Unless you just awoke from a coma, you are well aware that NFL regular season starts in two days, with the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens taking on the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football. For those in St. Louis the wait for “meaningful” football will have to wait until 3:25PM CT, when the Rams take on the Cardinals in the Edward Jones Dome.
Naturally, like any team in the league, the St. Louis Rams would like to start off the year with a win, something they haven’t done since the 2006 season. However, this year things are a bit different. For once, the arrow is pointed up for the St. Louis Rams, with the majority of analysts and experts expecting the team to “take a step forward” during the 2013 season. Most believe the Rams will finish 3rd-place in the NFC West, trailing the overly-hyped Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers in, what is widely considered, the best division in the NFL.
It is easy to understand why there is some hype around this “new” St. Louis roster. Jeff Fisher is generally accepted as one of the top coaches in professional football. The Rams signed several “big name” free agents in the offseason, and claimed two top-tier prospects in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Sam Bradford will be working with the same offensive coordinator for consecutive years for the first time in his career. The list goes on…
Much like the Rams, though, the hype around the Arizona Cardinals has steadily grown throughout the preseason, brought on by a handful of solid performances by Carson Palmer in the preseason and the aura surrounding the presence of new head coach, Bruce Arians. The Cardinals’ struggles last season were well documented, highlighted by incompetent quarterback play and devastating injuries to both the offensive backfield and nearly the entire defensive unit. Had it not been for the collapse of the Philadelphia Eagles and the drama surrounding the Kansas City Chiefs, the Arizona squad from last season would have likely been considered the worst in the league. However, with a new high-profile coach and a handful of notable personnel changes on the roster, the Cardinals appear to be garnering some positive attention of their own.
In fact, there appears to be a divide in the mainstream NFL media on who will be the “surprise team” in the NFC West this season, split between the young, talent-filled St. Louis Rams and the question mark-riddled Arizona Cardinals. Both could certainly make their mark on the season, with some natural volatility likely to occur within the division. However, one will have to rise as the challenger in the division. This is where Week 1 of the regular season will play a pivotal role.
Unlike the New York Jets or Washington
Robert Griffins Redskins, the St. Louis Rams get very little media attention. Worse, even that minuscule amount of coverage is predicated on some level of maintained success. A loss in the season opener to, what most would consider, an inferior team would make our climb back into media relevance nearly insurmountable. Moreover, the focus would certainly shift to the Arizona Cardinals as the rising star in the West, spotlighting the connection between Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, and dramatizing the “rise from the ashes” of Tyrann Mathieu.
Naturally, if the St. Louis Rams were to finish .500, or better, they would receive some attention headed into the 2014 offseason. If St. Louis gets hot towards the end of the year, like Washington or Green Bay last year, they will obviously turn some head. However, if the Rams plan on keeping their postseason hopes alive this year they will need to pull in a “W” from every “should-win” game this season, and that includes the Arizona Cardinals.
And, while garnering media attention is likely not too high on the St. Louis Rams check-list for the season, all of Rams Nation can agree that we would much rather hear reports on the rise to prominence from Sam Bradford than sit through another season of hearing sports pundits refer to the Rams as “rebuilding.”