When the final regular season game has come to an end, there is only one thing to look forward to if you're an outsider looking in on the playoffs. Only 12 teams make a playoff appearance, so it gets to be a long offseason for the 20 remaining teams that no longer have anything to play for.
However, those 20 teams can get a head start on the following season, because they do in fact know who they will be playing the following year. No exact dates are known until April, but based on the NFL's annual scheduling process, all 16 opponents are determined by the end of Week 17.
In 2012, St. Louis matched up against the NFC North and the AFC East. 2013 bodes the challenge of the NFC South and the AFC South. Those are two divisions that are clearly on the rise. That makes up eight games in total. Add in the three divisional opponents the Rams play twice a year, and you're now at 14 games.
There are also two non-divisional games a team plays based on where they finished inside the division. For example, the Rams finished third in the NFC West this year, so they will square off against the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys, who also finished third in their respective divisions.
When you break down the Rams' opponents for 2013, you will see that they have the fourth-toughest schedule in the league based on wins and losses. Blogging the Boys calculated it out to a T—St. Louis' upcoming opponents sported a record of 137-117-2 with a win percentage of 0.539.
Moreover, Jeff Fisher's club will take on eight opponents that are deemed as "quality." A "quality" opponent refers to any team that had nine or more wins during the regular season. Those eight teams are the 49ers, Seahawks, Bears, Texans, Colts, Cowboys and then the 49ers and Seahawks again because they play them both twice as divisional foes.
It looks like it will be an uphill battle all the way based on the fact that their road games are awful, to say the least. Generally teams play better at home compared to on the road, which in fact means it's good news for the Rams if they want to win as many home games as possible. Yet it is indeed bad news, because they could easily have a poor record on the road, like they did in 2012.
If St. Louis wants to take that next step and become playoff contenders, they will need to show plenty of resiliency. Not to mention they will have to become a seemingly improved three-to-four-more-win team overnight.