In one week, the St. Louis Rams kick off their 2013 season against the Arizona Cardinals. While it's obvious the Rams have significantly upgraded their roster from last year's 7-8-1 team, the question is whether they've done enough to compete in what is probably the NFL's toughest division.
The staff at Rams 101 got out their crystal balls, magic 8-balls and an odd dead animal pelt Brent says foretold Miley Cyrus' fall from grace, to divine just how 2013 will unfold for the Rams. We asked five questions. Here are the answers we received:
1. What will be the Rams' final record for 2013?
My magic 8-ball tells me that the Rams will actually regress a bit in 2013 and finish 7-9. As much as the Rams have improved, they're still a half-step behind San Francisco and Seattle and face a difficult schedule. Just about every game will be within reach, but the Rams are probably a year away from being able to turn those close games into wins on a consistent basis.
Brent's pelt was more optimistic, forecasting a 9-7 finish. The pelt was silent on whether that mark would be good enough for a playoff berth.
Betsy's crystal ball was feeling good about the Rams, though. She sees the Rams finishing 10-6. The continuity between Sam Bradford and Brian Schottenheimer combined with some "shiny new toys" on the offensive side of the ball, will result in the offense finally clicking for St. Louis.
2. What game will be most important for the Rams in 2013?
Magic 8-ball says it's next week against Arizona at home. It's important for this young team to gain confidence right off the bat. A win would provide that and send the Rams on the road the next two weeks with a little swagger in their step. A loss at home on opening day and the Rams could be staring an 0-4 start square in the face with two tough road games and the 49ers looming before Jacksonville comes to the Edward Jones Dome.
The pelt says it's the season's final game in Seattle. The Rams haven't won in Seattle since 2005 and could be going there, as they did in 2010, with the playoffs on the line. A win in Seattle would be a milestone win in the Rams' rebuild and most likely be something that carried over to the post season.
Betsy's crystal ball was channeling Jeff Fisher and said, "The next one." Rather than get caught looking ahead, the crystal ball played it smart and is only looking to next Sunday.
3. Who will be the Rams' offensive MVP?
Magic 8-ball says Sam Bradford. It's hard to argue with that. Win or lose, Bradford is THE key to the Rams' success. If he stays healthy and continues to progress, the Rams have a shot. If either of those don't happen, it's another top ten draft pick.
Betsy's crystal ball concurs, but showing why crystal balls are superior to oversized, liquid-filled billiard balls, it offered a little bit more detail.
"There’s going to be a side of Sam shown that we haven’t seen before. He’s tired of losing and has pieces in place to get points on the board."
As you might have guessed, Brent's pelt is a bit of a non-conformist. The pelt says TE Jared Cook will be the key to the offense. Saith the pelt:
"He brings big play ability to the middle of the field, and he appears primed to catch a lot of red zone passes. Bradford loves him, and will look his way a lot."
4. Who will be the Rams' defensive MVP?
Both the pelt and Betsy's crystal ball were firm in predicting this is the year Robert Quinn asserts himself as an elite NFL defensive player. The pelt says that Robert Quinn has "unnatural speed off the edge." If you ever get to see the pelt, you'll know it knows a thing or two about the "unnatural."
Betsy's crystal ball was more, well, crystallized in its assessment of Quinn, asserting that Quinn's own sense of competition with fellow sack-master Chris Long will propel Quinn to the next level.
The magic 8-ball also sees a defensive player breaking into the "elite" realm, but that would be LB James Laurinaitis. With Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher retired, there's a void for the next Butkus-like "wildman" inside linebacker. Nobody in the NFL fills that bill better than the progeny of a former member of The Road Warriors wrestling tag team. Laurinaitis has the requisite wild side and, oh yes, just a little bit of ability to make plays from sideline to sideline. Whatever the Rams' capable defensive line doesn't corral, Laurinaitis will be there to clean up.
5. Who will be the Rams' surprise player of the year?
Brent and the pelt think rookie safety TJ McDonald will turn heads in 2013. His preseason resume has been impressive. Brent sees him near the team lead in tackles, forced fumbles and in the running for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Besty and the crystal ball see rookie WR Stedman Bailey standing out. While his West Virginia teammate Tavon Austin is garnering all the early attention, Betsy sees Bailey becoming that still-missing "Mr. Dependable" option for Sam Bradford. With Austin and Cook drawing double teams, Betsy says Bailey could be open a lot.
The 8-ball and I still think Zac Stacy will have some impact on 2013. Stacy has that ability to move the pile, which given the inconsistency of the Rams' interior line, will come in handy in short yardage situations. Stacy may not get a lot of carries or yardage, but he could be a key player in key moments for St. Louis in 2013.
There you have it, our fearless forecast for 2013. Want to argue with our esteemed panel? Leave a comment here, on Facebook or on Twitter. Be forewarned, however; you don't want to anger the pelt.
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