It’s not a secret that the LA Rams face a brutal opening five weeks to their 2021 NFL schedule before they begin to compete against non-playoff capable teams. Truth be told, the LA Rams entered the 2021 NFL season with one of the more radically changed rosters for a 2020 NFL playoff team, and they face an early-season gauntlet of competing against some of the NFL’s toughest teams. Of course, that was how the Rams may have wanted it, considering that they traded a substantial treasure chest of NFL assets to acquire veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford.
But we should not ignore the fact that the same early-season gauntlet description applies to the Indianapolis Colts as well, even down to the major overhaul on offense to line up around their new quarterback, Carson Wentz. While the Colts did not fare nearly as well in their opener, they should be not discounted in the least. The Colts were 11-5 in 2020, and boast a very stout defense and a dangerously effective offense.
The LA Rams exit from Indianapolis to take on the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3, a game that will have significant importance in determining the eventual playoff berths by the end of the season. Beyond that game, the Rams face two NFC West rivals in the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks. If the LA Rams can play to a 4-1 or 5-0 record after their first five games, they will have the entire NFL discussing them in the context of the ‘team to beat.’
Trap game? Unlikely
And it’s just that easy to fall into that type of looking too far ahead trap in the NFL. One win seems to bring the risk of overconfidence in future contests. One loss brings the despair of seeing every remaining game as a potential loss.
We’ve had these discussions before. In terms of game priorities, the highest to lowest priorities in terms of opponents are:
I: NFC West teams
II: NFC Playoff teams
III: NFC teams (not from the NFC West)
IV: AFC teams
Of course, a win is a win and a loss is a loss. But a loss against an NFC West opponent is more damaging to the LA Rams playoff chances than a loss to an AFC West opponent. That is due to the various levels of tiebreakers in the NFL Playoff algorithms and the fact that the playoff berths default automatically to the four NFL Divisional Champions from each Conference.
The Indianapolis Colts fall among the lowest priority opponent to the LA Rams in the first five games of the season. Will the Rams be so naive as to look past the Colts this early in the season? I don’t see that as likely, particularly in light of the fact that the Rams are still trying to ramp up several of their players to rotate into the offense and defense.
If this game was played after the bye? Perhaps it would be a trap game. But I don’t see overconfidence in the Rams just yet for this one.