Well, now we know.
Not just the schedule, but what the football world thinks of the 2023 Los Angeles Rams.
Zero appearances on Sunday Night Football.
Just two prime time assignments, initially.
Five early-window kickoffs – even one against the Dallas Cowboys?
The 2023 schedule will be tough – and we'll get to exactly how tough at the end of this column.
But finding the requisite motivation should be easy for the Rams, because they're being cast as the underdog on the undercard.
Follow the Formula
The league's scheduling formula is familiar for many of you, but it never hurts to offer a quick refresh off the top.
The home or away nature of assignments is all predetermined on a rotating basis, such that every NFC team hosts and travels to all the other NFC opponents at least once every four years, and likewise for every AFC opponent at least once every eight seasons.
You're well-aware that the Rams always play their NFC West rivals, home and away – those are the first six games.
They'll also take on the entirety of two very highly-touted divisions in 2023: the NFC East and AFC North – there are another eight games.
The Rams are matched with like-place finishers in the remaining NFC divisions, in this case the 2022 third-place teams from the South (New Orleans… yes, again) and North (Green Bay… yes, again) – two more contests, we're up to 16.
And lastly, when the schedule escalated to 17 games, the NFL also instituted a like-place-finisher inter-conference battle. For more on that formula, or to cure persistent insomnia, feel free to investigate further here. The Rams' 17th game in 2023 is a trip to Indianapolis to meet the Colts, who finished third in the AFC South last year.
Thus, we've known the Rams opponents since early January; we just didn't know the dates, times, or television assignments.
Now, we do. So let's dig in.
Hit The Road
The Rams are being sent on the road for the season-opener for the first time since 2019 when they beat the Panthers in Carolina.
Statistically, that was more probable, given the nine road / eight home split of this year's schedule.
Additionally, the Rams were home to open SoFi Stadium in 2020 (a win over the Dallas Cowboys). Because there were no fans allowed at that game, it made sense for the league to give them a second pass at it in 2021 (a win over the Chicago Bears). Then, as the reigning Super Bowl Champions, they earned the privilege of kicking off 2022 in Inglewood against the Buffalo Bills (that didn't work out as favorably).
A road opener this September felt overdue and inevitable, but three of the first four away from home is… severe.
Visiting Seattle to open in the same venue where last season concluded in heart-breaking fashion is fascinating for a litany of reasons, including Bobby Wagner switching uniforms again.
The Rams have not opened a season within the division under Sean McVay. They haven't opened against the Seahawks since 2015. They haven't played Week 1 in Seattle since 2009.
With the 2023 NFL Schedule official, take a look at where the Los Angeles Rams will play during each week of the upcoming season.
As for the other fundamentals, let's check the basics:
The bye lands in Week 10, essentially dividing the schedule in half. That's as fair as it gets.
Thursday Night Football falls in December. And while you'd normally prefer to have that short week earlier in the season, it's nice that the Rams are home the Sunday prior – just as they were last December when they let a spirited Week 13 get away versus the Seahawks only to bounce back against the Raiders four nights later at SoFi Stadium (which was more than enough time to claim a quarterback off waivers and plug him into the comeback win).
As for road back-to-backs, you cringe to see three (3!) of them. However, in context, they're not as rough as they could have been.
Other than en route to international games, the Rams traditionally don't stay on the road between away games.
However, I'll be curious to see if they break precedent between Weeks 3 and 4 – at Cincinnati and at Indianapolis. The game against the Bengals is Monday night. The following contest against the Colts is early Sunday morning. Cincinnati and Indianapolis are separated by only 112 miles.
The next road back-to-back is more daunting: at Dallas and at Green Bay in Weeks 8 and 9 – both in the early window (10am PT). That's a gnarly draw, no way around it.
And the final leg of the schedule has the Rams at New York and at San Francisco in Weeks 17 and 18. Mercifully, part two of that back-to-back is the shortest trip of the year.
Please let there be more than bragging rights on the line at Levi's Stadium.
Where's the Lambeau Leap?
The Rams have traveled to Green Bay three straight winters, taking three losses along the way.
They're ticketed for another trip to Wisconsin this season, but the Packers quarterback isn't the only variable that changes in 2023.
This year's collision will be the first Sunday in November in a regional telecast window.
The Los Angeles Rams take on the Cincinnati Bengals for Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium. Take a look at photos from the game!
I thought this would've been an excellent Thursday Night Football matchup, if only so that former left tackle Andrew Whitworth could have been on site for Amazon.
Instead, the Rams and Bengals will be featured on the Monday Night stage, September 25, to wrap up Week 3.
Home For the Holidays?
After hosting a Christmas kickoff in 2022 and gifting the Denver Broncos a 50-burger, the holiday schedule shapes up like this for the Rams:
A trip to the desert for the second of two meetings with the Arizona Cardinals on Thanksgiving Sunday.
