The 2019 Los Angeles Rams were a major disappointment, going from Super Bowl runners-up to out of the playoffs as quarterback Jared Goff regressed, skill-position players battled injuries and head coach Sean McVay struggled as the NFL caught on to his playbook.
The 2020 season, at least on paper, does not appear to have an immediate avenue for improvement. Goff's still around, his massive contract extension hamstringing Los Angeles. Todd Gurley's gone, with the Rams deciding they were better off eating a massive cap hit rather than guaranteeing more of his salary.
Theoretically, this would be the time the Rams replenish through the draft. Whoops. A series of trades have left the Rams' asset cupboard bare with a roster overrun by star-level contracts for players who are underperforming their cap hits.
With the 2020 schedule being released Thursday, let's take a look at what to expect.
The Rams are tied for the 10th-hardest schedule based on their opponents' 2019 record. The NFC West's common opponents are the AFC and NFC East, which bodes better in reality than it does on paper.
The New England Patriots are a virtual certainty to regress after losing Tom Brady in free agency and sputtering toward the end of last season. The Buffalo Bills were reliant on a historically brilliant defense and have an offense led by one of the least accurate and highest variance quarterbacks in football. The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins remain pretty bad at football.
Over in the NFC East, the division remains a combination of high talent and underperformance. The Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles are at least on par with the Rams on paper, but they're both in believe-it-when-we-see-it territory. Washington and the New York Giants are at least another year or two away from competing.
The Rams could wind up 6-2 or 5-3 in their common games. With a win over either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the Chicago Bears in the non-common conference matchups, they're already at six or seven wins.
Getting wins within football's best division will likely be the Rams' undoing. Los Angeles has less on-paper talent than the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers by a not-insignificant margin, and the Arizona Cardinals are rising fast. Kyler Murray is coming off a promising rookie season and could take a leap in Year 2 after Arizona somehow reeled in DeAndre Hopkins without parting with a first-round pick.
The Rams need at least three wins in the division to compete for a playoff spot. The Cardinals might still be a year away from actually competing—they're going to be a fashionable sleeper; ask the Cleveland Browns how that worked out last year—but this is still an uphill battle.
Perhaps the biggest thing factoring in the Rams' favor is the seventh playoff team being added to each conference. Getting to 9-7 now means they'll have a solid chance at a postseason berth; their success or failure will be dependent on taking care of business against bad teams and hoping for a couple of good Goff moments against division rivals.