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One man's opinion: Rams will finish 9-7

Stan McNeal examines the Rams' 2013 slate and determines they'll just miss the playoffs

ST. LOUIS -- Ten wins should be enough for the Rams to make the playoffs. Even if 10 aren't enough, no one should be disappointed in the Rams if they win that many games.


They have a legitimate chance, too, even though their schedule is the fourth toughest in the NFL based on 2012 winning percentages.


But to win 10, they'll need to win at least one more game than they are picked to win in this breakdown.


Game by game:


Arizona. This is more than a should-win. It's also a must-win. The Cardinals have a new head coach, Bruce Arians, and are breaking in a new quarterback, the not-getting-any-younger Carson Palmer.


The Rams' defense should be able to shut down the Cardinals thoroughly enough to give Sam Bradford and Co. a chance to break in their new attack without needing to be in top form. Considering the three games that follow, a loss to the Cardinals would be as devastating as any loss a team could suffer in its opener. Record: 1-0.


At Atlanta. Too bad this won't be at the Dome so Steven Jackson could be given a returning hero's welcome. He deserves one. With his new team, Jackson will be expected to eat up time in fourth quarters when the Falcons have leads to protect. Look for him to be busy this game. The Falcons have too much offense for the Rams to keep up. Record: 1-1.


At Dallas. Playing in a 100,000-seat stadium can be daunting. But any aura that once followed the Cowboys has been replaced by drama, often silly drama. This is a team that doesn't always play up to its talent.


Its defense, however, should be improved with Monte Kiffin taking over as coordinator. And the Cowboys, like the Rams, upgraded their offensive skill positions in the draft. At this point, expecting a victory at Dallas is asking too much from such a young squad as the Rams. Record: 1-2.


San Francisco. The Dome goes prime time on NFL Network with a game against the conference champs. The fans will be ready. So will the Rams who, because of the short week, won't have as much time as usual to be reminded about the offseason trash talking of Cortland Finnegan and Chris Long. This feels like a statement game, with the Rams having the last words: "Look at us. We just beat a Super Bowl team. We're legit." Record: 2-2.


Jacksonville. The Rams haven't won at the Dome by more than 20 points since 2003. Until this one. The Jaguars ranked 29th in offense and 30th in defense last year, and they're not supposed to be much better in 2013. Record: 3-2.


At Houston. The Texans won 12 games last year before losing in the second round of the playoffs. There's no reason to believe they won't be at least as good in 2013. Certainly, they'll be good enough to beat the Rams at home. Record: 3-3.


At Carolina. If Cam Newton plays like he did in his second season, the Rams should prevail. If he plays like he did in his first season, the Panthers should win. Since I expect Newton to reach new heights in his third season, I expect the Panthers to win. Record: 3-4.


Seattle. Facing Newton in the previous game should help when Russell Wilson visits St. Louis for the first Monday Night Football game at the Dome since 2006. Like they did against the Niners, the Rams prove they can play entertaining -- and winning -- football. Record: 4-4.


Tennessee. The Rams put it all together and make sure Fisher doesn't lose to his former team. Record: 5-4.


At Indianapolis. A matchup between Bradford, the first pick of the 2010 draft, and Andrew Luck, the first pick of the 2012 draft. The veteran comes through with the upset. Record: 6-4.


Chicago. The Rams will be coming off their bye week; the Bears will be coming off a battle against the Super Bowl champion Ravens. Advantage, Rams. Record: 7-4.


At San Francisco. San Francisco ends its three-game winless streak against the Rams. Record: 7-5.


At Arizona. Winning division games on the road is difficult, especially for a team as young as the Rams. They'll come close, but they won't sweep the Cardinals. Record: 7-6.


New Orleans. The Rams sacked Drew Brees six times in his last visit to St. Louis, in 2010. He will be treated just as rudely this time as the defense leads the way for the home team. Record: 8-6.


Tampa Bay. With the playoffs still a possibility, the Rams roll over a team that has an over-under win line set at 7.5 by one sports book. The over-under for the Rams, by the way, is seven. Record: 9-6.


At Seattle. For the third time in four years, the Rams will finish their season at Seattle, where they have lost eight straight. Make it nine after this one, as the Rams finish 9-7 and just miss the playoffs.


You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.