Despite their inarguable success against the NFC West a year ago, the doubters are still willing to give the St. Louis Rams little to no chance to rule the division in 2013. Even though last year was the club’s first season under new management and there first time legitimately challenging the .500 mark since 2006, you won’t find many pundits around the league willing to give them a fair shake.
This season officially marks a full decade since the team actually finished above .500 with 2003’s 12-4 season marking the last time that happened. Much has clearly changed as mad man Mike Martz was calling the shots back then, Marc Bulger was pulling the strings under center, Marshall Faulk was in the twilight of his illustrious career, and Torry Holt was in the midst of his decade of dominance at receiver. Still, the 2013 season will be the first since those days that the Rams will actually have some similar ingredients to work with.
One could argue that Jeff Fisher is a far superior coach to Martz given his length NFL track record. While Sam Bradford has yet to fulfill first overall pick expectations, he has built a solid foundation that has him gaining ground on Bulger every week. Holt is in a class of his own as far as receivers are concerned, but Chris Givens along with newly acquired weapons Jared Cook and Tavon Austin could help fill that role by committee.
The one piece that seems to be missing from the puzzle is the Faulk of this group. Now that Steven Jackson has moved his career on to the Atlanta Falcons, the Rams have one less future Hall of Fame running back to work with this season. There is plenty of potential in the trio of Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, and Zac Stacy, but they have a lot to prove before they can achieve Faulk-like numbers even as a group.
If division records are any indication, the Rams will more than hold their own in the coming season. The team ruled the roost in that category a year ago with a 4-1-1 mark. The San Francisco 49ers were close behind at 3-2-1, the Seattle Seahawks broke even at 3-3, and the Arizona Cardinals stumbled after a hot start to a 1-5 divisional mark.
Another similar season within the division would mean all the Rams must do this year is not go 3-7 again outside of arguably the toughest group of teams in the league. In addition to their NFC West tilts, the schedule also hold two manageable groups of opponents as the team faces the AFC and NFC South divisions in the coming season. A .500 record outside of their own division last year would have had them sniffing the postseason at 9-6-1 potentially.
It might not seem like a feasible task on paper, but the Rams proved more than capable just a year ago of holding their own in the cutthroat NFC West. Look for them to surprise some people again in the upcoming season.