Rams consensus: Third in NFC West

The St. Louis Rams finished third in the NFC West in 2012, and if things go according to the predictions of myself and four of our esteemed columnists, they're going to do so again this season.

In the ESPN.com team-by-team preview of the Rams, the consensus of the group was that the Rams would once again finish behind some combination of Seattle and San Francisco in the division. I was joined by ESPN columnists Adam Schefter, Ashley Fox and Jeffri Chadiha in tabbing the Rams for a third-place finish, while John Clayton has the team ending up last in the division.

Based on the comments accompanying the picks, we all seemed to agree that the Rams are a team headed in the right direction but one that might be a year away from truly contending in what may be the league's toughest division. Chadiha even goes so far as to say the Rams "could be the biggest sleeper in the NFL."

That's a sentiment shared by plenty of others. The Rams have put the pieces in place to contend, and even though most believe the Seahawks and 49ers are more likely to win the West, the Rams did post the best record within the division last season at 4-1-1. It's going to be tough for the Rams to duplicate that record again in 2013 (and not just because ties rarely occur).

Asked about the difficulty of the division on Sunday, Rams coach Jeff Fisher acknowledged that his team and Arizona are still trying to catch up to Seattle and San Francisco. The Rams will get a chance to gauge where they are in relation to the Cardinals this week in the season opener.

“Well, we’ve got our first opportunity this week and we’ll find out," Fisher said. "I think Arizona is a much-improved team over the last year and we know what the other two are capable of doing. I think us and Arizona are chasing them, feel like we’ll be chasing them for a while. But Arizona started off, I think, 5-0 last year, so they’re a good football team as well.”

For the Rams to keep up, they'll need to perform better outside of the division than they did a year ago, and they'll also need to ensure they take care of the games they should win in the division. Arizona looks to be improved with the addition of quarterback Carson Palmer, but a home game against the team our panel picked to finish fourth needs to go down as a win for the Rams to get off on the right foot in 2013.