll be in full blown "Jeff Fisher has turned the Rams around" media coverage. So this will probably be a prime time game. I think the Rams actually match up well to the Packers.
I'll say it again, the Rams have a great secondary, and they can rush the passer.
Think back to the Rams' upset win over the Saints in 2011. That was probably the biggest upset of the season. The Rams have the same formula to beat the Packers—great pass rush, great pass coverage, pound them with the run and don't turn the ball over.
Will that happen? No, I think the Packers will win the game, but in the Dome, it will be close.
Final Score: Packers 28, Rams 23
Wait, the game is being played where? In London? Whose idea was this?!
Thanks a lot, Stan Kroenke. Instead of getting to watch one of the best QBs of all time live and in person, we get to watch him playing on TV, via the dish, from London.
Remember what I said about the Packers being on a mission? Well, ditto those remarks for the Patriots, who just lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl for the second time in excruciating fashion.
Maybe Sam Bradford can channel his inner Eli Manning and outgun Tom Brady. Maybe Steven Jackson can run wild for 200 yards. Maybe Tom Brady has jet lag and throws a couple of INTs to star rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins?
I doubt any of that happens.
If this were a home game—no, I mean a real home game—then I'd at least give the Rams a chance. Playing across the pond, I'm picking the Pats. Every team has an ugly game, and this is the Rams' ugly game. At home. In England.
Final Score: Patriots 34, Rams 13
Week 9 is the Rams' bye week.
Somebody please tell me again why it's a good idea to play one of our home games in England. Does anybody have a good reason?
Okay then, moving on to the next slide...
Both teams are coming off of a bye week. By my count, the Niners will be 6-2. They will have a choke hold on the division at this point, so this becomes a must-win for the Rams.
Maybe Alex Smith will play like 2008-2010 Alex Smith, and maybe all these diva receivers will be whispering that he is overrated? Maybe the defense will be a year older and a step slower? Maybe Frank Gore will get injured again?
Anything is possible, but I think the Niners are a very solid football team. I expect them to win this game, and I also think they'll win the NFC West again.
Final Score: Niners 17, Rams 13
Tebowmania invades St. Louis.
When the schedules came out, a lot of people said "oh no, we are matched up with the NFC North and the AFC East." I think the NFC North is pretty tough, with Chicago being a possible playoff team, the Lions being a solid playoff team capable of winning a playoff game and the Packers being a possible Super Bowl team.
The AFC East, though? I think the Rams got a good draw there. I think the AFC East is weak.
The Bills and Dolphins are very beatable. Neither of those teams are going anywhere. The Patriots, sure they're a Super Bowl contender, and oh yeah, we do have to play them in England!
That brings us to the Jets, an 8-8 team from a season ago. They have an aging, overrated defense. They have a "ground and pound" running game that doesn't pound anybody. Oh yeah, they also have a QB controversy, due to the fact that they brought in Tim Tebow to back up the vastly overrated Mark Sanchez.
I think the Rams will win this game.
There just comes a point when you have to say "we're not the same old Rams anymore." After starting the season 4-2, the Rams have dropped three in a row to three Super Bowl contenders, including one game on foreign soil. This will be a battle hardened team at this point. This will be the game that turns the Rams' season around.
Revis will shut down whoever he covers, Rex Ryan will say something crazy before and after the game and the Rams will win.
Final Score: Rams 27, Jets 13
Don't kick it to Patrick Peterson, and everything else should work out just fine for the Rams in this game. At this point in the season, you usually start to see some separation with teams. The Rams, at 5-5, should be one of those bubble teams pushing for a playoff spot.
The Cardinals have a very, very soft schedule to open their season. It's possible that the Cardinals could start out hot and then just ride that wave. I don't see that happening, though. I have the Cardinals at 3-7 entering this game, and head coach Ken Whisenhunt's seat will officially be warm.
The Rams will be a team with momentum here. It's a tough road game, but to have any shot at the playoffs, this is a must-win game for the Rams. I see the Rams breaking out and playing possibly their best game of the season.
Final Score: Rams 35, Cardinals 14
This is the "Game of the Year" on the Rams schedule. The Niners are going to win the West, but at 6-5, the Rams have an outside shot at making the playoffs. I think the Dome will be rocking, and I see the Rams pulling off a big upset.
Every season there is an upset or two on everybody's schedule. So Niners' fans, don't freak out. You didn't go 6-0 in the division last season, and you probably won't this season, either.
