Rams face a 'must-win' offseason

Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams must make strides in a tough division in 2014. AP Photo/Tom Gannam

When you miss the playoffs in the National Football League, the beginning of a new calendar year becomes relevant in many ways. Just as mainstream society treats Jan. 1 as a chance to clear the decks in their personal life and make a fresh start, teams in the NFL use their exclusion from the playoffs as motivation to "do better" going forward by mentally pushing the reset button and eyeing the road ahead. Internally, they quickly will adopt the philosophy that with a few good unrestricted free agent signings, a solid draft and continuous improvements from their players and coaches, they will have as good a chance as any of reaching the "tournament" the following season.

Externally, fans hold on to the hope that maybe, just maybe, the new year will be their year. After all, it's been shown it's not impossible for a team to reverse its fortunes from one season to the next and move from the divisional cellar to the penthouse. In fact, it's common, and someone will probably do it in 2014.

For the sake of this discussion, we will refer to this reversal as a "worst-to-first" scenario. It was certainly on display this past season. The Eagles went from the bottom of the NFC East in 2012 (4-12) to 10-6 and winners of the NFC East on the final weekend of the regular season. Using Chip Kelly's "science over tradition" methodology, the reset button was pushed, requiring players in many ways to unlearn what they had previously absorbed in previous years. When it was all said and done, not only was there buy-in by the players and support staff, but more of a fundamental shift in the way everyone approached both the mental and physical aspects of the game, as well as the weekly preparation.

Looking ahead to 2014, who could follow in the Eagles' footsteps? For which squad will the personnel evaluation/acquisition, development and utilization -- plus a little good luck on the injury front -- all combine with good chemistry to add up to a division title and a shot in the playoffs?

Not only did I quickly identify a team that has the opportunity to do just that, but even more so in my mind, must do just that if it wants to avoid the scrutiny and skepticism that will be justifiably directed at management, coaching and the players themselves in the event that 2014 is not a success: the St. Louis Rams.