COMMENTARY | There is no denying that the St. Louis Rams, after numerous fits and starts under Scott Linehan and Steve Spagnuolo , are headed in the right direction under Jeff Fisher.
Prior to the 2012 season, the Rams had won three or fewer games in four of the last five seasons. Now, they are coming off a season where, had it not been for a pesky tie, they would have finished .500 for the first time since 2006.
More importantly, though, as a franchise, they now have stability in the coaching staff and exciting young players that they can actually build around.
As a team, they have graduated past the doormat stage into being a team on the rise. The next step is to turn that potential into actual results.
Taking all of the positives in account, it stands to reason that the Rams will take that next step as early as this season.
And that's not just me saying that. There is a lot of cautious optimism around the team.
Bernie Miklasz, a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that I respect as much as any media personality in St. Louis, wrote a column last week saying that he thinks the playoffs are a real possibility.
I'm not taking issue with Bernie or anyone else that feels the same way, necessarily. The team is probably going to be better.
Even with the franchise's leading rusher, Steven Jackson, headed to Atlanta, I think the player movement in the offseason was a net gain. They addressed team needs in the draft and in Jared Cook and Jake Long, they brought in two players that will be big parts of an offense with high expectations.
The defense, as it was last season, should be solid at the very least. Chris Long and Robert Quinn are a fearsome pass-rushing duo, Cortland Finnegan is a serviceable veteran corner and James Laurinaitis is a natural leader at linebacker.
That's a group of players, along with quarterback Sam Bradford, that can put up a winning season.
The problem lies in the fact that just a winning season is probably not going to be enough to get into the playoffs.
Gone are the days that the NFC West was the laughing-stock division of the NFL.
In 2012, all the 49ers did was make the Super Bowl and the Seahawks were the league's most surprising team on the way to finishing 11-5. Neither of those teams are going away and if possible, they might be improved.
For that matter, the Cardinals will probably be better as well. Carson Palmer is the best quarterback they have had since Kurt Warner retired. I still think they are going to finish last in the division, but don't count on them being a routine opponent.
It's for these reasons that I think everyone should manage their expectations for the season.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't expect improvement. I'm with you on that one.
All I'm saying is that it's likely going to take vast improvement to get into the postseason with the competition they face and I just don't think this team quite has that in them, yet.
Joseph Healy lives in the St. Louis area. His work has been featured at BleacherReport.com, TheFanManifesto.com and Scout.com.
You can follow Joseph on Twitter @Joe_On_Sports.
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