Cardinals vs. Rams, Week 1: Trendspotting in season openers

Tim Fuller-US PRESSWIRE

Just another game? Think again. Since 1999, the outcome of the Rams' season openers have set the tone for the year ahead.

Opening days have been a mixed bag for the St. Louis Rams over the years. This year could be different.

The Rams open the season with a division matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. It's the first time St. Louis has faced an NFC West opponent in Week 1 since 2010. The Rams lost that one, to the Cardinals, by a final score of 17-13. That game also happened to be Sam Bradford's professional debut. He was 32-for-55 with 253 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

Fitting that this year, which is sort of a new beginning for Bradford, the Rams again take on the Cardinals at home. But this time the Rams are favored by 4 1/2 points. And just to really make it a full circle, the current projection is a 17-13 Rams win.

[dramatic foreshadowing music plays]

A win this week would give the Rams an early leg up in the NFC West race, getting a crucial division win to start the season. If things shake out as closely as they could in this division, that win just might be the difference in the final standings.

There's another ominous connection here, between the Rams' season openers and the playoffs.

From "The only 8 things you need to know ..." at SB Nation:

In 4 of the 5 seasons they got the win in Week 1, the Rams went to the playoffs. In 8 of the 9 seasons when the Rams took the loss in the first game, they missed out on the postseason. So, yes: beating the Cardinals is the most important thing this year.

Mind blown?

The first exception came in 2003. St. Louis lost its season opener, on the road, to the New York Giants, 23-13, despite being a one-point favorite. That was one of four games the Giants won that year. The Rams went on to the playoffs with a 12-4 record  that earned them a bye. They lost to Carolina, the eventual NFC Champs, in the Divisional round.

St. Louis opened the Scott Linehan era in 2006 on a high note, winning the rookie head coach's debut beating the Broncos 18-10. The Rams had a shot at the playoffs that year with an 8-8 record. But the 8-8 Giants had the tiebreaker in hand.

In a lot of ways 2006 was the ... highpoint's not the right word. It was the last season the Rams were sort of relevant until the current ownership took control and hired Jeff Fisher and Les Snead. St. Louis has lost six straight season openers since then.

Fisher's team almost broke that streak last season in Detroit, and had it not been for a few gaffs here and there, the Rams would have won instead of coming out on the wrong end of the 27-23 final.

Whether you want to see it or not, there's at least a symbolic meaning the Rams' Week 1 games. They tend to become a microcosm for the season, or even an era. Winning this week's game may or may not portend postseason play, but a victory would be a tangible reminder that this team is finally on the right track.

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