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Are the Los Angeles Rams the team to beat in the NFC West?

It’s time to start scouting the 49ers opponents for 2018. Today it’s the Los Angeles Rams

So it’s come to this, the Los Angeles Rams. A historic rivalry that is (finally) about to be renewed. The Rams and the 49ers are the old school rivalry that fittingly revives itself when the Rams move to Los Angeles.

While the 49ers have made some nice free agent signings, they seemed to instead build through the draft and had a solid core from 2017 and hopefully the same in 2018.

The Rams on the other hand? Well they just threw money and draft picks at everything for two years and now they have one of the best rosters in the NFC West, if not the NFL.

There’s a lot of variables here though. For one thing, head coach Sean McVay having one good season as head coach doesn’t make him a good head coach. Several head coaches have made it to the playoffs, take Tony Sparano who led the Miami Dolphins to the playoffs in his first year. Following an impressive first year, the Dolphins are very bad, leading to Sparano getting fired. Even Rex Ryan managed to take the Jets to the playoffs a couple times before the team regressed.

What Sean McVay needs is progress or consistency, the slightest regression won’t work for his stock. If he can managed another two playoff appearances, then we can begin to separate him from the rest of the coaches who have been flashes in the pan before him.

As for the actual roster? Oh boy...they definitely pushed their chips in for 2018. Jared Goff is the main focus for all of this. After a ho-hum rookie season, Goff was serviceable in 2017. much like his coach, Goff needs to take that season and build on it or he’s going to be just as much of a flash in the pan as McVay is.

What does all of this mean? I don’t know. This is the hardest roster and storyline to put a finger on.

Draft picks

Round 3: Joseph Noteboom (OT)
Round 4: Brian Allen (C)
Round 4: John Franklin-Myers (DE)
Round 5: Micah Kiser (LB)
Round 5: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (LB)
Round 6: John Kelly (RB)
Round 6: Jamil Demby (OT)
Round 6: Sebastian Joseph-Day (DT)
Round 6: Trevon Young (DE)
Round 7: Ravin Howard (LB)
Round 7: Justin Lawler (LB)

Notable free agent acquisitions

Ndamukong Suh (DT)
Sam Shields (CB)

Notable trades:

Brandin Cooks (WR from New England Patriots)
Marcus Peters (CB from Kansas City)
Aqib Talib (CB from Denver)

Alright, let’s try and sort all of this out. As you can see from above, the Rams didn’t have a pick in the 2018 draft until the third round. This is due to several trades from over the years and current in order to get players like Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks, and Sammy Watkins. What has resulted is another NFC West arms race where the 49ers seemed to almost just kick back and watch the action. They had a deal going for Aqib Talib but due to him not wanting to come to San Francisco, the 49ers nixed the trade.

The result was them channeling their inner Trent Baalke and having a bazillion picks in the later rounds. A lot of these picks (Such as Jamil Demby) are great where they were taken at and will help for the future when salary cap concerns decimate this current roster. Most of these picks were decent and with a year of development can come in to fill the holes.

So now free agency. The Ndamukong Suh signing makes what already was a decent defensive line in one of the most feared in the league. Moving to trades, you now have Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters in the backfield with Sam Shields waiting in the wings? That’s a defense that Wade Philips has to be drooling over. If they can stay healthy and can stay focused with their eyes on the prize, this defense can definitely be something. On the other end, you have Brandon Cooks and Cooper Kupp on the wide receiver line which is almost unfair with the speed they have. Kupp could be coming into his own in 2018 and if he does this as well as his former college teammate Kendrick Bourne, I’d be sending scouts to Eastern Washington to observe their wide receivers more closely (the shared alma mater of the two).

If the defense can keep it together and not melt down, this could be something. But that’s a huge ‘if’.

Way too early gambling line

Rams at 49ers: Rams (-1)
49ers at Rams: Rams (No Line)

The matchup

It’s fine to have faith in Jimmy Garoppolo, I know I do, but when comparing both rosters side by side I see a possible up and coming dynasty with the 49ers and a team that pushed every chip they had into the center for one shot in the Rams. Sure, there are ways out of all of this but they all end the same way it did for the Seattle Seahawks—salary cap casualties and trades.

If I’m looking at 2018, the Rams are simply the better team. Now all of that could change when and if they start losing (and I have a strong feeling they may) but if I’m looking at it right now in July of 2018, the 49ers just aren’t there yet. One more year and John Lynch has positioned the team to not have issues for years with smart spending of the salary cap and not banking the team’s future with draft packages. For now, the Rams are the team to beat in the NFC West, and it’s going to be very expensive to have that distinction for one year. I won’t be surprised if it’s the other way around, but I’m predicting a sweep for the Rams. This is the last year it’s going to happen. The 49ers offense is going to do a lot of good things, beating the Rams in the playoffs may be one of those.

They just aren’t going to get it done in the regular season.