When: 1 p.m. ET Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis TV: CBS
The Oakland Raiders got their first win of the season last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, a team the St. Louis Rams lost to 34-7 earlier this season. Of course, the Rams also own wins this season against the likes of the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.
Perhaps no victories in the league combine to show the fickle nature of the NFL from week to week than the four mentioned there. This week, though, neither team has a chance to pull off a win that will make the league sit up and take notice. That's because the Rams and Raiders meet Sunday afternoon with the Raiders looking to build on their initial victory and the Rams looking to rebound from a disappointing loss to the San Diego Chargers.
ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Raiders reporter Michael Wagaman take a closer look at the matchup.
Wagoner: Michael, the Raiders finally got a win, which actually has some in St. Louis happy because they think the team won't be as desperate. Do you think that they'll be able to build on that victory and were there things in that win against Kansas City that specifically could be building blocks moving forward?
Wagaman: There were definitely things in the win that the Raiders can build upon, specifically the running game, which showed up for the first time this season. After watching Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew get 2-3 yards a carry almost every time they touched the ball, Oakland offensive coordinator Greg Olson finally gave the ball to Latavius Murray and was rewarded with the single-best day by a Raiders running back this season. Fullback Marcel Reece also provided some pop on the winning drive against Kansas City. As for the Raiders not being as desperate, the one thing they've done consistently is play with effort. I've been around teams that finished 4-12 and 7-9 and showed more quit than this Oakland team.
Nick, the Rams have been one of the most confusing teams to figure out since Jeff Fisher arrived. They seem to be far more competitive than their record indicates and they've posted some big wins and played others closer than expected. What's keeping St. Louis from getting over the hump?
Wagoner: Well, I could give a real generic answer and point to something like how they are the youngest team in the league for a third straight season and still "learning how to win." But let's be real, we should be past the point that people use youth as an excuse. The same can mostly be said of injuries, though I think the biggest thing that keeps them from taking the next step right now is quarterback play. It's not a big revelation to say you need to have a reliable quarterback to win consistently and the Rams simply don't have that. Some would argue Sam Bradford could have been that guy but the Rams put a lot of faith in him coming off an injury without investing a pick in a possible alternative. There's no way of knowing whether Bradford would have the team in a better place right now, considering he has never led the team to a winning record, either. But one thing he has done well in his career is protect the ball and not make costly mistakes. That has killed the Rams repeatedly this season, especially in losses to Dallas, Arizona and San Diego.
Speaking of quarterbacks, Derek Carr seems like a guy with a bright future, but we don't get to see much of him here. What have been your impressions of him and what are some areas he needs to really work on over the final month-plus?
Wagaman: Carr has been everything the Raiders could hope for and more. The kid is mature beyond his years in terms of football and life, and that level-headed approach helped him keep an even keel during the first 10 weeks of the season when the losses were piling up. His footwork in the pocket is what impresses me most. That and the tremendous poise he's displayed under adverse circumstances. Still, he's far from a polished product. He needs to improve his decision-making -- Carr has a tendency to force throws into tight coverages, which has gotten him in trouble at times. He also needs to get better going through his progressions rather than locking onto one target. Basically normal rookie stuff.
Nick, since we're talking quarterbacks, is it time that St. Louis move on from the Bradford experiment and look for another potential franchise quarterback? With Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston coming out of college next year, might the Rams try to get one of them?
Wagoner: In short, the answer to your question is yes. The Rams need to find their franchise quarterback and they know that. The problem is, they're almost certainly going to win enough games to be out of range to draft someone like Mariota or Winston, which means they'd have to sell the farm to get one of them. So that means they are going to have to find a way to make it work in case they have to wait until Round 2 or 3 to draft a signal-caller. That means Bradford could very well return in 2015. In fact, I suspect the Rams would prefer to bring Bradford back at a greatly reduced salary. Whether he and his agent would be amenable to that remains to be seen, but bringing Bradford back and drafting a quarterback would seem like a logical plan. Of course, it sounded like one last year and they decided to wait until Round 6 to take a guy who is no longer even on the practice squad in Garrett Gilbert. The Rams have some young talent and they are competitive now. But to move from competitive to contender, they need an answer at quarterback.
Clearly, the Rams and Raiders are both former Los Angeles tenants and there are rumors they will be again. What's the buzz out there on the Raiders' front and do you see any circumstance under which the Davis family would sell the team?
Wagaman: The city that seems to be the most prominently associated with the Raiders right now is San Antonio, though I doubt there is anything to that side of the equation. But the Los Angeles market is an entirely different story. Owner Mark Davis has openly acknowledged he has had discussions with people in Southern California, but up until now nothing's come to fruition. Staying in Oakland can't be ruled out either, although with each passing day it seems less and less likely. The bottom line is the Raiders need a new stadium, whether it's in L.A., Oakland, San Antonio or wherever they end up. As for Davis selling, although there are some who believe that's his end destination, I see it otherwise. He seems intent on trying to restore the franchise to the competitive level it once achieved. His determination to find a new stadium -- for which he has said he'll pay for -- seems to indicate a long-term interest.
Nick, the Rams and Raiders probably share the NFL lead for blown opportunities this season and yet both have stayed more competitive than some might think. It doesn't seem like either team is content playing out the string, but do you think there's a concern in St. Louis something like that might start to happen over the final five games?
Wagoner: Honestly, I don't. I have my doubts about whether Fisher can take this team beyond the mediocrity they've achieved in nearly three years under him, but one thing they haven't done is show any signs of just packing it in and calling it a day. In fact, since Fisher arrived in St. Louis, the Rams have had a knack for finishing the season strong after 3-5 starts. I expect them to continue that this season, especially now that the schedule lightens up a bit. The Rams just played eight consecutive games against teams that either went to the playoffs or had a winning record (Arizona) in 2013. They went 3-5 in those games after their 1-2 start. Now, they get Oakland, Washington and the New York Giants in a four-week span. And there's a good chance defensive end Chris Long returns this week. That gives them a chance to get to seven wins for the third consecutive season, and if they can steal another win from Arizona or Seattle; they can get to eight for the first time under Fisher. Fisher has done well to take the Rams from the doldrums to competitive, but another losing season shouldn't and wouldn't be viewed as progress.