clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Meet the new boss

New, comments

The 49ers are in control of the NFC West

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

It happened in a flash.

One long-awaited showdown game, and suddenly everyone knew. The Los Angeles Rams were dethroned, and the San Francsico 49ers are now in charge of the NFC West (as well as top 5 or higher in every NFL power ranking).

Last year, I predicted that Niners vs. Rams would be the division’s big new rivalry going forward. Now I doubt it.

Bye bye, Rams

I hope L.A. sold all the seat licenses they were hoping for, because the dismay among Rams fans is already evident and their future is bleak. General manager John Lynch has built a roster that the Rams can’t hope to match.

A brutal pass rush chasing an easily shaken and stirred quarterback. A core of young, selfless players against a mercenary patchwork of high-priced, aging stars and mediocre nobodies. Depth and speed from offensive line to secondary, sufficient to weather even San Francisco’s now-customary rash of injuries.

San Francisco has too many talented options at wide receiver and running back for even L.A.’s legendary defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to scheme against. Aaron Donald remains studly, and Jalen Ramsey is a great cornerback, but the rest of that defense is uninspiring or heading into free agency. There will be huge gaps between their two elite players, a situation Kyle Shanahan can scheme against in his sleep.

None of this is going to change any time soon, either. Rams GM Les Snead traded away years of draft picks to get big names and gave huge guaranteed contracts to damaged goods like Todd Gurley (arthritis) and Jared Goff (gritlessness). How is he going to fix their crumbling offensive line?

Sean McVay doesn’t seem to have any answers, and their best coach (Phillips) is 72. How long is his thankless job going to sound better than retirement, broadcasting, and the Hall of Fame?

Even if they tank, the Rams won’t have a first round pick until 2022, so it won’t do them much good. This team sold their future for pennies on the dollar, and may be fondly remembering Jeff Fisher’s 8-8 seasons before long.

Let me tell you, they might be primed for some 7-9 bullstuff too.

See ya, Seahawks

What about the rest of the division? The Seahawks are half a game behind San Francisco at 5-1, but it’s a very tenuous 5-1. Four of those five wins were by 4 points or fewer, against weak teams.

And their loss? That was at home. To a backup quarterback. Making their first start of the season.

Their future does not seem bright either. They dismantled the Legion of Boom, bet big on an unimaginative running attack and are riding Russell Wilson’s best season to stay competitive.

That’s great, but Houdini is 30 now and his magic act of escaping by inches is not going to work forever. He will get crushed and injured one of these days, perhaps by the Niners’ dominant defensive front this season, and will probably never be as good again.

Imagine Seattle without Russell Wilson. (I’m sorry, you might be eating. I should have given a trigger warning.)

That will be a squad that has no trouble tanking, but their cupboard is pretty bare at the moment. It took San Francisco four years of top 10 draft picks to get to decent (but not amazing) depth of talent, and there’s no reason to think Seattle will rebound quicker.

This lack of talent is already a problem this season. The Seahawks are riding high now, but even if Wilson stays healthy, an injury to Bobby Wagner, Tyler Lockett or Chris Carson would cripple this team. Promising tight end Will Dissly was just lost for the season, which is already a problem. Enjoy it while you can, Seahawks fans, because it’s not going to last.

Cardinals Coming On?

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the biggest rivalry in the NFC West over the next few years could be San Francisco against Arizona.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury and his #1 overall pick Kyler Murray are both rookies but already showing enough talent to beat bad teams, running a lot of 10 personnel (with one RB and no tight ends). Don’t get me wrong, this is not a good team, and star WR Larry Fitzgerald, 36, won’t last forever.

It’s also possible that defenses will figure out Kingsbury and Murray, or that Murray will get injured like so many running QBs before him, but so far they look like promising talents at the core of a rebuilding roster. I’m surprised how balanced this “Air Raid offense” is between passing (11th in the NFL, by yards per game) and running (12th).

On defense, linebacker Jordan Hicks was a good pickup, a talented playmaker who has struggled to stay healthy in his NFL career, but has 62 tackles already this season. And stud CB Patrick Peterson is somehow only 29 after about 18 years in the NFL.

In a way, the worst thing that has happened to this team is their victories against the likes of Atlanta and Cleveland. At 2-3-1, there are currently 13 teams that would be drafting ahead of them if the season ended today. They’d have been well-served by another year or three of competitive, close losses like the Niners suffered through from 2016-18.

It’s unlikely that Arizona will present much of a threat to San Francisco’s dominance in the near future, but their match-ups against the Niners should at a minimum be very entertaining.

Hopefully they’ll score enough points to force the 49ers out of the conservative run game they adopted in the Rams game, once they got the lead, and push Jimmy G to be more aggressive. Or at least, the Niners’ scoring should force Kliff Kingsbury to dip into his bag of tricks and pull out some exotic plays.

It’s all San Francisco

The bottom line is that the Niners are in control and it should be fun. Sure, they’ll get more attention in game planning, and division rivals might even make personnel decisions with an eye to offsetting the Niners’ strengths. But that’s the price of being dominant.