Since the NFL realignment of the 2002 season, all eight division winners have never repeated the following season.
For the Rams to march to State Farm Stadium in February 2023 and reclaim the Vince Lombardi Trophy, they’ll have to scale the hurdles residing in Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona first. And all three have made some significant roster changes plus kept some key players in the attempt to topple the Rams.
But are the Rams talented and loaded enough to re-snatch the division title? Especially in, arguably, the toughest division in the NFL that sent a league-high three teams to the playoffs last season?
Alex Ballentine of Bleacher Report dove into the Rams’ chances of repeating as champs on Monday, June 27.
Has Division Gotten Stronger or Softer?
The Super Bowl 56 winner have the fourth-best chances of repeating as division champs.
The Rams will additionally enter the season facing some stout challenges west of the Rocky Mountains. But, does the NFL analyst/columnist Ballentine believe that the NFC West will be a fiercer gauntlet for the Rams?
“The NFC West as a division has gotten weaker on paper,” Ballentine wrote.
He then detailed the reasons why he believes the division will be vastly different…and softer with the exception of one well-known challenger.
“Russell Wilson’s departure leaves the Seattle Seahawks in rebuilding mode. The Arizona Cardinals’ late-season struggles, DeAndre Hopkins’ six-game suspension and the departure of Chandler Jones leave legitimate questions as to how far the Kyler Murray/Kliff Kingsbury tandem can take them,” Ballentine said. “That leaves the Rams in a two-way race with the San Francisco 49ers.”
Why the 49ers Pose as the Biggest Threat per B/R
Both the Rams and the 49ers got involved in two of the more thrilling games of last season: The season finale that saw the ‘Niners erase a 17-point deficit to clinch a final playoff spot, then the epic NFC title game won in exhilarating fashion by the Rams.
Still, the 49ers have had the upper-hand in the series as stated by Ballentine.
“The Niners finished 10-7 last season but went 2-1 against the Rams head-to-head. Of course, they lost the most important one in the playoffs, but the point remains the 49ers are a legitimate threat.”
Ballentine then compared the losses on both sides during the March 2022 free agency period.
“In terms of major losses, the Rams are going to have to replace the production of Von Miller. The Niners’ biggest losses were Alex Mack and Laken Tomlinson,” Ballentine said. “Patching up the interior of the offensive line should be easier than finding a prolific edge-rusher like Miller.”
Regarding the last sentence from Ballentine, it hasn’t been as easy as it appears for the 49ers. The team never addressed finding a replacement for the two Pro Bowlers through free agency or in their nine draft picks. Even free agent center J.C. Tretter had his name mentioned as a 49ers possibility by B/R, but it’s likely that the ‘Niners will instead roll with key reserve Jake Brendel or move guard Daniel Brunskill to Mack’s old spot. Two other options are 2022 undrafted rookies Dohnovan West and Jason Poe. Second rounder from the 2021 draft Aaron Banks is projected to start in place of Tomlinson.
The Rams, though, wound up not pursuing a replacement edge rusher for Miller as they appear to be all in on Justin Hollins and Terrell Lewis.
“Either way, it’s shaping up to be a competitive race between the two for divisional supremacy. That gives the Rams a little tougher path than the teams ahead of them in these rankings,” Ballentine wrote.