(Sports Network) - St. Louis is a year into a rebuilding project similar to Arizona and improved its win total by 5 1/2 games last season under Jeff Fisher, who led the Rams to a 7-8-1 finish in his first campaign with the club.
Fisher did so with one of the youngest rosters in football and though veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon was added in the offseason, St. Louis is expected to have a pair of rookie starters on defense in linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety T.J. McDonald.
Second-year running back Daryl Richardson also takes over the starting role from Steven Jackson, who joined the Atlanta Falcons in the offseason.
That leaves the Rams with a young offense as well, with fourth-year quarterback Sam Bradford leading the unit.
"That's not an excuse," said Fisher. "We're young, but that's not an excuse as far as what takes place on Sundays. We're going to line people up because they're ready to play. I think it's a promising future for us, but I'm not concerned about it."
Fisher is 10-7 in his head coaching career on Kickoff Weekend, while the Rams are 6-4 when opening the season at home since moving to St. Louis in 1995.
Everything was going Arizona's way nearly a year ago as the Cardinals had put together a 4-0 start and were off to St. Louis to battle the rebuilding Rams.
Little did they know, it was about to get as hot and sticky as a summer in the desert, with a 14-point setback at the Edward Jones Dome to begin October starting a nine-game losing streak that doomed the Cardinals' season and cost more than a few jobs in Glendale.
Arizona returns to St. Louis to begin the 2013 campaign on Sunday with reborn hope, as well as a new head coach, in Bruce Arians' Cardinals debut.
The Cardinals sent general manager Rod Graves and head coach Ken Whisenhunt packing after last year's 5-11 campaign, replacing Graves with Steve Keim. Arians was then brought in for his first official NFL head coaching job, though he does so having won Coach of the Year honors in 2012 with the Indianapolis Colts.
Arians took over as interim head coach for Chuck Pagano, who left the Colts to begin treatment for leukemia. Indianapolis went 9-3 under Arians, tying an NFL record for the most wins by an interim head coach.
Arians now gets a chance to run his own squad and brought in Harold Goodwin and Todd Bowles to serve as his offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively.
"It's extremely exciting for me. It's something I never thought would happen. Last year was an unbelievable fairy tale ride for all of us, and the biggest part of that fairy tale was seeing (Colts Head Coach) Chuck (Pagano) get well and come back for that last game," Arians said.
"But, yeah, it proves something to me. Whether it happened or not, I was satisfied that I had my taste and it was good. I could do the job, and (Cardinals owner Michael) Bidwell gave me the honor of being a head coach."
The business side of the Cardinals was not the only one to undergo changes. Arians got himself a new quarterback when Arizona traded for Oakland's Carson Palmer, while running back Rashard Mendenhall. linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Yeremiah Bell are among the fresh faces on defense.
In all, Sunday's lineup for the Cardinals is projected to have 14 players who were not starters for the club a season ago.
Arians had hoped 2013 first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper would be among those players, but he will miss the season with a fractured fibula suffered in the preseason.
"It was a body blow to us because he's not just a great player, he's a great kid. You hate for a rookie, especially your first pick who you feel so highly about, to lose him for the season," noted Arians.
No Cardinals head coach has won his debut since Don Coryell in 1973 and Arians will also look to have Arizona win its fourth straight season opener for the first time since 1973-76.
Arizona had won seven straight trips to St. Louis before last year's Week 5 loss and the Rams won the rematch in the desert on Nov. 25. The Cardinals, though, have still won seven of the last 10 meetings.
While it may appear the Cardinals are starting over under Arians, they are a bit ahead of the curve thanks to a solid defense and a veteran under center in Palmer. Getting Fitzgerald involved will be key and the Cards will try to move him around to keep him away from physical Rams corner Cortland Finnegan.
St. Louis will being sending Long and Quinn at Palmer in full force to test Arizona's shaky line and will try to exploit the absence of Washington. Bradford has the ability to do just that and the additions of Cook and Austin to wide receivers Chris Givens and Austin Pettis will help.
This should be a tight affair, but the Rams have made just enough upgrades to have the edge.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rams 27, Cardinals 17