The first quarter of the Rams’ season proved easier than anticipated: It included three of four games against bad teams from the NFC East.
The second quarter was tougher, with three of four games against opponents that looked like playoff contenders.
Now comes the hard part.
After their off week, the 5-3 Rams will return Monday to begin preparing for the toughest stretch of their schedule.
The NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks (6-1) visit SoFi Stadium on Nov. 15, and the Rams then travel to play the Antonio Brown-infused Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2) on “Monday Night Football.”
The injury-ravaged San Francisco 49ers (4-4), the latest NFL team to experience a COVID-19-related lockdown, are scheduled to come to SoFi Stadium on Nov. 29, before the Rams go to Phoenix to play the rising Arizona Cardinals (5-2).
--The combined record of the five teams the Rams defeated in the first half of the season is 13-25-1. The Chicago Bears, at 5-3, are the only team with a winning record that the Rams defeated.
--The combined record of the next four opponents is 21-9.
“If you're a competitor, you see some of these teams — it's going to be outstanding for us,” Rams coach Sean McVay said this week.
If the Rams don’t fix the problems that plagued them in last Sunday’s turnover-laden loss to the Miami Dolphins, McVay might reconsider that assessment.
Start with the Seahawks.
Quarterback Russell Wilson was good when he led them to a Super Bowl title in the 2014 season and another Super Bowl appearance the next season. In 2019, he passed for 31 touchdowns – including four in a win over the Rams.
But this season, coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer are letting Wilson show the full spectrum of his talent. A quarterback who twice passed for 34 touchdowns in a season already has passed for 26, with only six interceptions. An offense that features receivers Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf and David Moore, and tight end Greg Olsen, leads the league in scoring, averaging 34.3 points per game.
Heading into Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills, the Seahawks uncharacteristically rank last in the league in defense. But they traded last week for veteran edge rusher Carlos Dunlap, which should bolster a unit that features perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner and star safety Jamal Adams.
The Buccaneers appear intent on making continuous splashes in a drive to become the first host team to win a Super Bowl.
It began with the offseason signing of quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, continued with the in-season addition of running back Leonard Fournette and climaxed with the Oct. 23 signing of Brown.
Brown, a seven-time Pro Bowl player with the Pittsburgh Steelers, practiced Wednesday for the first time since the New England Patriots released him last September. Brown has concluded an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy and is eligible to play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
Brown is living with Brady, and he provides the six-time Super Bowl champion with another weapon to go along with Gronkowski and receivers Mike Evans, Scotty Miller, Chris Godwin and running backs Fournette and Ronald Jones.
“Tom is my boy, one of the greatest leaders to be around,” Brown told Tampa reporters Wednesday. “He’s encouraging, always inspiring, he brings out the best in the people around him…. He’s been a great guy in my corner.”
Brady, 43, has passed for 20 touchdowns, putting him on pace to finish with more than any season since 2007, when he passed for a career-best 50 while leading the Patriots to an unbeaten regular season.
The Buccaneers also boast the NFL’s third-best defense.
The trip to Tampa will be the Rams’ fifth and final East Coast journey this season.
“Whoever we made really mad in the scheduling process, we need to send them some flowers,” Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth joked before last week’s trip to Miami.
Despite injuries that had sidelined several key players and slowed others, the 49ers defeated the Rams, 24-16, on Oct. 18.
The 49ers are again short-handed. Coach Kyle Shanahan said this week that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle could be out for extended periods because of injuries.
The 49ers are scheduled to play host to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night, but the 49ers on Wednesday closed their facility because receiver Kendrick Bourne reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.
The Rams conclude the third quarter of the season against a Cardinals team that defeated the 49ers in the season opener and beat the Seahawks in overtime on Oct. 25.
Quarterback Kyler Murray has passed for 13 touchdowns, with seven interceptions, and has rushed for seven touchdowns while leading an offense that averages a league-leading 419.1 yards per game.
The offseason addition of star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, to go along with certain future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald has paid off nicely for second-year coach Kliff Kingsbury.
McVay is 6-0 against the Cardinals.
Keeping that streak alive could prove paramount if the Rams want to set themselves up for the final quarter of the season and a shot at the playoffs.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.