On whether early schedule dooms Rams

Jeremy from Stuart, Fla., thinks the St. Louis Rams could lose seven of their first eight regular-season games thanks to a rough schedule. He wonders whether that opens the door for the San Francisco 49ers to win the NFC West.

Mike Sando: I thought the Seattle Seahawks' schedule was going to doom them early last season. They wound up starting 4-2, with victories over Chicago (road) and San Diego (home). It's easier to say which teams should win than which teams will win, particularly this far out.

The Rams face Philadelphia at home in Week 1. The Eagles are being anointed offseason champions after moving aggressively to upgrade their roster. I wouldn't be shocked to see the Rams win that game. They'll be at home. Their head coach, Steve Spagnuolo, will know every aspect of the Eagles' offense from his days coaching with Andy Reid.

My point: What looks like 1-7 now might not be so rough. I see two big keys for St. Louis this season:

  • Become tougher at home. The Rams were 5-3 at home last season. That's not bad, but the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers had the same home records. Getting to 6-2 at home would be huge for the Rams this season. They do face a rough schedule early, but three of their first four games are at the Edward Jones Dome. Winning at least two of those -- against Philadelphia, Baltimore and/or Washington -- will be critical to improving the home record. Every team that won at least six home games last season finished with a winning record (most of the 5-3 teams did too, but not in the NFC West).

  • Have a winning record in the division. Eleven of the 12 playoff teams last season had winning records in their divisions. Oakland and San Francisco were the only non-playoff team in the league with winning records inside their divisions. The Rams went only 3-3 in the NFC West last season. They lost at home to Arizona in the regular-season opener. The Cardinals were a bad team. That was a bad loss for the Rams. Becoming a better team at home will probably require going 3-0 at home in the division. Seattle and Arizona visit the Rams in Weeks 11 and 12, respectively. The 49ers visit in Week 17. It's critical for the Rams to win those games, in my view. They have no division games until Week 9. They play four consecutive division games beginning in Week 11.

Every team in the division plays four games against the AFC North and four more against the NFC East. I think that's why we could see another year pass without a winning record for the division champ.

To put the Rams' schedule in better perspective, I'll republish the "complaint department" notes from the schedule analyses items that ran earlier this offseason:

  • 49ers: "The 49ers play a Monday night game at home against the Steelers followed by a Saturday game against the Seahawks at Qwest Field. That's a tough turnaround, but there is more. The 49ers play a Sunday game at home against division-rival Arizona on Dec. 11, followed by a Thanksgiving game across the country in Baltimore -- a highly anticipated matchup pitting 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh against his brother, John. That's just brutal. On top of it all, the league again saddled the 49ers with more 10 a.m. PT kickoffs than any West Coast team should have to face. Five of the six potential early starts will indeed kick off in the 10 a.m. PT hour, matching the total for Seattle. That's 27 early kickoffs in 28 chances since 2007. Good luck, Jim."

  • Rams: "The Rams play back-to-back divisional road games on the West Coast when they visit San Francisco and Seattle in December. That is rough, but other teams in the division had more to complain about. The Rams face both Super Bowl participants on the road, but we knew that well before Tuesday. Spagnuolo will probably welcome the tough schedule. He's been eager for the Rams to step up in class. And he does get a bye week before heading onto the road against Green Bay and Dallas. Facing Baltimore on a short week following the Monday night matchup against the Giants isn't easy, but at least the game is in St. Louis."

  • Seahawks: "The Seahawks have five games kicking off in the 10 a.m. PT time slot, up from two last season. That puts Seattle at a disadvantage given how far the team must travel as the most isolated franchise in the league. The Seahawks follow their Week 1 visit to San Francisco with a trip to Pittsburgh. This is a tough schedule early with Pittsburgh, Atlanta and the New York Giants facing Seattle before the Seahawks' bye in Week 6."

  • Cardinals: "The Cardinals have consecutive road games against the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams in November. That's looking like a tough stretch. Playing the New York Giants, Pittsburgh and Baltimore Ravens during a four-game stretch is another toughie. The Cardinals have three games kicking off at 10 a.m. local time in Phoenix and three more kicking off at 11 a.m. local time. Ken Whisenhunt has lamented the early starts."

The Rams aren't the only NFC West team facing schedule-related challenges this season.