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The Los Angeles Rams are the favorites to win the NFC West. The 49ers may pose a challenge if everything goes right for them, specifically if quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo continues his rise and their defense improves. For the most part, though, the Rams’ most prominent threats are outside their division.

Other NFC teams and schedule challenges that can potentially give the Rams some issues include:

The Minnesota Vikings

The Rams host the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 27 in a Thursday night tilt. The game could be the Rams’ first real test of the season, following three very winnable games at the season’s start: an opener in Oakland, and then hosting Arizona and the Chargers.

The Vikings bring back their dominant defense, which helped carry them to the NFC Championship game. They also added Kirk Cousins at quarterback, upgrading on the serviceable duo of Case Keenum and Sam Bradford. Cousins has abundant talent, and the combination of him and the Vikings’ defense will pose a challenge for the Rams. The Rams are one of few teams in the league that can match the Vikings’ defensive talent.

Packers/Saints, Back-to-Back

Halloween will be a challenging time for the Rams. They will square off against some of the finest quarterbacks in back-to-back weeks, hosting Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Oct. 28 and then traveling to New Orleans to take on Drew Brees and the Saints on Nov. 4. The Rams’ stout defense will do their best to contain these future hall-of-famers. The Packers and Saints both have improvements on defense this year, so assuming Rodgers and Brees are at their usual strength, the games will be close.

The Rams’ bye week comes at a needed time, following a daunting Packers/Saints/Seahawks/Chiefs stretch. The Seahawks may no longer be the force they once were, but Russell Wilson remains an elite quarterback. The Packers, Saints and Chiefs are all highly competitive.

Four Away Games in Five Weeks

Further enhancing the difficulty of the Packers/Saints back-to-back is that the Saints game concludes a stretch where Rams will be on the road for four out of five games. Their only home game from Oct. 7 to Nov. 4 is Oct. 28, against the Packers. That difficult road stretch will have a defining role on the Rams’ season.

Overall, the season starts fairly easy, with 3-0 a strong possibility heading into the Sept. 27 Vikings game. The Rams face their most daunting section of the schedule beginning on Oct. 7, starting the four road games in five weeks period. Following their week 12 bye, the team goes on the road again for three out of four weeks as they visit the Lions, Bears and Cardinals. Before the Cardinals game, the Rams host the Eagles.

The Rams are one of few teams in the league that can match the Vikings’ defensive talent.

The Rams will face tough stretches of being on the road, with the only reprieve being home games against the Packers and Eagles, who are among the best teams in the NFL. Regardless, the Rams have the talent and coaching to prevail over these challenges.

Sports Al Dente 2019

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