Sept. 10, 10 a.m., Fulton County Stadium
Oct. 8, 1 p.m., Anaheim Stadium
1988 record: 5-11.
Series record: Rams lead series, 32-10-2.
Key offensive starter: A tossup between quarterback Chris Miller and running back John Settle. Miller is a superior athlete who brought an extra dimension to a dismal passing offense last year. Now if he can only stay healthy. Meanwhile, the Falcons traded Pro Bowl rusher Gerald Riggs to the Washington Redskins, leaving Settle as the primary running threat. As gambles go, this wasn't much of one. Settle rushed for 1,024 yards last year.
Key defensive starter: First-round draft choice Neon Deion Sanders, a defensive back, got all the off-season headlines, but linebacker Aundray Bruce will finish the year with the most accolades. Bruce finished the year with five sacks and two interceptions.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . the greening of a Falcon team that features lots of young, potentially terrific players. Think of the possibilities should Sanders, wide receiver Shawn Collins, Miller, Bruce, running back Kenny Flowers and linebacker Marcus Cotton blossom this season.
Sept. 17, 1 p.m.
1988 record: 9-7.
Series record: Colts lead series, 20-15-2.
Key offensive starter: Could it be anyone but The Goggled One, running back Eric Dickerson? Dickerson churned out another 1,000 yard-plus season (1,659 to be exact) and 14 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 36 passes, which tends to keep defensive coordinators a bit more honest when scheming to stop Dickerson.
Key defensive starter: Linebacker Duane Bickett, who has emerged quietly as one of the American Football Conference's most consistent defensive players.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . Dickerson dashing up and down the field Sept. 17. Dickerson thrives on this sort of situation: lots of pressure, national attention. Nothing would give him more pleasure than sticking it to his former team, especially Coach John Robinson and vice president John Shaw.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Sept. 24, 1 p.m.
1988 record: 4-12.
Series record: Rams lead series, 40-33-2.
Key offensive starter: Wide receiver Sterling Sharpe caught 55 passes last year, no small feat considering that the Packers haven't had a decent quarterback since Lynn Dickey called it quits a few years ago. But Sharpe will have to do something about his catch-to-touchdown ratio, which was an unbelievable 55-1. Then again, the Packers will have to do something about their quarterback situation.
Key defensive starter: Little-known linebacker Tim Harris, who led the Packers in both tackles and sacks last year. Expect to see Harris in the Pro Bowl soon.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . mammoth offensive tackle Tony Mandarich taking his place on the Packer line. Mandarich would instantly improve an anemic running game, to say nothing of the pass protection he would provide.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Oct. 1, 1 p.m., Candlestick Park
Dec. 11, 6 p.m., Anaheim Stadium
1988 record: 10-6.
Series record: Rams lead series, 46-30-2.
Key offensive starter: Where do you start with this team? Quarterback Joe Montana is still the heart and soul of the 49ers. He threw 18 touchdown passes last year and added another three via the run. Running back Roger Craig emerged as the National Football Conference's dominant runner in a season that saw him gain a remarkable 1,502 yards. Add to that Craig's 76 receptions and you have the game's most complete back. And then there's receiver Jerry Rice, who merely averaged 20.4 yards every time he caught one of his 64 passes.
Key defensive starter: Change that to starters. Nose tackle Michael Carter is the best in the business at clogging the middle of offensive lines. Safety Ronnie Lott has few, if any, peers among NFL defensive backs.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . Montana dropping into the pocket. The man just kills the Rams. The same goes for Craig, who scored three times against the Rams in 1988.
Oct. 16, 6 p.m.
1988 record: 12-4.
Series record: Rams lead series, 3-1.
Key offensive starter: The Bills won 12 games last year despite a sub-par season by quarterback Jim Kelly (15 touchdown passes, 17 interceptions). Just think if he gets his act together and Coach Marv Levy lets him throw downfield on occasion.
Key defensive starter: Hard to find a better group of defenders. End Bruce Smith and linebacker Cornelius Bennett combined for 20 1/2 sacks in 1988.
The Rams could do without seeing . . . The Bills giving the ball to Robb Riddick on a fourth-and-goal from the 1. Riddick scored 12 touchdowns in 1988, many of them on goal-line situations.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Oct. 22, 1 p.m., Anaheim Stadium
Nov. 26, 5 p.m., Superdome
1988 record: 10-6.
Series record: Rams lead series, 25-13.