Fisher, who had previously served as the Tennessee Titans coach for parts of 17 seasons, took over and brought St. Louis to an awfully familiar place—NFL mediocrity. St. Louis finished the 2012 season 7-8-1, a massive improvement over its 2-14 record a season prior, but the record was something of a norm for Fisher.
The 55-year-old head coach has spent 18 seasons now as an NFL head coach. His teams have finished with seven or eight wins eight times in that span, a remarkable feat of consistent winning or rampant mediocrity depending on who is speaking. During Fisher's first gig, he won seven or eight games in his first four seasons with the Oilers/Titans franchise—a fact Rams fans hope won't repeat itself in St. Louis.
The Rams have certainly gone out this offseason and looked to fill the gaps remaining in their roster. Jake Long was one of the best left tackles in football before struggling with injuries, and he was brought in to protect Sam Bradford's blind side. Also added for Bradford's improvement is tight end Jared Cook, who may be the most athletically gifted tight end in the league.
All of these moves—along with the departure of franchise face Steven Jackson—make 2013 a year of reckoning for Bradford. His place as a "franchise quarterback" is precarious, and the time for showing flashes is over. Either Bradford ascends in 2013 or the team may be looking for another first-round pony come April 2014.
Nevertheless, we have to get through 2013 to answer those questions. With the NFL releasing the full schedules for every team on Thursday, we now have a good idea about just how easy, or difficult, that will be for the Rams.
|2013 St. Louis Rams Schedule|
|1||Sept. 8 ||vs. Arizona Cardinals||4:25 p.m. ET||FOX|
|2||Sept. 15 ||@ Atlanta Falcons||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|3||Sept. 22 ||@ Dallas Cowboys||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|4||Sept. 26||vs. San Francisco 49ers||8:25 p.m. ET||NFLN|
|5||Oct. 6||vs. Jacksonville Jaguars||1 p.m. ET||CBS|
|6||Oct. 13||@ Houston Texans||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|7||Oct. 20||@ Carolina Panthers||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|8||Oct. 28||vs. Seattle Seahawks||8:40 p.m. ET||ESPN|
|9||Nov. 3||vs. Tennessee Titans||1 p.m. ET||CBS|
|10||No. 10||@ Indianapolis Colts||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|11||Nov. 17||BYE WEEK||N/A||N/A|
|12||Nov. 24||vs. Chicago Bears||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|13||Dec. 1||@ San Francisco 49ers||4:05 p.m. ET||FOX|
|14||Dec. 8||@ Arizona Cardinals||4:25 p.m. ET||FOX|
|15||Dec. 15||vs. New Orleans Saints||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|16||Dec. 22 ||vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|17||Dec. 29 ||@ Seattle Seahawks||4:25 p.m. ET||FOX|
Note: For a complete look at St. Louis' 2013 schedule, check out NFL.com.
All things considered, NFC West participants should be looking at a relatively breezy slate outside their division. Their shared non-divisional opponents are the NFC South and AFC South—arguably the two weakest divisions in the entire league.
Unfortunately for the Rams, they got the shortest end of what they thought would be a kosher stick. They play road games against the Falcons, Texans and Colts, who comprise the three playoff representatives from their respective divisions. That leaves teams like Tennessee, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay—three semi-likely road wins—as yawn-worthy roadkill for the St. Louis fans.
Add road tilts against the Seahawks and 49ers to the mix, and the Rams are playing five playoff teams from last season on the road. That's also not including the Cowboys, who came within one game of making the postseason in 2012.
In other words: The Rams need to be one of the best home teams in football next year or risk missing the playoffs. Other than divisional opponents, they play all non-playoff teams at the Edward Jones Dome this year, though Chicago and New Orleans both have January plans for 2013. It's a slate of games that screams 6-2 or 7-1—a big change for a team that went just .500 at home last year.
A repeat of that performance, though, and Fisher's team may well regress from last season's 7-8-1 record. St. Louis faces a never-ending gauntlet of playoff-worthy teams on the road this year. And considering other division rivals get those teams at friendly confines, the Rams are at a distinct disadvantage against what looks like an easy schedule on paper.
Most Pivotal Matchups
Of course, every home game is a must. We've already discussed that ad nauseam. Without victories before the home fans, the Rams' season is doomed.
As for which games actually mean the most, it's all about the inter-divisional rivalries in the NFC West this season. Seattle and San Francisco were both highly active this offseason. The Seahawks added big names like Percy Harvin, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, while the 49ers brought in Anquan Boldin, Glenn Dorsey and Nnamdi Asomugha—three players who cost little but could be massive contributors in 2013.
What is the Rams' most important game in 2013?
Arizona also believes it has solved its biggest problem by acquiring Carson Palmer from the Raiders. Palmer will be replacing John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and Ryan Lindley, who may well have formed the worst trio of quarterbacks in modern football history.
The NFC West is loaded from top to bottom and may be the NFL's best division. If the Rams are able to upset one of their biggest nemeses on the road—namely San Francisco or Seattle—that would be critical for their playoff push.
Outside of the division, St. Louis' most intriguing games come against playoff teams. The Falcons and Texans were last season's dominant regular-season forces last season, the former nearly making a Super Bowl run. Atlanta will be particularly interesting, as it will mark Steven Jackson's first game against the Rams.
Either way, the Falcons and Texans look like clear favorites in their divisions in 2013 and should make for a solid non-divisional litmus test for the Rams. And with the Panthers being one of the league's biggest boom-or-bust squads heading into next season, anytime Cam Newton and Co. are on the field should make for a must-watch Sunday.
Overall, it's a 16-game slate that has teams both awful and top-tier—little in-between.