Will we hear the “No Respect” line this year?

In case you missed it, yesterday Peter King sat down to list his top 31 teams in the NFL. The Rams didn’t make the list. For the moment, I’m not going to dwell on my strong disagreement with this ranking. Instead, I wonder what’s going to be the team’s reaction when things start to gel, ahead of these low-rent expectations, and the Rams start winning games that nobody thought they would. Then we get to hear the players sing their favorite Rappin Rodney song:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=Q6Trpbb3cjg

Being ranked last might be well deserved. The Rams struggled to win their one game last season, and that was against another candidate for worst team in the NFL. (In fact, Football Outsiders did rank the Lions just a shade below the Rams in overall play.) But consider that we play four games against the putrid AFC West, and that the beginning of the schedule is very favorable:

Week 1: at home vs Arizona, a tough draw but the Rams have played well against Leinert in the past
Week 2: at Oakland, tougher than they were with Jamarcus, but still not a good team
Week 3: vs the Redskins, who we should have beat last year
Week 4: vs the improved but beatable Seahawks
Week 5: at Detroit, the only team we currently have bragging rights over.

Consider also that the Rams held the ball in the fourth quarter seven times with a chance to tie or take the lead last season — it doesn’t take much improvement to push a team like this over the edge, and turn close losses into close victories. Dumping Alex Barron, who Mike Sando says was personally responsible for taking 25 points away from the Rams over the course of his career, and whose penalties almost certainly cost them wins, will help.

But Barron is far from the only suspect here. The Rams have to come out of the gate without the early season butterflies that plagued last year’s team. Every aspect of the game felt indecisive, uninstinctual, to the Rams early on. Which is to be expected, perhaps, with rookies all across the coaching board. But they aren’t rookies any more, they have players entering their second year in a system that now makes sense, and they still have one of the game’s best backs in Steven Jackson.

Sam Bradford drops back to throw. AP Photo / Jeff Roberson

Most importantly, the team is now fully rebooted behind Sam Bradford, who is doing everything and more that could be asked of him, including running his own video sessions and holding conference calls with Pat Shurmur and the best-named quarterbacks coach in football, Dick Curl, to prepare for this month’s OTAs. And eventually, to prepare himself to take this team on his shoulders as its new starting quarterback.

“You can see why he was the No. 1 pick. You can see the arm strength, the accuracy and his intellect. He’s really a smart guy. . . . He’s a very humble young man. We did some things together (Monday), and he was very low-key about it. You can tell he was raised right. It’ll be fun to play with him.”

– Steven Jackson, from Jim Thomas’s Around the Horns report.

If everything goes right, it’s highly possible that the Rams emerge from this first month with a winning record, and start to let everyone know how little respect they’ve been given coming into this season. Of course, respect has to be earned, and the Rams have to give themselves a chance to do it.

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