Mon, 14 Jun 2021

Anticipating the most compelling matchups of 2021

Los Angeles Rams
11 May 2021, 18:24 GMT+10

J.B. Long

There's not a bad game on this 2021 schedule.

Sure, I have my favorites. And hopefully, you do, too.

But no one has to look very hard to find riveting reasons to like each and every showdown.

Below, I've ranked the Rams opponents from least-to-most compelling, with a brief blurb on their post-Draft latest. Note that this is not meant to anticipate the strength or competitiveness of the foes; purely just a reflection of my interest level in the associated storylines.

For tough calls, I prioritized home games over road, NFC over AFC, and division rivalries over all (except one).

Let me know where you agree and disagree.

Cannot wait to have the dates and times locked in this Wednesday at 5 p.m. PT.

at Houston Texans

Not many are high on Houston right now, which is why some 2021 mock drafts already have the Texans on the clock.

Coming off a 4-12 season and with uncertainty at quarterback, the Texans didn't draft until the third pick of Round Three. Having already signed Tyrod Taylor in free agency, Houston also selected Stanford's Davis Mills.

Who takes the snaps is still to be determined, but at least seeing former Ram Brandin Cooks in person will be something to look forward to.

at New York Giants

Last year's game at SoFi Stadium against the Giants was a slog, with the Rams needing a late, diving interception from Darious Williams to finally seal it in the fourth quarter.

New York went to work on their passing game - offensive and defensive - in the New Year, adding WR Kenny Golladay from Detroit and using their first draft pick on Florida receiver Kadarius Toney. They also invested in corner Adoree' Jackson in free agency, while selecting Georgia edge defender Azeez Ojulari and Central Florida corner Aaron Robinson on Day Two.

With these investments, the Giants could be uniquely equipped to combat the Rams talents on the perimeter in 2021, even if 2020 was a grudge match in the trenches.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The NFL's No. 1 overall selection Trevor Lawrence visits Inglewood as a rookie, and so does one of the biggest names in coaching, as Urban Meyer tests the NFL waters.

Oh, by the way, it's also Jalen Ramsey's first opportunity to face his former franchise.

Tennessee Titans

This is one of 15 Super Bowl rematches on the 2021 slate, according to NFL Research, as the Rams and Titans reprise Super Bowl XXXIV. And it's conceivable this might not be the Titans' only visit to Inglewood next season.

Tennessee made one of the more significant risk-reward selections of the first round considering Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley's injury history.

The Titans also handed out the second-biggest contract in free agency. Only Niners offensive tackle Trent Williams ($138 million) signed for more potential money than edge Bud Dupree was offered ($82.5 million) to leave Pittsburgh for the AFC South.

at Minnesota Vikings

If I could place this game on Thursday Night Football right now, I would, if only because of how spectacular the last meeting between these teams was in that same spotlight (Week 4, 2018).

But returning to U.S. Bank Stadium comes with a much different memory, one in which the Rams punched in an opening touchdown, only to see the Vikings score the next 27 unanswered (Week 11, 2017).

McVay and Kirk Cousins always make for good theater. However, the feature film has to be the first career collision between Ramsey and Minnesota phenom Justin Jefferson, who was All-Pro as a rookie receiver.

at Indianapolis Colts

We could go so many directions here, and the trip to Lucas Oil could easily rank higher on this list.

Some see Indianapolis as an AFC contender; Carson Wentz in a new uniform reunited with Frank Reich is a fascinating experiment; the Colts took edge rushers Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo (likely to redshirt after tearing his Achilles in January) with their first two picks, adding to a defensive arsenal that already includes All-Pro tackle DeForest Buckner and linebacker Darius Leonard (who happens to be the best-case projection for new Rams linebacker Ernest Jones).

But honestly? Just give me a camera isolated on Colts guard Quentin Nelson and Aaron Donald for a full game. That alone would be a ratings bonanza.

at Baltimore Ravens

I initially had this "17th game" a bit lower, but after Marcus Peters' recent comments, the trip to Baltimore has revamped intrigue.

