A year ago it would’ve seemed unfathomable that the Rams would get any prime time games. Sure, they would be on Thursday Night Football but everybody gets one so its the participation trophy of televised games.
After going 11-5, making the playoffs, and being watchable, the league decided to gift them with five prime-time games. It helps that the Rams also added a ton of big-name players. The question now remains, are the Rams ready? The fans certainly are.
The Rams now have a first place schedule. Sure, last year they beat a few playoff teams including AFC runner-up Jacksonville and NFC South champion New Orleans.
Now they have a schedule that is daunting and they have to prove they’re ready to belong. Prior to Les Snead’s trade machine wizardry, this team was a prime candidate to regress. Now, they’re likely to match or improve on their 11-5 record (assuming health and all the pieces fit). In looking at the schedule there are clear implications for games big and small.
Week 1: Rams At Raiders, MNF
Week one is their first national game, playing on the road at Oakland on Monday Night Football. The Raiders look to be better after sinking $100 million into prying Jon Gruden out of the booth.
The stakes are surprisingly high in this game as both franchises are trying to prove they’re for real. The Raiders had a regression year that saw quarterback Derek Carr injured and the defense get exposed. The Rams have a chance to make a statement early by shutting down Carr and the rest of the Raiders offense.
Week 3: Chargers At Rams
This game is the first battle for Los Angeles. The Rams and Chargers are both competing for fans and while the Rams would have the edge, this would seal it.
The Chargers have a young defense but the future is murky because Philip Rivers is near the end of his career. They have stars on offense like Keenan Allen (when healthy) and Melvin Gordon but they have yet to register with the greater Los Angeles area.
Week 4: Vikings At Rams, TNF
It would seem asinine to declare this game a critical game but for both teams it is. Kirk Cousins made waves by getting $84 million guaranteed. He needs to prove he’s worth it. They are loaded on both sides of the ball and Cousins needs to take them over the hump.
One of the Rams’ biggest losses was to the Vikings who overwhelmed the Rams’ offensive line. The Rams need this one because it could very well carry long-term playoff implications.
Week 5: Rams At Seahawks
This game more than their later meeting will carry more weight. The Seahawks are in a period of transition but that doesn’t mean they’ll be rebuilding the way the Arizona Cardinals are. They still have Russell Wilson and their vaunted home field advantage. If the Rams take care of business they’ll establish themselves as the class of the division.
Week 6: Rams At Broncos
The Broncos are a bit of an enigma. On one hand, they still have a Von Miller led defense. On the other, their offense is in flux. Their line and running game have been given a bit of a makeover throughout the offseason. Case Keenum is probably looking for another shot at sticking it to the Rams after beating them last year with the Vikings.
This is also a bit of a revenge game for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips considering the Broncos just let him go to Los Angeles after winning a Super Bowl, and Aqib Talib who they traded to the Rams just a month ago. Winning at Mile High would be huge for Goff and the Rams could establish defensive supremacy.
Week 7: Rams At 49ers, SNF
This game is HUGE. Assuming the Jimmy Garoppolo experience goes off without a hitch this game means the world to both teams. More so than the revenge match in week 17 because by then both teams could have their postseason fates sealed.
Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay will once again vie for the title of the best young coach in the league. The story will be the coaches and the respective offenses but the defensive battle is bigger.
The Rams have the better unit on paper but the 49ers could have a better defense than people think. If Richard Sherman is available he’ll be out to prove he’s still got it and they added some young pieces in the draft. This game could decide the NFC West.
Week 8: Packers At Rams
The Packers are always difficult to predict. Assuming Aaron Rodgers is healthy and their slew of young DBs see playing time right away, this could be another team Rodgers makes better than it has business being. The main stories will both be whether Goff can hang with Rodgers and if the defense can shut Rodgers down.
Week 9: Rams At Saints
The Rams beat the Saints last year and shut down rookie running back Alvin Kamara. Still, the Saints were a playoff team and look to be in win-now mode after the draft. This game could matter for seeding purposes and give the team a quality win on the road.
Week 11: Chiefs At Rams (Mexico Game), MNF
The Rams avoided going to London this year but get an international game anyway. This game might not seem important but has some interesting storylines.
Sean McVay will get a chance to spar against another offensive genius in Andy Reid. Marcus Peters gets a chance at revenge on the Chiefs for trading him, and the Rams defense potentially gets another big test.
Patrick Mahomes II could have a Deshaun Watson like season. The second-year quarterback could be electric and that offense has the potential to be fun. The other caveat to this game is that if the Rams are good and remain fun to watch they could endure themselves to a whole new set of fans.
Week 14: Rams At Bears
On paper, this doesn’t look like much of a game as the Bears are still rebuilding. The thing is, the Bears have the potential to be what the Rams were last year. They have armed second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky with a slew of weapons in Taylor Gabriel, Allen Robinson, and Trey Burton. He will also have a dynamic backfield with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Their defense has a lot of solid pieces and head coach Matt Nagy wants to be this year’s McVay.
Week 15: Eagles At Rams, SNF
Last year this game swung the season. The Rams lost out on home-field and a first-round bye. Carson Wentz got knocked out with an ACL injury leading to Nick Foles‘ historic run. The Eagles are the champs and got better on defense. This game could once again decide home field or even bye scenarios. The Rams fell short last year and now they can go toe to toe with Philly. This game is probably the biggest game of the season. If the Rams win, it will be a major feather in their cap.
For the first time since 2001, the Rams have championship expectations. There are no longer any feel good stories. It’s a boom or bust season and all eyes are on Los Angeles. The question remains if this team is actually ready for prime time.