Rams have much to gain in Atlanta

EARTH CITY, Mo. – This weekend, the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers will take center stage Sunday night as the entire nation will get a chance to see two teams expected to contend for a Super Bowl berth in 2013.

Earlier in the day, the St. Louis Rams will have an opportunity to steal some of the NFC West division thunder with a road game against another projected Super Bowl contender in the Atlanta Falcons.

The Rams were something of a chic sleeper pick in the preseason -- and they seem to like it that way -- but a victory against the Falcons would do a lot to change that perception.

“It would mean a lot to us,” right tackle Rodger Saffold said. “Actually, I prefer us to stay under the radar. Just let us keep chipping away because really, I know how this team reacts to wins, I know how it reacts to losses -- and I know how we reacted to last season, and how coming in I want us to keep having that attitude the entire season. I don’t want anything to change or cause distractions with this team.”

The Rams’ win against Arizona in Week 1 was important in the sense that a loss to a division team not from Seattle or San Francisco, especially at home, could have been disastrous to any playoff hopes St. Louis might harbor later in the season. It was a game the Rams were supposed to win, and they found a way to make it happen.

This week, there are no such expectations as the Rams are underdogs heading to Atlanta in search of the franchise’s first 2-0 start since 2001. All the pressure falls on the Falcons, who are attempting to avoid an 0-2 start, a record that yielded zero playoff teams in 2012.

Atlanta has reacted well to losses in recent years, racking up a 20-3 record coming off defeats since 2008. It’s won 12 consecutive games following a loss, and hasn’t had back-to-back losses since 2009.

That’s all piled on top of a talented roster that is expected to get the Falcons further than the near-miss in the NFC Championship Game last season.

A victory for the Rams given all of those circumstances would represent a step forward not yet taken in their rebuilding process: a road win against a legitimate contender.

“It would mean a lot,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “It’s a huge challenge. They’re going back home, first home game, home opener for them and they’re going to be fired up. They’re going to try to get back on track. It doesn’t bother me that we fly under the radar. I’m not concerned about that.

“They’re a very talented offense, very talented team overall, really. They’re a team that was arguably a play or two away from the Super Bowl, so they deserve the respect that they get and they deserve all the attention they get. It’s just a huge challenge for us. We’ll see how it goes on Sunday.”

From a Rams perspective, Sunday’s game should prove a good litmus test for a young team that hasn’t had the chance to play in such an intimidating environment this season. Yes, they went on the road to a tough place, Denver, in the preseason, but the operative word there is preseason.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher believes his team understands what it has to do and will be ready to go.

“We follow the same routine at home and they’ve been on the road twice now,” Fisher said. “They understand what we do and how to carry ourselves. It’s a business trip, just go play. You play every game the same. The guys are ready, they’re excited. We’ve had a good week of practice.”

Week 1 of the NFL season doesn’t usually offer much in evaluating how the rest of the season goes. For the Rams, Week 2 just might.