St. Louis Rams
2009 record: 1-15 (Last in NFC West)
Steve WycheRookie Sam Bradford is going to take his lumps but he'll be fine. St. Louis should steadily improve but it is still a year from a big jump.
31NFL ranking of the Rams' defense in 2009. For all the talk of the struggling offense, remember that Steve Spagnuolo built his reputation as a defensive coordinator. It's on him to improve the unit.
The Rams have patiently waited for Long to provide the impact they expected when they took him with the second overall pick of the 2008 draft. He has only produced nine sacks in two seasons and spent most of last year filling a role as a situational pass rusher. The Rams must get a breakout performance from Long to key their defensive resurgence in 2010.
Donnie AveryAvery has been appointed the Rams' No. 1 receiver after only two seasons, but his game needs to continue to evolve for him to effectively anchor the passing attack. While his speed and explosiveness make him a natural deep threat, he must show that he can effectively run short and intermediate routes. The offseason reports of Avery's development have been good, but he must quickly develop a strong rapport with Sam Bradford to have a chance at fulfilling his immense potential.
Buyer beware on JacksonSteven Jackson is one of the most talented running backs in the league, but his lack of durability and a punchless Rams offense hurts his value. He'll put up great numbers at times, but facing constant stacked fronts will wear on him. That makes Jackson a risk to break down.
Three pivotal games
Sept. 12 vs. Arizona
What better way to get over a dreadful 1-15 season and excite a somber fan base than to start the following year with a victory. Given this season-opener is at home against the two-time defending NFC West champion Cardinals, a win here would speak volumes to the progress the Rams have made under second-year coach Steve Spagnuolo.
Sept. 19 at Oakland
Times have been rough in recent years for these former Los Angeles neighbors. The Rams and Raiders each had Super Bowl runs in the early part of the last decade, but now both teams are squarely in the middle of rebuilding projects. Which team is on the fast(er) track to success? This early season matchup will either reveal just that, or show that both are still lacking.
Oct. 10 at Detroit
The Rams return to the site of their lone victory from last year. What's intriguing about this season's matchup in Motown is the prospect of watching the two quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall in the previous two drafts pitted against each other. So who do you expect to play better? Matthew Stafford or Sam Bradford? We could have the answer in Week 5.