NFL 2011-12: Are the St. Louis Rams Ready to Win the NFC West?

Derek CiapalaContributor ISeptember 8, 2011

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 01:  Quarterback Sam Bradford #8 of the St. Louis Rams attempts a pass during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on September 1, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The last six years have been rough for St. Louis Rams fans. They have been filled with fading memories of the “Greatest Show on Turf” and its demise, broken defenses, and poor drafts. When the Rams went 1-15 in 2009, I’d had enough of the torture. I was determined to ignore the team until they turned around. I refused to watch them play awful football anymore. I turned my attention away from the team early in the year, but I just couldn’t stay away as the Rams fought their way back to respectability.

This year is a different story. The Rams enter the season with the NFC West’s best quarterback, Sam Bradford, attempting to lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. The Rams signed former Jaguars receiver Mike Sims-Walker and also drafted Austin Pettis, Greg Salas and Lance Kendricks to round out an almost completely new receiving corps.

Defensively, the Rams added girth on the defensive line with former Bronco Justin Bannan and also signed Brady Poppinga and Ben Leber to start alongside James Laurinaitis at linebacker. Finally, the Rams paid big money to bring in former Eagles safety Quintin Mikell, He is expected to be a playmaker for the Rams in the defensive backfield, while also helping the team against the run.

The Rams made all of these changes hoping to reach the playoffs, and I think the talent is there for the Rams to finally retake control of the NFC West. I have some concerns about how well all of the free agents the team signed will fit in, but so far the team has managed the roster changes well. The first team offense and defense were excellent during the preseason, and new additions like Mikell have already been effective against opposing offenses. I’m not concerned at all about whether or not this roster will come together. In fact, I think it already has.

I do believe that the early schedule could make or break the Rams this season. The Rams will face a gauntlet of playoff contenders in the first seven games of the year, including the Eagles, Ravens, Packers and Saints. It’s possible that the Rams could enter their Week 9 matchup against the Cardinals with a 1-6 record.

However, the team does play four of these games at home, and their games against the Eagles and the Giants appear to be more winnable than they were just a month ago. Philadelphia is still working to solidify their offensive line and settle their roster after making several big acquisitions in free agency, while the Giants have numerous players hurt. I’m not saying the Rams are going to win these games, but they do have a chance.

The Rams have built a strong team by combining a solid veteran core with youth at the skill positions. If they can navigate their way through the first seven games of the season with reasonable success (a 3-4 record), then this is the year they finally regain the NFC West crown.