I would love to believe this past year was a little bit of a fluke for the Rams. A few bounces here or there and they have a playoff berth in hand, ready to make another run at a Super Bowl.
I would love to believe next year the Rams return to glory and reclaim the title of the NFC West’s best team, with a trip to the playoffs in the bag.
However, this would be shortsighted and unwise of me.
The future of the NFC West is beyond bright. It is a flat out hellscape if we are being honest with ourselves. This is a scary proposition for the Rams and their fans. I won’t complain though, I love good football and I want to beat the best. Let them earn it and leave no doubt.
What makes the NFC West so tough I hear you say. The West is home to a plethora of talent, but not just any talent. Every NFL team has talent, it is the NFL after all. What separates the West from the rest is all of the YOUNG talents. There is a case to be made for veteran leadership, and experience, but make no mistake about it football is a young man’s game.
The game is fast and it is brutal. The next play can be your last, and you just have to accept this as a player. The recent trend of young All-Pro’s retiring should be all the proof you need of how taxing the game of football is. Before the season started we were shocked to learn Colts QB Andrew Luck was walking away from the game at the age of 30, leaving behind prime years of career we will never get to witness. Just last week Panthers LB Luke Kuechly, 5-time first-team All-Pro, unexpectedly retired at the ripe age of 28.
Can you imagine how beat up, how hurt, just how shell shocked you have to be to walk away from 20 million dollars?
That is exactly what he did, forgoing the last two years left on his deal. And you could tell by watching his announcement, and the fighting back of tears, this was not because he wanted to, but because he NEEDED to.
The NFC West was the toughest division in football. The West had three teams with winning records, no other division can claim that. It should then come as little surprise that the West had the most wins as a division with 38.
For context, The NFC East finished with a total of 24 wins as a division, with their division winner claiming only nine wins on the season.
Here is a snapshot of the young talent, age 27 and under, who are making their names in the NFC West.
Pending unrestricted free agents will be designated as UFA.
49ers (5-1 division rec., Super Bowl 54 participant)
WR Deebo Samuel, T Mike McGlinchey, TE George Kittle, RB Matt Breida, RB Tevin Coleman, RB Raheem Mostert, DE Nick Bosa, DT DeForest Buckner, DE Arik Armstead, LB Kwon Alexander, LB Fred Warner, LB Dre Greenlaw, and S Jaquiski Tart. Pictured below: LB Fred Warner
Seahawks (3-3 division rec., made 2019 playoffs)
RB Travis Homer, WR DK Metcalf, WR Tyler Lockett, TE Jacob Hollister, CB Shaquill Griffin, DE Jadeveon Clowney (UFA), S Quandre Diggs. Pictured below: CB Shaquill Griffin
Cardinals (1-5 division rec., 8th overall pick in 2020 draft)
QB Kyler Murray, RB Kenyan Drake (UFA), WR Christian Kirk, LB Haason Reddick, LB Jordan Hicks, S Budda Baker. Pictured below: WR Christian Kirk
Rams (3-3 division rec.)
T Bobby Evans, QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley II, WR Josh Reynolds, WR Brandin Cooks, WR Robert Woods, WR Cooper Kupp, TE Tyler Higbee, LB Samson Ebukam, LB Dante Fowler Jr. (UFA), LB Cory Littleton (UFA), CB Jalen Ramsey, S Taylor Rapp, S John Johnson III. Pictured below: LB Samson Ebukam
Not to be outdone by the young guns on the field are the head coaches. Young guns in their own right are Cliff Kingsbury, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, and the elder statesman of the division Pete Carroll. Kingsbury didn’t seem overwhelmed by the pros like some college coaches who have run for the hills of the NCAA *COUGH Nick Saban COUGH*.
McVay has already been to a Super Bowl and turned a lifeless offense under Jeff Fisher into one of the best in the league. Shanahan has the ear of his team and they would run through a wall for him if he asked. He has a tremendous feel for his offense and how to control the pace of a game. And you wouldn’t know it by the way Carroll chews his gum but he is 68 years old. He also seems to have a great feel for his team, the Seahawks always seem to outperform the expectations people have for them.
The West is going to be a battle for the foreseeable future and I am totally here for it. The 49ers are certainly the class of the division. They have everything you want in a team. I dare say they are a juggernaut. With their appearance in the Super Bowl this year they have shown they are not only the best in the West but the best in the NFC, period.
Out of the last 15 Super Bowls, 7 of the NFC representatives came from the NFC West. Based on what we are seeing right now I don’t foresee this changing anytime soon. Welcome to the hellscape of the NFC West.