I see the Rams getting the lead early, and then forcing the Niners to play from behind. At that point, we get to watch Alex Smith revert to his bad habits, as he attempts to come from behind against the Rams' pass rush, throwing into that great secondary.
Sam Bradford has a great performance, and maybe this is the game he finally overtakes Alex Smith as the best QB in the NFC West.
Final Score: Rams 24, Niners 17
Buffalo is my sleeper team in the NFL. I don't think they'll make the playoffs, but I do think they will be the team that gives somebody a tough game every week. I could totally see them going anywhere from 6-10 to 9-7. They have drafted really well the past couple of years, and they have a nice roster.
This game is a toss-up. A December game, in Buffalo, New York...
That sounds like the kind of game only a smash mouth, hard-nosed football team can win. It's a good thing we've got Jeff Fisher coaching this team, and it's even better that we have Steven Jackson running the ball behind a revamped offensive line.
The Rams will win, but barely.
Final Score: Rams 21, Bills 20
If Adrian Peterson is 100 percent healthy, then the Vikings have a team that is similar to the Rams on offense. The Vikings, however, don't have anything similar to what the Rams have on defense. I think the Vikings will be picking in the top three again in the 2013 NFL draft.
This game will play out fairly simple.
The Rams will build an early lead. Somewhere between the middle of the second quarter and the middle of the third quarter, the Vikings will have to scrap the run, and throw on every down. At this point, Chris Long and Robert Quinn will pin their ears back and take turns driving poor Christian Ponder into the turf of the Edward Jones Dome.
Rams fans are familiar with this strategy of not being able to use an elite back like Peterson. We call it "the game plan during the wasted prime years of Steven Jackson's career," or "the Scott Linehan era."
Final Score: Rams 31, Vikings 10
This will be a battle between two good young QBs, Josh Freeman and Sam Bradford. By this point in the season, we should be seeing Bradford emerge as the kind of QB that can carry the Rams to a tough win on the road. The Rams are a hot team, having won five in a row, and they know if they win this game, at 10-5, they should be a lock for the playoffs.
The Bucs were one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL in 2011. Don't let that fool you, though. The Bucs are very talented, and if they put it together, they could be a tough team to beat. Basically, they are in the same boat as the Rams—talented, young QB, strong running game and a scary looking defense if they keep everybody healthy.
The Rams almost beat the Bucs in 2010, and that loss in Tampa Bay came back to haunt the Rams later in the season. If the Rams had beat the Bucs, they would have finished 8-8, and they would have made the playoffs.
This time, with a playoff spot on the line, the Rams will get the job done.
Final Score: Rams 31, Bucs 21
The Rams never play well in Seattle. I think the Rams have a better football team overall by a slim margin. I just don't think the Rams will win this game. With a win here, the Rams could clinch a share of the NFC West championship and maybe even a home playoff game.
I just don't see that happening. Sadly, the Seahawks will beat the Rams, forcing them to play their first-round playoff game on the road.
The good news is this win means the Seahawks will finish the season with six, maybe seven wins. That means Pete Carrol keeps his job, and that means that some right guard or outside linebacker out there in college will get drafted two rounds ahead of where Mel Kiper or Todd McShay had him going.
So the Rams are going to lose this game, but at least the NFL draft will still be entertaining with Pete Carrol hanging around.
Final Score: Seahawks 24, Rams 17
These teams will contend, but in the end, they won't make the playoffs:
New Orleans (bounty scandal, coaching changes will be too much to overcome), Philadelphia (Michael Vick can't stay healthy), Dallas (chronic underachieving team) and Chicago (very good team in a brutal division).
Here is how I see the first round of the playoffs:
Green Bay (13-3), BYE
New York Giants (12-4), BYE
San Francisco (11-5) vs. Atlanta (10-6)
Detroit (11-5) vs. St. Louis (10-6)
The Rams have some good young receivers, the Lions have Megatron. By having a stud, true No. 1, go-to-receiver, that allows the other Lions' receivers to enjoy a lot of single coverage. The Rams have some talented young defensive lineman, the Lions have Ndamukong Suh—a stud defensive tackle that is a force of nature. That allows every other player on the Lions' D Line to roam free, enabling them to make plays.
Basically, the Rams are a nice looking, young, talented football team. The Lions have more high-end talent. They have more stars. The Rams are still a year away. 2012 will be a fun ride. The Rams are going to win again; they are going to make the playoffs.
The last game is going to suck, though.
Final Score: Lions 24, Rams 13