Rams are no longer overwhelming favorites in the NFC West

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

It seems a bit ridiculous on the surface. Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams nearly defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.

McVay is a genius. Youngsters Jared Goff and Todd Gurley pace an elite-level offense. On the other side of the ball, Aaron Donald is coming off a second consecutive NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

In the end, Los Angeles took home the NFC West by a cool three games — finding itself nine games ahead the Arizona Cardinals and 10 games in front of the last-place San Francisco 49ers.

But we’re here to say that these Rams are no longer the overwhelming favorites in a division that’s on the verge of getting a whole lot better.

Los Angeles Rams: Free-agent losses are going to hurt.

  • Los Angeles lost two starters along the offensive line in that of stud guard Rodger Saffold and veteran center John Sullivan. These are not small losses in an NFL that’s still defined by trench ware fare.
  • It’s also seemingly a foregone conclusion that Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will move on to another team. He anchored the Rams’ line with Donald last season.
  • On the surface, Eric Weddle is an upgrade over Lamarcus Joyner at safety. Though, he’s older than his counterpart. Could Weddle regress in 2019?

Los Angeles Rams: The Jared Goff, Todd Gurley dynamic.

  • Seen as one of the best young backfields in the NFL, both of these players struggled down the stretch during the Rams’ Super Bowl run last season.
  • Said to be dealing with injuries, Gurley was a non-factor in the final two playoff games — going for 45 yards on 14 attempts. Was he really injured? We still have no idea.
  • Goff put up just one touchdown and two interceptions in the Rams’ three playoff games. Over the course of their final five regular-season games he threw six touchdowns compared to six picks. Is regression a concern?

Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson is still an MVP candidate.

  • Pretty much in a season of transition, Wilson helped his team to a surprising 10 wins and a playoff appearance. In the process, he proved himself to be a legit MVP candidate.
  • The Super Bowl signal caller completed nearly 66 percent of his passes with 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
  • Boasting the NFL’s best rushing attack, balance is the name of the game in Seattle. That’s going to be an issue for a disappointing Rams defense.

Seattle Seahawks: Defense is growing big time.

  • Led by Frank Clark and Bobby Wagner, Seattle’s defense still found a way to rank in the top 11 in points allowed last season. There’s only room to grow on this front.
  • We were equally impressed by young defensive backs Shaquill Griffin, Tre Flowers, Tedric Thompson and Bradley McDougald. None of these four have even hit their prime.
  • Seattle also retained a core free agent in that of linebacker K.J. Wright. He remains one of the best players at his position in the game.

San Francisco 49ers: Injuries derailed team in 2019.

  • Name a team that could overcome losing its expensive starting backfield before Week 3 concluded, only to have a successful season in the process.
  • That’s what happened in San Francisco when running back Jerick McKinnon and franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down to torn ACLs.
  • Still a rebuilding team, San Francisco didn’t have the depth to overcome these injuries during a four-win 2018 campaign.

San Francisco 49ers: Added big time to talented young core.

Arizona Cardinals: Massive head coach upgrade.

  • As we’ve seen with McVay and the Rams, coaching matters in the NFL. Fired after one season, Steve Wilks simply wasn’t the answer in the desert.
  • We have no idea how Kliff Kingsbury will work out. What we do know is that he’s an innovative offensive mind of the McVay/Shanahan ilk. That’s not a bad thing.
  • Depending on what happens at quarterback, Kingsbury will have either Josh Rosen or Kyler Murray to work with. He’s also going to get the most of stud running back David Johnson.

While we fully expect Los Angeles to win the NFC West again in 2019, it’s nowhere near a foregone conclusion. The NFL is all about battles in the trenches and specific matchups.

It’s in this that the division’s three other teams might have an advantage after Los Angeles lost Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan.

Seattle has an elite pass-rush threat in that of Frank Clark. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Jarran Reed recorded 10.5 sacks last season.

San Francisco has turned pass rush into a strength after struggling in that category last season. Simply by adding Dee Ford to the mix with fellow Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner, the 49ers are going to cause major mismatches at the line. The two combined for 49 quarterback hits and 25 sacks last season.

In Arizona, the addition of Terrell Suggs to team up with Chandler Jones should also cause the Rams some fits.

Given that Goff struggles with pressure up the middle, this is no small thing. We’re highly intrigued to see how everything plays out during the 2019 season.