The 2021 NFL season starts in one week and the gauntlet of a schedule will be well underway.
The Rams will kickoff the season with a home contest in Week 1 with fans in attendance for the first time for a regular-season game since SoFi Stadium opened its doors last season.
The Rams have lofty goals for what they have their sights set on, being a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Here are five games on the Rams' schedule that will be pivotal to the team's success in 2021:
Week 1: Bears at Rams (Sept. 12)
The Rams have sat more players in preseason play than any team in the NFL. There will be players who haven't taken a snap in game-speed since the end of last season. As a result, it will be crucial that they get out to a fast start and get the rust off relatively quickly.
The Rams mortgaged the future to acquire quarterback Matthew Stafford. That sent a fierce statement across the league that the Rams have their sights set on a Super Bowl. Getting out in front of a Week 1 win over the Chicago Bears will be instrumental in the team's development. After all, this will be the first game that all the starters will play together as coach Sean McVay sat all his starters over the three preseason contests. The Bears have announced quarterback Andy Dalton as the team's Week 1 starter.
Week 3: Buccaneers at Rams (Sept. 26)
Every time you play the defending Super Bowl champions it’s a big deal. They are the hunted. The Rams will get a crack at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Week 3 at home in a game that will feature two of the NFC's top teams. In order to be grouped in among the elites, pulling off a victory over quarterback Tom Brady and co. will certainly do so.
The Bucs returned every starter on defense, while keeping intact their core weapons on offense. This will be an early examination of where the Rams stand against one of the top teams in the NFL. In fact, the Bucs could be a potential opponent that the Rams see in the playoffs if things go according to plan. This will be the Rams' biggest task through the early stages of the season as Los Angeles will be betting favorites in the first two games against the Bears and Colts, which means they could be 2-0 heading into the game with Tampa Bay.
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Week 5: Rams at Seahawks (Oct. 7)
Last year's NFC West division winner, the Seattle Seahawks have been one of the most consistent franchises of the last 10 years. With quarterback Russell Wilson under center, the Seahawks always appear to be in games and more times than not, things have ended on a final drive, coming down to the wire.
Going into Seattle is one of the tougher atmospheres to play in and Seahawk fans will be amped up with a divisional rival looking to dethrone them at the top of the NFC West. This will be a game played on a short week as the Rams will be the road team on Thursday Night Football, which is never an easy task. With Wilson's superior ability to throw the deep ball, the Rams youth in the secondary will be tested in how they respond to slowing down D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
Week 10: Rams at 49ers (Nov. 15)
The San Francisco 49ers have beat the Rams in the last four meetings. Clearly, San Francisco has McVay's number as of late but he'll look to change that with a new-look offense. The 49ers have put together a talented defensive group in recent seasons and that should remain a constant in 2021 based on the talent they returned. However, they did lose defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, so having a new face calls plays on defense could change the dynamics on that side of the ball a bit.
Anything can happen in a divisional contest. Splitting the two-game series is the likely outcome, which is why securing the road victory can be so vital. The Rams and 49ers both have win totals from the oddsmakers of over double-digit wins so this could be a game that is looked back as the team's come down the home stretch of the regular season.
Week 12: Rams at Packers (Nov. 28)
Similar to the matchup against the Bucs, showing out against the Green Bay Packers is a game on the schedule that will be followed closely. Aaron Rodgers, last season's MVP, is no small challenge to slow down. But as he returns with one of the league's most explosive offenses, the Rams will throw at him the reigning No. 1 ranked defense.
Like the Rams, the Packers are hopeful to reach the Super Bowl after getting knocked out of the playoffs in the NFC title game in the last two seasons. This game will feature strength versus strength in what many would call two of the best teams in the NFC. Winning this game would do a lot for the Rams' confidence as they then proceed for the final month and half of the season prior to playoff play.
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Nick Cothrel is the Publisher of Ram Digest. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel.