At first glance, the St. Louis Rams' 2014 schedule appears to once again be one of the most difficult in the NFL. The 13 teams comprising their 2014 schedule combined for a .564 winning percentage in 2013, which makes for the potential to have the third-most difficult schedule in the league next season.
But using a preseason strength of schedule to predict future NFL success is often an exercise in futility. The NFL is a league of constant change and parity. So much is different from year to year that using the previous season's results to determine how difficult the next year's slate might be often yields results far removed from reality.
Every once in a while, though, things play out in a way that align with what the preseason SOS might indicate. The Rams proved as much in 2013. Before the season, St. Louis was projected to have the fourth-most difficult schedule in the NFL based on opponents' records from 2012. By the time the season was through, the Rams had played exactly the fourth toughest schedule in the league.
Normally, things don't play out that way, but it wouldn't be a surprise if the Rams' 2014 schedule again was one of the hardest in the league. If nothing else, the Rams play six games against Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco in the NFC West. Pending some major changes in the offseason, there's no reason to believe those teams will have much of a drop-off in 2014.
Beyond that, the Rams' schedule rotation in the AFC leads them to their western counterparts in that conference, which happens to house playoff teams Denver, Kansas City and San Diego.
The Rams have targeted 2014 as a possible breakthrough season, but if the schedule matches the preseason expectation again, it's going to be a difficult road to travel to return to the postseason for the first time in more than a decade.