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St. Louis Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks: Calling the Matchup

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Everything you need to know about the Rams and Seahawks before Sunday's game. Can St. Louis pull off the upset at home two years in a row?

Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

The storm clouds, endless and swollen with cruel intent, begin to deflate, and the hooded creature with cutoff sleeves and eyes of hate-filled black retreats to his heavily guarded lair.

Sunlight creeps over the horizon and a rainbow of metallic red, white and blue cascades downward, illuminating the darkness that had engulfed our souls all summer. A golden unicorn races into view from atop the wondrous arch, thundering with each clap of its hooves, carrying a rider so mighty, so inspiring, that it could truly only be Him.

It's Captain Commissioner, aka Roger Goodell, the keeper of truth and the shepherd of fall!

"Let there be football!," he exclaims with a bellowing roar, unsheathing his flaming Pen of Discipline and hurling it to the gridiron below.

The weapon of virtue pierces the center of a painted NFL logo on the field, drying the flooded earth as a chorus of angelic pregame trumpets can heard in the distance.

Then Tom Brady walks over, picks up the almighty utensil and throws it to Rob Gronkowski, who subsequently spikes it and shatters the word of Goodell into 32 unruly shards.

The quest to rebuild the shield and restore faith begins now.

***

It wouldn't be football season if the St. Louis Rams didn't have a matchup with the Seattle Seahawks come at a pivotal point in the season, and it doesn't get a whole lot more crucial for Jeff Fisher in 2015 than Week 1.

A fast start and a win over the defending NFC champion rival Seahawks would instantly jettison the Rams back to relevance, but an ugly loss would all but cement them in the bottom third of the league. At least that's what most pundits will tell you.

On paper, the two teams really aren't all that different. Here's how the Rams and Seahawks stack up position-by-position.

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Rams

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Seahawks

Edge

Offense

QB

1. Nick Foles

1. Russell Wilson

Wilson is the best in the NFC West. Foles may not even be third.

RB

1. Tre Mason?
2. Benny Cunningham
3. Isaiah Pead

1. Marshawn Lynch
2. Fred Jackson
3. Thomas Rawls
FB - Derrick Coleman

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This pick would be easy even if Mason and Todd Gurley were both healthy.

WR

1. Kenny Britt
2. Brian Quick
3. Stedman Bailey
4. Tavon Austin

1. Doug Baldwin
2. Jermaine Kearse
3. Ricardo Lockette
4. Tyler Lockett

Surprising, right? If Quick returns to early-2014 form, the Rams receivers suddenly aren't that bad.

TE

1. Jared Cook
2. Lance Kendricks
3. Cory Harkey

1. Jimmy Graham
2. Luke Willson
3. Cooper Helfet

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Graham and Cook are freak athletes who can't block, but only one makes up for it by catching the football.

OL

LT - Greg Robinson
LG - Jamon Brown
C - Tim Barnes
RG -Rodger Saffold
RT - Rob Havenstein

LT - Russell Okung
LG - Justin Britt
C - Drew Nowak
RG - J.R. Sweezy
RT - Garry Gilliam

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Both lines are loaded with questions. The Rams just happen to have more. Pray for Saffold's health.

Defense

DE/Edge

R - Robert Quinn
L - Chris Long
3 - Williams Hayes
4 - Eugene Sims

R - Cliff Avril
L - Michael Bennett
3 - Frank Clark
4 - Cassius Marsh

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I fought with this way more than I should have because ESPN and such. The Rams are much better up front. Period.

DT/Interior

1. Aarong Donald
2. Michael Brockers
3. Nick Fairley

1. Brandon Mebane
2. Ahtyba Rubin
3. Jordan Hill

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See above.
Multiply by two.
Pray for opposing quarterbacks.

LB

W - Akeem Ayers
M - James Laurinaitis
S - Alec Ogletree

W - Bruce Irvin
M - Bobby Wagner
S - K.J. Wright

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Wagner is a budding star, and while Ogletree may reach his true potential this season, I think we've seen Laurinaitis' best at this point.

