There's one area where the St. Louis Rams have a clear advantage over their NFC West rivals heading into the regular season: team health. The Rams accomplished the number one goal of the preseason, to remain healthy, while their divisional foes weren't as fortunate.
The Rams will open the season against the Arizona Cardinals minus RB Isaiah Pead and LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar as they serve one and four game suspensions, respectively. Jeff Fisher knows they'll be back at 100 percent in week two though. Arizona coach Bruce Arians doesn't have that luxury with the players who will miss week one for him.
The biggest loss for Arizona is up front with rookie first round pick Jonathan Cooper on season-ending injured reserve with a broken leg. This is the second year in a row Arizona has lost a starting offensive lineman before the season starts. Last season, Levi Brown was declared out for the year, forcing a shift along the line from which Arizona never fully recovered. Arians hopes this year will be different as he slides Daryn Colledge across the line into Cooper's slot.
The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are the consensus contenders for the division crown, but both will begin the season with major pieces of their offense sitting out with injuries. Seattle is missing WR Percy Harvin, who they signed to a big off season contract. Harvin had hip surgery and may or may not be available later in the season. Fellow WR Sidney Rice is questionable for the beginning of the season. He actually went to Switzerland for some mysterious treatment in hopes of being able to start the season. LB Chris Clemons avoided starting the season on the PUP list, but there's still no firm timetable for his return.
The 49ers are missing both Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, leaving Anquan Boldin their only experienced wide receiver. Both Crabtree (Achilles) and Manningham (knee) are expected back around Thanksgiving, although their effectiveness could be limited.
Both the Seahawks and the Niners will send their second year quarterbacks into action without their full complement of wide receivers. While Russell Wilson and Colin Kaeperick are viewed as up and coming starts, it remains to be seen if their talent can overcome this lack of weapons.
In a highly competitive division with little room for error, the Rams' overall health (if they're able to maintain it) could make a huge difference as the season wears on.
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