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Do Rams face “must-win” game in Week 2 against Falcons?

Now would not be a good time for the defending champions to fall in a hole

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in the Sean McVay era, the Los Angeles Rams are under .500. With the loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, the McVay-era Rams are in unprecedented territory. While it’s only Week 2, it seems strange to call it a “must-win” game with 15 more on the horizon. However, that’s exactly what Sunday will be against the Atlanta Falcons.

Over the last three years 27 teams have started 0-2. None of those teams made the playoffs. The last time it was done was 2018 when the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks each started 0-2.

The Rams also don’t have a favorable schedule if they were to start the year with back-to-back losses. This is a team with a back-half filled schedule that includes meetings against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, and the entirety of the AFC West. Those aren’t matchups that allow for a slow start to the year and hoping to make up some wins later down the road.

In the 31 seasons under a 12-team playoff format, only 30 teams made it to the postseason. Of those teams, only three went on to win the Super Bowl. The NFL has expanded to a 14-team playoff. However, not a single team that started 0-2 last season made the playoffs.

Those 0-2 teams included 2021 playoff hopefuls - the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings. Also on that list were the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, Detroit Lions, and Atlanta Falcons.

While it’s hard to consider a Week 2 matchup to be a must-win. That’s exactly what this Sunday will be for the Rams against the Falcons. The fate of other 0-2 teams in the past has not been good. With playoff and Super Bowl repeat aspirations, a surprise loss to the Falcons might as well be a death-wish on the 2022 season.

Despite being considered one of the worst teams in football, the Falcons almost came out with a win last week against the Saints. The Falcons led 23-7 and had over 200 yards rushing against what has been a good Saints defense over the last few years. The Saints managed to come back and win, but Arthur Smith has the Falcons playing hard.

Grady Jarrett is one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL as he recorded 1.5 sacks against the Saints. His five pressures also ranked tied for fifth in the NFL in Week 1. This is an improved group from a season ago. Last week, the Falcons defense recorded four sacks which was 22% of their entire 2021 total. In the first half, they held the Saints to negative two yards passing on 10 attempts.

The Rams meanwhile head into this game with some big question marks on their offensive line. This is a group that allowed 15 pressures against the Bills. To add to that, Brian Allen will miss this game with a knee injury and Joe Noteboom is day-to-day. This means that Coleman Shelton will move to center and Tremayne Anchrum will play right guard. If Noteboom can’t go, it will be AJ Jackson at left tackle.

This isn’t to say that the Rams are going to lose this game or even that it will be close. There’s a reason that the Rams are currently 10.5-point favorites. This is only to highlight the importance of this game and the need to avoid a dreaded 0-2 start.

After a poor performance in Week 1 against the Bills, the Rams have had 10 days to prepare for the Falcons and adjust where needed. In five years, McVay had never lost an opener to the season. At 0-1, he now heads into uncharted waters below .500 for the first time. How the Rams respond could very well determine the fate of their season.