CB

1. Janoris Jenkins
2. Trumaine Johnson
3. Lamarcus Joyner
4. Marcus Roberson

1. Richard Sherman
2. Cary Williams
3. Marcus Burley
4. Tharold Simon

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A healthy E.J. Gaines would have made this interesting.
Alas, Richard Sherman.

S

FS - Rodney McLeod
SS - T.J. McDonald
3S - Mark Barron

FS - Earl Thomas
SS - Dion Bailey
3S - Steven Terrell
Kam Chancellor

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The Rams have great depth at safety, but they don't have an Earl Thomas or a Kam Chancellor. Fortunately, the Seahawks will have only one of them.

Special Teams

All

K - Greg Zuerlein
P - Johnny Hekker
R - Tavon Austin

K - Steven Hauschka
P - Jon Ryan
R - Tyler Lockett

Another very tough call, but this.
And this.

Coaching Staff

All

HC - Jeff Fisher
OC - Frank Cignetti
DC - Gregg Williams
S T - John Fassel

HC - Pete Carroll
OC - Darrell Bevell
DC - Kris Richard
S T - Brian Schneider

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7-8-1 > 7-9 > 6-10 > ?-?

Rams Total - 5

Seahawks Total - 7

Were it not for a largely inexperienced group of wide receivers led by the ordinary-but-effective Doug Baldwin, Seattle would have swept St. Louis on offense. To anyone who watched a Rams game last season -- or in the last five -- that should come as no surprise. Todd Gurley, who has been likened to Marshawn Lynch on more than one occasion, could change this score by the second matchup in week 16, there's simply no crowing TG2 until he hits the field.

Overall, I have no hesitation saying the Rams are the better team on defense, particularly when the Seahawks have someone named Dion Bailey starting at safety. The defense line, though maybe in competition with the Buffalo Bills, could be the best in football.

St. Louis thrived when having three corners on the field in 2014, but that happened mostly when Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and E.J. Gaines were all healthy. Time to find out if Lamarcus Joyner was worth a second round pick.

Perhaps the Rams' triumph over the Seahawks at home last season had more to do with the genius play-designing of special teams coach John Fassel than the flawless execution of the unit itself, but the plays were so noteworthy that St. Louis earned a fifth mark.

Injury Report

Rams: Out - RB Todd Gurley. Questionable - RB Tre Mason, LB Daren Bates

Seahawks: Out - LB Michael Morgan. Questionable - CB Tharold Simon. Probable - RB Marshawn Lynch, QB Tarvaris Jackson, TE Cooper Helfet.

Rams Offense vs. Seahawks Defense

Shield your eyes on third down, and if you have small children, it may be best to send them outside. With Benny Cunningham leading the charge, the Rams will find themselves long-distance situations again and again. But that dreadful, awful, no-good dink-and-dunk offense that we are all-too accustomed to may be the savior in this game.

I'd be shocked if Frank Cignetti found success running the end-arounds and reverses that have worked against bad teams defenses in the past, but the Rams will undoubtedly aim to fool Kris Richard's defense a time or two. Ideally, Cunningham plays just good enough, and Nick Foles capitalizes on play-action.

Seattle's defense has some holes, but we'll get to that.

Rams Defense vs. Seahawks Offense

This game will come down to turnovers -- whoever takes the ball away more wins. The Rams have forced Russell Wilson into mistakes many times before, and even the great Beast Mode has put the ball on the ground against St. Louis.

Marshawn Lynch ran for 53 yards on 18 carries (2.9 average) at St. Louis in 2014, and it's safe to assume that he won't be punching his next Pro Bowl ballot on Sunday. Perhaps he's lost a step since last year, too? Probably not.

The wild card here is rookie third-round receiver Tyler Lockett, who received just about as much national attention over the summer as Donald Trump. Lockett vs. Joyner is a matchup to keep your eye on.

