Fans rejoiced as the schedule was released. Tickets were bought, trips were booked, and way, WAY too early predictions rolled in like the Santa Ana winds in May. Now that some of the dust has cleared it’s time to take a more nuanced take on the Rams now 17 game schedule.
Considering the team upheaval on all three phases of the ball, this schedule will provide litmus tests all throughout the season. They travel the fourth-most miles of any team this season, and in a variety of ways, demonstrate how much growth Sean McVay and all returning players have demonstrated since their unfortunate loss in Green Bay (more on them later) in January. The schedule lays out the right type of opponents the Rams need to overcome in order to finally bring a trophy to LA.
The Rams have a major opportunity to settle some scores from the past few years. The biggest being of course against the Packers. Now, it isn’t clear if Aaron Rodgers will be on the team by the time they clash in November, but regardless, they can avenge their second-round loss. This is assuming Donald can be at full speed and help shut down the Packers’ offense that seemed to move at will against the number one ranked defense. Offensively, the Rams were able to somewhat move the ball but couldn’t score. Matthew Stafford should be able to change that.
Week 16 provides the Rams a chance to avenge a bone-crushing loss to the Ravens in primetime. Lamar Jackson ran roughshod over the Rams on Monday Night and Sean McVay has a chance to add another AFC feather in his cap (he’s presently beaten all but five teams in that conference). Raheem Morris gets a late-season shot to prove the defense is playoff-ready. Now, this is all on paper, as week 16 might show one or both teams with little to play for, but right now this is a low-key important redemption game for McVay and every other Ram that was embarrassed by Lamar two years ago.
Of course, the biggest revenge comes in their bi-annual games against Kyle Shanahan and the Niners. Right now the Niners own the Rams like the rest of the NFC West owns Kliff Kingsbury. Despite what overzealous Rams fans think, Shanahan isn’t on the hot seat, and whether it’s Jimmy G or Trey Lance, this team is DANGEROUS. They were as injury-ravished as any team in the league last year, and like the Death Star when fully operational, they are capable of making the Super Bowl. The schedule has both matchups late in the year, the second matchup being at the end of the season and possibly inconsequential. McVay needs to win at least one of these games to show that he’s not just some well-groomed offensive coordinator who fell ass-backward into a contender. They were hindered by Goff in both matchups last year and now with the team he wants and running the system he wants, McVay has a chance to show that Shanahan isn’t the only undisputed offensive genius in the division.
Like Wiley Coyote or the Rebel Alliance, the Rams are susceptible to traps and this schedule has its share of that. Houston and Jacksonville are the biggest examples of this being that they are in the beginning stages of an overhaul. They also get a rebuilding Detroit team but one that has Jared Goff and Michael Brockers, extra motivated to get one over on the team that jettisoned them. The Rams lost to a Jets team that was BEGGING to lose every game that season. They allowed themselves to get smoked by a Dolphins team with a rebuilding offense, and they had to sweat it out against the Giants. A lot of that falls on McVay. If he had avoided ANY of those traps they would’ve had the Bucs side of the playoff bracket and who knows what could happen. He gets trapped every year and he needs to prove he can motivate the team to show up every week no matter who is on the schedule. That’s what champions do and it’s time McVay takes another step towards being a champion.
The schedule also provides the Rams a chance to play some of the teams they could see in the postseason. The highlight is week three against the defending champions. The Rams went into Tampa and picked Tom Brady off three times. The defense wasn’t quite what it became by the time they were smothering Patrick Mahomes like they were Beverly Goldberg. They return all their key starters and while Father Time will eventually drag Brady to hell, this game is early enough to where he’ll be in tip-top shape. If the Rams win this game it’ll go a long way towards them proving themselves but also for home-field advantage. Tiebreakers could be everything and this would be a nice early one to get.
A week prior, they get the Colts who also went out and traded for a quarterback in Carson Wentz. They are a definite contender boasting an elite offensive line and a frisky defense. Frank Reich is a very good coach and they have made strides in solving their offensive limitations. The Colts were McVay’s first win as a head coach but that team is a far cry from where they are now.
The Titans are also a playoff team and they have the reigning rushing champion and a retooled offense and defense. This is the type of game Raheem Morris will use to prove himself as a coordinator by showing if his front seven can contain Derrick Henry.
As always, it’s impossible to predict the schedule because every year a few teams will surprisingly regress while others surprisingly rise. The Vikings are a late schedule unknown because they could very well be the cream of the NFC North crop OR they could have another injury-riddled season and/or underperform. Their defense will give the Rams headaches and offensively they have a big Jefferson vs Ramsey matchup to look forward to. Mike Zimmer needs this season to save his job possibly, and again, given the lateness of this game, it might not be a game of need or not. Still, this could decide playoff seeding which is always very important.
Arizona and Seattle are unknowns given Arizona retooling their defense and Seattle always living and dying by how Russ is able to cook.
The Bears are a 7.5 point underdog at the time of this piece, but maybe Justin Fields gives that offense the spark Matt Nagy needs not to be the prized offensive coordinator in next year’s coaching carousel.
The Rams schedule isn’t the hardest or the easiest but it lays out a perfect opportunity to allow the Rams a chance to prove they’ve fixed most, if not all, of their weaknesses. Matthew Stafford will be the instrument by which Sean McVay demonstrates how much of an offensive genius he is and Raheem Morris can both show the defense wasn’t all Brandon Staley and that he is the next person to be plucked from the Rams’ staff. It’s early, but the Rams have the type of schedule to perfectly tell the story of a championship team.