Dec 15, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (89) is defended by Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson (22) during a NFL football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Here’s a look ahead at the five toughest opponents the Los Angeles Rams will face during the 2017 season.
After a disappointing year in which the team ended up parting ways with Jeff Fisher, it’s time to look ahead to the 2017 season and examine the five toughest opponents the Los Angeles Rams will have to face.
Expectations were high for the Rams heading into the 2016 season after a 7-9 finish the previous year thanks to having one of the league’s top defenses led by Aaron Donald. While Donald has done a solid job for the most part, it was the offense of Los Angeles that made this team one of the worst in the league this year.
To top it off, the Rams won’t even earn a high draft pick for their frustrating year due to the team’s decision to trade up in the 2016 NFL Draft in order to select Jared Goff.
Between dragging out the decision to keep Case Keenum as the starter to the organization making the foolish decision of rewarding Tavon Austin with a hefty $42 million extension in the preseason, there are plenty of reasons why the Rams’ offense failed as much as they did in 2016. Instead of moving forward in the right direction after a decent finish last year, Los Angeles took a major step back this season as they will have quite the work load cut out next year if they’re going to have any chance of turning things around.
Of course, having a difficult schedule doesn’t make it any easier for the Rams as the team will face numerous playoff-caliber teams. Starting off with the Tennessee Titans, here’s a look at the five toughest opponents Los Angeles will have to face during the 2017 season.
Dec 24, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray (29) runs the ball during the first quarter of an NFL Football game Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
5. Tennessee Titans
When it comes to the biggest surprise teams of the 2016 season, the Tennessee Titans rank near the top of the list after Marcus Mariota and company went from finishing last in the AFC South last year to competing for the division title. Even if their playoff dreams fell short, the Titans are one of the teams to keep in eye on heading into 2017 as they seem ready to become serious contenders in the AFC.
After a disappointing 1-3 start to the season, Tennessee eventually found a way to turn their season around to compete with the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts for the AFC South. With impressive wins against teams like the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, the Titans took a step in the right direction this year by proving they have what it takes to be the best.
Tennessee will be one of the opponents Los Angeles will have to face on the road, and based off what fans saw in 2016, it’s not going to be an easy matchup. Between Mariota officially having two years of experience under his belt along with the improvement in the ground game thanks to DeMarco Murray, the Rams will have quite the work cut out for them in this one.
Dec 24, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans strong safety Quintin Demps (27) celebrates his interception against the Cincinnati Bengals in the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium. Houston Texans won 12 to 10. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
4. Houston Texans
Speaking of the AFC South, the Houston Texans may have won arguably the weakest division in football this season, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be considered one of the top contenders in the AFC heading into next season. Over the years, the Texans have established a reputation for having one of the league’s best defenses thanks to J.J. Watt, even though the defensive end was limited to playing in just three games this season due to injuries.
Assuming all goes well in the offseason with Watt’s recovery along with Jadeveon Clowney continuing to progress, there’s every reason in the world to believe Houston will enter the 2017 season having one of the league’s top defenses once again. And when seeing how much the offense of Los Angeles struggled to score points throughout the regular season in 2016, it’s easy to see why this could turn out to be one of their toughest battles.
Hopefully, the Rams figure out a way to improve the offense in the offseason, whether that comes through free agency or the draft. Otherwise, this game against Houston could get ugly real fast for Los Angeles when they host the defending AFC South champions in front of their own fans.
Oct 23, 2016; London, ENG; Quarterback Eli Manning (10) of the New York Giants prepares for the snap during the fourth quarter of the game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants at Twickenham Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports
3. New York Giants
When these two teams met in London earlier in the 2016 season, the Rams looked like they had what it takes to defeat the New York Giants after jumping out to an early 10-0 lead. Unfortunately, those ended up being the only points scored by Los Angeles all game as Case Keenum had a game to forget after throwing four interceptions as the team went on to lose the game 17-10.
Obviously, the circumstances will be much different this time around now that Jared Goff has officially taken over as the starter at quarterback, but that doesn’t mean it will be any easier for the Rams. In fact, the Giants’ defense has been one of the main reasons behind the team’s second-half surge in the 2016 season as the unit makes the team even more dangerous heading into the postseason.
Everybody knows what the offense is capable of when Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. get going, but the defense is turning out to be the main difference maker for this team as of late. Between the defense having their hands full with Beckham along with the possibility of Goff facing plenty of heavy pressure from the Giants, the Rams will need to be on top of their game just to have a shot.
Not to mention, this will be one of the few times Los Angeles will have to travel across the country to the east coast, which is never easy for a west coast team to deal with.
Sep 18, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive end Robert Quinn (94) pressures Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) in the second half of the game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
2. Seattle Seahawks
For whatever reason, no matter how bad their season is going, the Rams always seem to elevate their game to a whole new level whenever they face the challenge of the Seattle Seahawks. Even if they were embarrassed in the previous matchup 24-3, the fact that Los Angeles has won four of their last six games against their division rivals will certainly give them confidence heading into next season.
The Rams realize the only chance they’re ever going to have of emerging as contenders in the NFC is figuring out a way to win the division over Seattle, which is never an easy task. There’s a reason why the Seahawks have won the division in three of the last four years as they will head into the postseason as NFC West champions once again since the Arizona Cardinals failed to live up to expectations in 2016.
When looking at all of the talent on both sides of the football, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out Seattle isn’t slowing down any time soon when it comes to being one of the top contenders in the NFC. Here’s to hoping Los Angeles has what it takes to continue their success from the previous three years against Seattle to make the division race a little more interesting in 2017.
Dec 18, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) celebrates with running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) and head coach Jason Garrett after scoring a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
1. Dallas Cowboys
At the beginning of the season, everybody knew the potential was there for the Dallas Cowboys to be successful with Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott leading the offense. With that being said, nobody could have predicted the Cowboys to dominate the way they have in 2016 as they head into the postseason with the best record in the NFC, no matter what happens during the final weekend of the regular season.
Since the Rams are lucky enough to face the NFC East in 2017, this means one of those games will be against the champions of the division as this could turn out to be the toughest battle for the defense next season. To top it off, Los Angeles will be lucky enough to travel to Dallas for this one, which only makes this game even more difficult.
If the Cowboys found a way to be this successful in 2016 with two rookies leading the way on offense, just imagine what type of damage Prescott and Elliott will do with a year of experience under their belts. Whether football fans across the country want to admit it or not, Dallas has put together the type of unit that seems capable of being strong contenders for years to come as it’s easy to see why they rank No. 1 on the list of opponents Los Angeles has to face next year.