Who to Watch

On the Rams: OLB Akeem Ayers
Jo-Lonn Dunbar was serviceable, at worst, in three seasons with St. Louis, but Ayers was brought in to be an upgrade as the Rams third linebacker. He won't see the field nearly as often as James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree this season, because the defense runs a lot of nickel packages, but he could be in line for a big role against Seattle.

Honorable Mention: DT Nick Fairley
Similar to Ayers, but Fairley should make Rams fans forget all about Kendall Langford. The former Lion could be in for a huge payday come 2016, but it all starts with stopping Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch on Sunday.

On the Seahawks: SS Dion Bailey
Undrafted out of USC in 2014, Bailey spent his entire rookie campaign either rehabbing an injury or clinging to a spot on Seattle's practice squad. Now, with Kam Chancellor clinging to his checking account, the second-year safety is gifted with a starting job. Bailey has been regarded as a potential playmaker; expect the Rams to target him early and often to find out.

Honorable Mention: C Drew Nowak
In the offseason, the Seahawks traded two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger for Jimmy Graham. They added one of the league's most prolific players, but created a major void up front. Enter Nowak, a fourth-year pro who has never started a game and has appeared in only two regular season contests. Typically, opposing offensive linemen simply aren't interesting enough to warrant keeping an eye out for, but if the Rams' front-7 is allowed to wreak havoc, Nowak could be the main culprit.

Best-Case Scenario

Even though Tim Barnes struggles, Greg Robinson, Jamon Brown and Rob Havenstein each maul the unsuspecting Seahawks' front for four quarters. Tre Mason picks up two crucial first downs on a snap count, and Benny Cunningham scampers for more than 80 yards over 20 touches.

Nick Foles plays turnover-free football and connects with Jared Cook over a dwindling Seattle secondary. Simply put, the Rams offense doesn't embarrass the packed Edward Jones Dome, and Greg Zuerlein is a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals and 2-for-2 on extra points as the Rams put up 23 points.

On defense, St. Louis can do no wrong. Marshawn Lynch travels 60 yards on 20 rushing attempts, and Russell Wilson absorbs 8 sacks and even more hits.

On the sideline, Gregg Williams can be seen handing out decorative visors and Supercuts coupons to the starting front-7, and Janoris Jenkins invites every fan in attendance to a party scheduled until "??" that only LeSean McCoy is not invited to.

Worst-Case Scenario

Not only is Mason held inactive, but Cunningham and, yes, Isaiah Pead repeatedly run into a brick wall as the Rams' junior varsity offensive line meets lackluster expectations. Foles is shellacked as he is forced to throw nearly 40 times in front of approximately 45,000 fans.

Although Lynch is once again held in check, Wilson is not, and the Seahawks total more than 120 yards on the ground. The Rams' streak of dominance against opposing tight ends comes to an abrupt end as Jimmy Graham surpasses Rob Gronkowski and becomes fantasy football's best at the position in Week 1.

Seahawks rookie slot receiver Tyler Lockett proves as good as advertised, runs rampant in his debut and outperforms the enigmatic Tavon Austin in every way possible, capping off a lopsided victory with a punt return touchdown after the Rams concede defeat midway through the fourth quarter.

On Monday, Jeff Fisher greets the media room with cupcakes and balloon animals as Todd Gurley performs a flawless Irish Jig in front of the podium.

Prediction: Seahawks 20, Rams 16

The Rams will compete as they have done in nearly every recent matchup with the Seahawks. Reminiscent of 2014, they jump on the defending NFC West champs early, taking a slim halftime lead, but limitations on offense will eventually catch up to them. This game just seems to have "late Russell Wilson heroics" written all over it.

St. Louis will win its share of games in 2015 -- I still believe a ten-win season is possible -- but no team has more to prove on Sunday than Seattle.

Tell me why I'm wrong, because I hope I am.