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08-08-2003, 01:27 PM
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The past two Super Bowl losers meet Friday night at the Coliseum in Oakland, when the St. Louis Rams and the Oakland Raiders open up their respective preseason slates. These former Los Angeles teams have had a lot of success over the past several seasons. The Rams have been to 2 Super Bowls, winning one, while the Raiders are off a trip to the big game and have played in 3 straight AFC championship games.

The Rams, are coming off a terrible season in which they missed the playoffs altogether. Starting quarterback Kurt Warner struggled mightily and ended up missing most the season with a hand injury. Backup quarterback Marc Bulger came on to help the Rams finish with a respectable 7-9 mark. Despite his impressive performance, Bulger will return to the bench in favor of Warner according to head coach Mike Martz. Another key piece to the St. Louis offensive puzzle is running back Marshall Faulk, who struggled with injuries last season. Faulk is finally healthy heading into this contest.

Suddenly, the NFL's best front-runners are accidental tourists in the 2003 Super Bowl race and they are loving every second of it. Veterans are refreshed. Internal optimism abounds and the pressure is gone. Tired bodies - both mentally and physically - have bounced back. Without question, Kurt Warner is the Rams' starting quarterback. He's taken most of the snaps with the first-string offense, and he's showed no signs of being bothered by the hand and finger injuries that dogged him last season. Of course Warner's playing time will be limited to early first quarter, but Marc Bulger is obviously a very strong 2nd-string player who will see his share of action in this game. Greg Zolman, signed just before camp has been impressive and figures to some playing time.

Practice has smelled like "game week" the past few days. The coaches could be heard demanding speed, accuracy and intensity. The players could be heard encouraging and pushing each other. We are expecting a focused, intense team to take the field Friday in Oakland to fact the Raiders.

Oakland has little to prove on offense, so we will see very little from their veteran starters. QB Rich Gannon will play 1-2 series with Marques Tuiasosopo to follow before Tee Martin probably finished up. Rick Mirer has been hobbled and will very limited, if any, mop up time. The Raiders usually confuse opponents with a lot of shifts and multiple formations; however, in this exhibition, they will simply line up and play a very vanilla offense, allowing the Rams to keep them in check.

On defense, the Raiders could be in trouble. Opening against the pass-happy St. Louis Rams the timing couldn't be worse. Both Oakland first-round draft picks from the past two seasons, CBs Phillip Buchanon and Nnamdi Asomugha will be sidelined by injuries, as will a third corner, Clarence Love. Consequently, after starters Charles Woodson and Terrance Shaw leave the game in the early going, the Raiders are in a real fix for d-backs to face Kurt Warner and Mark Bulger and company. The Rams have more offensive weapons, besides the usual suspects and we will likely see them on display here in what we project to be a St. Louis SU win.

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