At this time of year, it's a popular pastime among NFL prognosticators, media and fans alike to go through a team's schedule and check off wins and losses on a game-by-game basis.
It's also a common practice to glance at a schedule and declare it either difficult or easy. The reality is that what many of us now think is an easy schedule will probably turn out difficult and vice-versa. As it stands right now, the St. Louis Rams have the fourth-most-difficult schedule in the NFL.
Want a prediction on that schedule? Here's one: It won't be the fourth-toughest when we compare it to the "strength of schedule" that comes out following the season. The disconnect comes from determining schedule strength based on the previous season's record entering a year against doing it after the season based on the actual records of your opponents.
That sounds a bit convoluted on the surface, but put simply, the NFL is a league of change. From year to year, teams expected to be playoff caliber fall on their collective faces and teams expected to be making picks early in the NFL draft surge to the playoffs.
Let's use the Denver Broncos of last year as an example.
Heading into the 2012 season, Denver was slated to have the NFL's second-toughest schedule based on their opponents' combined record from the 2011 season. When last season was done, a poor AFC West led to what turned out to be the 28th-toughest schedule in the league. A group that in 2011 had combined for a record of 139-117 posted a 117-139 mark in 2012.
Therein lies the rub. The Rams generated a lot of optimism on the heels of a 2010 season in which they finished 7-9 and came within a game of winning the NFC West. Much of that turned out to be smoke and mirrors as they did it against the second-easiest schedule in the league, a group that combined to go 115-141.
This year, the Rams again have created buzz coming off a season in which they went 7-8-1. That record was harder-earned, as the Rams' schedule in 2012 was the third-most-difficult in the league. That should offer more hope that the progress was real.
Determining how they build on that optimism will ultimately have more to do with what the Rams accomplish than any sort of guesses at whether the schedule will be difficult or not.
I'm going to borrow a popular Twitter acronym for this section of the Ram-blings and start calling this I.C.Y.M.I., or In Case You Missed It. Here's the rundown of what we had in this corner of ESPN.com on Wednesday. ... A look at Bovada's individual player props for the Rams and how those might play out. ... A breakdown of our writers' league-wide predictions and where the Rams popped up in those choices. ... Coach Jeff Fisher offering up the possibility of a return for released linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. ... A spin along the injury wire and the return of end Chris Long to practice. ... And finally, a look at the intrigue surrounding the debut of rookie receiver Tavon Austin and the many ways in which the Rams could use him.
ESPN Insider Mike Sando offered some insight into the Rams-Cardinals matchup with some statistics and analysis. Sando breaks down the expected impact of Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer and gives an idea of how close he thinks this one might be.
Are you a Rams fan who believes the Rams are headed back to the Super Bowl and you're searching for validation of your choice from one of the many of us making our predictions? Look no further than the New York Post and columnist Steve Serby. Apparently, all it takes for the Rams to get back to the promised land is someone named Richard Quinn and a lot of video of the New York Giants.
All too often during his time with the Rams, receiver Danny Amendola simply couldn't stay on the field as injuries plagued him again and again. Many of those injuries were a result of his fearless style going over the middle, a style that has been significant in his ability to play at this level. Ben Volin of the Boston Globe takes a deep and interesting look at Amendola's mentality and why the fragile label that's followed Amendola around is incorrect.