NFC West Preview: Rams’ Expectations Sky-High After Impressive Offseason

We are seeing a changing of the guard in the NFC West.

The Seattle Seahawks have won two NFC championships and a Super Bowl since 2013, but their five-year playoff appearance streak ended with a disappointing 9-7 record last season. The Los Angeles Rams, a young team led by 2017 Coach of the Year Sean McVay, won the division at 11-5.

The Rams are the favorites to repeat as division champs, but they’ll face stiff competition. The San Francisco 49ers’ fortunes appear bolstered by young quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who won all five games he started for the Niners after they acquired him via trade from the New England Patriots last season. The Seahawks still are dangerous, while the Cardinals are getting their best player, David Johnson, back from injury.

Here’s our preview of the NFC West.

DIVISION ODDS (via OddsShark)
Los Angeles Rams -135
San Francisco 49ers +280
Seattle Seahawks +400
Arizona Cardinals +1000

DIVISION FAVORITE
Los Angeles Rams — The Rams won the division last year and added a ton of talent to their roster in the offseason (more on that below). They also have one of the best young coaches in the league in McVay, and quarterback Jared Goff’s improvement during his second pro season was very encouraging for the future of the franchise. Games aren’t won on paper, but given the blend of immense talent and experience on this roster, it’s extremely hard to pick a different team to win the NFC West.

DIVISION SLEEPER
Seattle Seahawks — If great quarterback you have a chance to win every week in the NFL. Russell Wilson is a top five QB in the league, and that will make the Seahawks a dangerous team. Sure, Seattle’s defense has lost some key members of its recent NFC-winning units (Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, etc.), and the group as a whole is pretty old, but there’s still enough talent on this side of the ball to be competent enough against a division that lacks an elite quarterback outside Wilson.

The Seahawks also have much better running back depth compared to last season and an improved offensive line. They aren’t a Super Bowl contender anymore, but they won’t be an easy team to beat, either. Don’t be surprised if they surpass expectations and finish 10-6 with a wild card playoff berth.

IMPACT NEWCOMERS
Rams WR Brandin Cooks — Cooks’ injury in Super Bowl LII put a damper on an otherwise good first season with the New England Patriots. He was traded to the Rams in April and should serve as a deep-threat wideout capable of taking advantage of Goff’s powerful arm.

Cardinals RB David Johnson — Technically, Johnson isn’t a “newcomer,” but he suffered a season-ending wrist injury in Week 1 that derailed Arizona’s campaign. He arguably was the best running back in the league before his injury, coming off a 2016 season during which he tallied more than 2,000 total yards. His elite dual-threat skill set should make the Cardinals offense much better than it was in 2017, and give Josh Rosen a great security blanket should the rookie quarterback beat out Sam Bradford for the starting job.

Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny — Seattle relied way too much on Wilson last season because its rushing attack was below average. The Seahawks finished 23rd in rushing yards and their four rushing touchdowns tied the Miami Dolphins for the fewest in the league. Penny, a first-round draft pick out of San Diego State, will be called on to bring much-needed balance to the Seahawks’ offense and ease the burden on Wilson.

MAJOR STORYLINE
After a busy offseason that saw them add several veteran players, most notably wide receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, the Rams are being picked by some experts to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LIII. Heck, even Sports Illustrated’s Peter King picked the Rams to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Expectations are extremely high in L.A., and that’s going to create a level of pressure many of its players never have faced, including Goff. How will the Rams handle these expectations, especially if they struggle to start the season? That scenario certainly is possible, since the Rams’ very tough schedule includes the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota Vikings and Seahawks in the first nine weeks.

The future is now for the Rams, but emerging from an ultra-competitive NFC in January is going to be a very difficult task.

Thumbnail photo via Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports Images

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