Rams season prediction: 9-7

For the first time since 2003, the Rams look poised to finish the season with a winning record. Despite the improvement, they’ll come up just short of the playoffs in perhaps the league’s most difficult division.

Led by a defense that should take the next step to become a top-10 unit, the Rams should be in the majority of their games into the fourth quarter.

Though it should be improved, the offense’s reliance on young players at the skill positions and a veteran group with consistent injury issues on the offensive line will keep the Rams from jumping into the postseason.

Making matters more difficult is a seemingly tough schedule, which includes four games against expected powerhouses Seattle and San Francisco, plus trips to playoff teams such as Atlanta, Houston and Indianapolis.

Elsewhere on the schedule, the Rams play a number of games that appear to be toss-ups. Matchups with the likes of Chicago, Carolina, Dallas and New Orleans could go either way.

To get to 9-7, the Rams must improve their record at home and outside the division after going 4-4 and 3-7, respectively, in those categories in 2012.

Predicted finish in NFC West: third