Ah yes, the top. The desired destination for every NFL team: the top of their division, the top of their conference, and the entire league – that’s the goal.
The Los Angeles Rams accomplished two of the three goals listed above, with only a Superbowl title not included. The 2019 NFC West Division Champions and eventual NFC Champions had a season to remember. Thirteen wins and a young core with a majority of essential pieces in place for years to come? That’s not only a success in terms of the current year, but that’s also setting the organization up for future success.
Usually, especially in the NFL, there will be setbacks. There will be hungry teams on the come-up that are ready to test the top-tier teams for their throne. The Rams are atop the NFL’s mountain, and they are sitting among the upper-echelon of teams in the league. The test ahead is what separates the pretenders from the potential-dynasties.
Within The Division
The NFC West is full of hungry teams that will want to dethrone the Rams as division champions. Over the past few years, the division was in a downturn, but now these teams are years into rebuilds and reboots. The San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and Arizona Cardinals are all vying to get better, and are all playing the “hunter” role in the division. Can any of them successfully dethrone the Rams?
However, There was a clear hierarchy in the group. The Arizona Cardinals’ outlook was bleak at best. A year after losing running back David Johnson for a year, the team, the team had been dismantled.
The Cardinals scratched and clawed their way to a 3-13 record and the first overall pick. With Kyler Murray now secured as their new franchise quarterback, a strong draft in April, and Kliff Kingsbury in place as head coach, look for the Cardinals to improve. They had an active offseason, but are a ways away from competing for the divisions top spot.
Next up on the list of division rivals are the San Francisco 49ers. This team is as injury-riddled as they come, and fans will say that the injuries were the reason for their lack of success in 2018. However, it wasn’t that simple.
Yes, Jimmy Garoppolo’s ACL injury in the early part of their campaign didn’t help, but head coach Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh’s defense, were sliced like butter throughout the entire season, primarily the secondary.
Health did end up dampening San Francisco’s season, but with an improved defensive line (Nick Bosa, Dee Ford) and presumably a healthier secondary, the 49ers will look to add to their win total in 2019.
The NFC West Division runner-up is next on the list: the Seattle Seahawks. In 2017, the Ram’s absolute stomping of the Seahawks became a “passing the torch” type of game. Blowouts like that don’t happen in the NFL often, if ever. However, that loss didn’t keep the Seahawks from competing hard last year. They were destined to be a middle-of-the-pack team, but they fought their way from 4-5 to a 10-6 record, and into the playoffs.
Often counted out, the 2018 Seahawks were a gritty team, and they look to be the same this year. After their early exit during the 2018 playoffs, the Seahawks look to be going through a “reboot.”
Leaders and talent reign supreme in the NFL. Losing Doug Baldwin won’t be easy to overcome, and a questionable draft could leave the Seahawks having a bleaker outlook on 2019.
All of this talk has led up to this inevitable Rams section. Once again, the team looks to be in a position to win the division in the upcoming season. Although the path might seem apparent, two of the three franchises within the division are getting better fast; the window is getting smaller and smaller.
For years, the Rams had chased the top-tier teams of the division. For half of this past decade, that team was the 49ers and for a while the Seahawks. The Rams endured two-win seasons and horrific coaching hires. After nearly twenty years of peril, the franchise has begun their run at the top.
In a way, they’ve adjusted well.
Players are about business, they don’t talk too much, and the coaching staff handles media and personalities in the locker room with ease. Sean McVay has revolutionized the team in that way, especially within the division. In his short tenure, McVay has dominated inner-division opponents, and from the beginning, they became the hunted. This team learned on the go, and are nearly fully adapted and ready to take on another year in the NFC West.
The Conference Battle
The NFC is known to be the more difficult conference in recent years. The New Orleans Saints, Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, and Chicago Bears are all expected to compete at the top, and all have top-performers at each position.
Every team will be chasing the Saints and the Rams, as they were the two top teams in the conference last year. Both the Eagles and Packers will be getting healthier this upcoming season, with quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Aaron Rodgers presumably returning to form. Both of these teams had solid drafts to add depth and skill defensively as well. They should be expected to come back strong.
The Bears will be getting a year older, as their young core looks to compete with the best of them, and quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky will try to improve on multiple facets of his game. In reality, this team isn’t much different than the Rams were after the 2018 season. They will be gnawing at the bit to take the next step after a disappointing playoff performance.
The Falcons, who beat the Rams in their 2017 WIldcard Playoff game, will be much healthier this year, recouping from one of the most injury-riddled seasons in recent memory. They should be in the hunt for nine to eleven wins this year.
The biggest challenge for the Rams, however, will once again be the Saints. With Drew Brees seemingly at the top of his game into his late-30s, the Saints will once again have a top offense and have a formidable defense. Signing star-receiver Michael Thomas to a record-setting deal is on their to-do list for this offseason as well.
The Rams have a lot of paths to winning the conference again next season. PFF ranked the Rams roster number two only behind the New England Patriots, and they did so for a reason. The talent can’t be ignored, and Sean McVay will have his team ready to defend a conference title while being hunted in the process.
The Big Picture
When Sean McVay was hired in 2017 and integrated the “We Not Me” mantra into the organization, the team started to adjust. When the team had it’s first winning season in over a decade, they adapted.
When the team made the Superbowl last season, they made the most significant adjustment of all – they immediately became the hunted. The Rams became the franchise that teams wanted to be, but also the team everybody desperately wanted to beat.
Signing players like Andrew Whitworth and Eric Weddle to solidify leadership in the locker room were moves that a polished organization makes. The team had shifted. The winning culture came with all these developments, and with wins of course.
Becoming the hunted wasn’t as long of a process as one would guess. With quick signings and notable coaching hires, the Los Angeles Rams have quickly become one of the leagues very best, and with that comes the pack of teams right below ready to tear them down.