The St. Louis Rams played in the toughest division in football last year and almost went .500.
That's not too bad for a team that went 2-14 just three seasons ago and still can't keep its supposed starting quarterback healthy.
St. Louis begins its effort this season to take that next step and return to the playoffs when it hosts the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon at the Edward Jones Dome. But the Rams have struggled in season openers, especially at the sportsbook window.
Point spread: Rams opened as three-point favorites; the total was 44. (Line updates and matchup report)
Odds Shark computer prediction: 22.0-17.7 Rams
Why the Vikings can cover the spread
After surprising many observers by making the playoffs two years ago, the Vikings suffered a predictable letdown last year and now are working under another new head coach, former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Minnesota started 2-8-1 last year and then won three of its last five games.
And four of its 10 losses came by a total of 12 points. The Vikes grabbed Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater in the draft but will go with Matt Cassel as the starter, and for good reason: At the moment he gives Minnesota the best chance to win.
Cassel has twice led teams to 10-win seasons, and the Vikes went 3-3 straight up and 4-2 against the spread in games he started last year. Oh, yeah, and Minnesota still has that guy named Adrian Peterson to run the ball.
Why the Rams can cover the spread
The Rams went 7-9 both straight up and against the spread last season, but at least a couple of their losses could have gone the other way. One game was basically lost on an interception returned for a touchdown; another was lost on an 80-yard busted coverage, and yet another on a score with less than three minutes to go in the game.
On the season, St. Louis out-rushed opponents by a 110-103 yards-per-game margin and got outscored by a total of just 16 points. The Rams also went 5-3 both straight up and against the spread at home last year. The goal for coach Jeff Fisher and his squad this season is to make the playoffs, so a win in this spot is almost crucial.
With Sam Bradford hurt again, St. Louis will start Shaun Hill at QB, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, considering he's 13-13 as an NFL starter, with a career ratio of 41 touchdowns to 23 interceptions. As mentioned above, the Rams were pretty good at home last season, while Minnesota hasn't won a true road game since Week 16 of the 2012 season.
And St. Louis, quite simply, is the more complete team at the moment. So the smart bet here is to give the points and go with the Rams.
- The Rams are 2-11-1 against the spread in the past 14 season openers.
- Over is 8-1 in the past nine meetings between the Rams and Vikes.
- The Rams have won four straight games when favored at home.
- The Vikes are 0-7-1 straight up as road dogs in the past eight games.