The Rams will have the Christmas weekend off, having already played on Thursday, December 21 – the first game of Week 16.
And maybe they'll hold the plane until the ball drops in Time Square following a win in New York (They definitely won't wait around Manhattan until midnight; the game kicks at 10a PT. But beating the Giants would be a great way to ring in the New Year.)
Perhaps this is the case in the modern NFL, no matter the schedule. It does stand out how many opponents this year have notable quarterback storylines coming into 2023, though.
I don't mean elite QB1s, necessarily. (There are plenty of those, too. But you'll be hard-pressed to top what the Rams faced in 2022 in that regard.)
I'm thinking about complex situations, huge gambles, big contracts, and hot seats.
Arizona is without Kyler Murray for some portion (if not all) of the year after he suffered a knee injury last December. As it stands, the Cardinals will deploy some combination of Colt McCoy, David Blough, or rookie Clayton Tune.
Sticking with the division, Seattle is sticking with Geno Smith, not only signing him to an extension this offseason, but also passing on rookie candidates through the Draft, opting to select a cornerback and a receiver with their first-round capital.
As for San Francisco, Brock Purdy's arm injury has dominated every 49ers conversation since their NFC Championship Game loss in Philadelphia. After signing Sam Darnold in free agency, the Niners quarterback battle now pits two former first round selections against 2022's Mr. Irrelevant. Might the Rams be able to capitalize on that uncertainty in their home opener, playing host to the Niners in Week 2?
The Colts painted the boldest stroke of the 2023 NFL Draft by making Anthony Richardson the fourth overall pick and third quarterback off the board. By way of contrast, new Rams quarterback Stetson Bennett had as many postseason wins at Georgia (six) as Richardson did in his brief college career at Florida. Will Richardson be the starter in Indianapolis by the first of October?
In Green Bay, the Jordan Love era begins in earnest, with a two-year horizon (at most) for the 24-year-old to prove the Packers were justified in destabilizing – and eventually truncating – the end of Aaron Rodgers' Hall of Fame tenure.
The Giants placed a big wager on Daniel Jones, who graded 17th at his position according to PFF (but did rank seventh in QBR), guaranteeing him $82 million in his next two seasons.
That extension was chump change compared to the market-topping deal Lamar Jackson finally agreed to with Baltimore.
He was unable to land the fully-guaranteed (and highly controversial) offer that made Deshaun Watson a Brown. After a brutal six-game stretch following his suspension, he'll be under immense scrutiny in Cleveland in 2023.
Same division, also coming to SoFi Stadium in 2023, Kenny Pickett enters a prove-it Year Two in Pittsburgh. (He also has Allen Robinson in his receiving corps.)
The Commanders have told anyone who will listen that former fifth-round pick Sam Howell is their guy. Ron Rivera could be staking his job on a former fifth-round pick with one career start to his name. Washington visits in Week 15.
Four days later, Derek Carr will return to the scene of last December'sThursday Night Football thriller against the Rams. He's the New Orleans quarterback now – unless he isn't when the Saints come marching into Inglewood. In which case Jake Haener could be; the Saints jumped the Rams in the fourth round to take the prolific Fresno State quarterback one slot ahead of Bennett.
Maybe there's a more dramatic quarterback schedule in the league, but L.A.'s is tough to beat when it comes to this season's implications.
Alive (And Well) At the Deadline
If you're a student of the Rams "renovation," then the NFL trade deadline is worth circling on your calendar.
The only problem is we don't yet have clarity on when exactly that will be in 2023.
Historically, it follows Week 8. However, as the trade deadline has become more buzzworthy in professional football, there have been rumblings about the NFL pushing it back.
The reason I mention it here? If you're bullish on the 2023 prospects; if you're anxious for the Rams to get back to their aggressive roster construction… you might be inclined to speculate about their first-half fortunes.
Could L.A. get to five or six wins before the trade deadline? If so, might they be in relative health and in a favorable position in the division and conference standings? If so, would they entertain stepping on the gas pedal?
Perhaps this November might be too early to start swapping draft capital for the next Von Miller or Jalen Ramsey.
But it's fun to entertain the possibility.
We didn't need to see the opponents in chronological order to know this was going to be a daunting slate.
Pro Football Focus’ post-Draft power rankings indicate that the Rams will face the top four opponents in the NFC and five of the top seven.
Sharp Football utilizes one of the most accurate ways to gauge strength of schedule and recently published this assessment – with the Rams 15th (slightly more difficult than average).
What we can say with certainty is that the Rams better be ready to roll.
Two division games to open the year; three NFC West games in the first six weeks.
Three of the first four on the road.
The Rams will face three of the top four teams in the NFL in the first five weeks, and four of the top eight (by projected win total) before the end of October.
The gauntlet is front-loaded for a franchise that will almost certainly be the youngest in the NFL after drafting 14 and signing nearly 30 additional rookies through college free agency.
I can't wait.