The Ravens ran all over the Rams at the Coliseum in 2019 (285 yards rushing, to be exact), so there will be an element of get-back flying to BWI for what promises to be a physical test.

Meantime, Baltimore is attempting to elevate it's passing game, selecting Minnesota's Rashod Bateman with the 27th pick and signing Sammy Watkins to a one-year deal.

Detroit Lions

I don't even need to write this section, do I?

Two former No. 1 overall selections at quarterback, traded for each other, facing the franchises that drafted them for the first time.

When the schedule is announced, it will be interesting to see if the league is as invested in this storyline as the cities of Detroit and Los Angeles.

Chicago Bears

The Bears, again?

Yes, it feels like Chicago has been on the schedule a lot, lately. They're the new Saints, apparently.

This will be the fourth consecutive season colliding with the Bears, and the third straight here in Los Angeles.

However, the addition of draft darling Justin Fields injects new life into the rivalry. If this game is placed early on the schedule, might the rookie quarterback even make his NFL debut against Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey?

It's also worth noting that NFC North veteran Matthew Stafford has more career wins against Chicago (11) than any other opponent.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The defending Super Bowl champions invade the site of Super Bowl LVI.

One of Tom Brady's worst games in yet another championship season was courtesy of Jordan Fuller and the Rams defense, a Monday Night thriller that even resulted in another Brady Rule.

TB12 at SoFi has prime time written all over it.

Arizona Cardinals

Is this the season Arizona breaks through, or can McVay keep Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals in check for another year?

This game will feature two Hall of Fame defensive lineman, in Donald and J.J. Watt, who boast six of the last nine NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Oft-injured A.J. Green will be looking to recapture his All-Pro form at age 33 in the Air Raid.

And as for Larry Fitzgerald and a potential 18th NFL season? The Cardinals second-round selection of Purdue's Rondale Moore plays as a hedge against retirement. But their first selection was yet another versatile defensive weapon in Zaven Collins, who will team with Watt, Chandler Jones, and the eighth overall pick from 2020, Isaiah Simmons to take this defense from good to great.

Seattle Seahawks

Since we've seen them last, the Seahawks have invested in their own - edge Carlos Dunlap and running back Chris Carson, for example - and they've taken some from the Rams - new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, run game coordinator Andy Dickerson, and tight end Gerald Everett.

And continuing a theme in the NFC West, Seattle looked to get even more lethal at receiver by spending one of just three draft picks on Western Michigan's D'Wayne Eskridge at 56 overall (forever to be compared statistically to Tutu Atwell at 57).

But a non-transaction - retaining the services of Russell Wilson despite some awkward moments - remains the most important development out of the Pacific Northwest.

When the Rams sent the Seahawks to Cabo last January, little did we know that Cabo would feature prominently in Los Angeles' off-season narrative, as well.

After exchanging haymakers across three contests in 2020, the two tilts with Seattle will be main events again in 2021.

at Green Bay Packers

As good as the NFC West is going, it takes a perfect storm to break into this upper echelon of games.

A trip to Lambeau is special.

Having just met in the Divisional Round, the rematch element could also play well early in the 2021 schedule - especially with a healthy Donald and Cooper Kupp (David Bakhtiari, too, to be fair) - or set the stage for a potential playoff rematch deep in December.

But let's be serious: This game sits at 1A on the schedule right now because of Aaron Charles Rodgers. If he's hosting Jeopardy or dealing deep shots in Denver this fall, and the trip to Wisconsin becomes a Love-fest, we can safely move Green Bay to the middle of the pack in these rankings.

But as it stands, McVay-LaFleur... Stafford-Rodgers ... Adams-Ramsey... it doesn't get much better.

San Francisco 49ers

Jimmy Garoppolo. Trey Lance. Josh Rosen. Josh Johnson. Nate Sudfeld.

Whoever's under center, whether they play under the lights or not, these are the two most important games on the schedule.

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