Matthew Stafford, Sean McVay, Rams
May 27, 2021; Thousand Oaks, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay speaks with quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) during oraganized team activities. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

2022 NFC West preview: Rams try to run it back

In our 2022 NFC West preview, we see a defending champion, two hopeful contenders and a Seattle Seahawks team in the start of a rebuild.

No NFL team has repeated as Super Bowl champion since the 2003-04 New England Patriots.

But the Los Angeles Rams are going to try anyway.

After winning Super Bowl LVI on their home turf at SoFi Stadium, the Rams are bringing back much of the core which won the franchise’s first Super Bowl win when representing the city of Los Angeles (their only other Super Bowl victory came in the 1999 season when the team played in St. Louis).

Entering training camp, Los Angeles has holdovers such as quarterback Matthew Stafford, receiver Cooper Kupp, defensive tackle Aaron Donald and corner Jalen Ramsey. However, the Rams did lose corner Darious Williams, edge rusher Von Miller and defensive tackle Sebastian Austin-Day to free agency, while left tackle Andrew Whitworth retired and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. remains unsigned after tearing his ACL in February.

With those facts as a backdrop, the question becomes whether the Rams did enough to remain an elite team despite a few key departures, and if someone in the NFC West improved enough to catch them.

While the Arizona Cardinals were made quick work of by Los Angeles in the NFC Wild Card round, they were the biggest threat in the NFC West last year. Had Arizona simply beaten the last-place Seattle Seahawks in Week 18, it would have won the division. However, the Cardinals had their annual downturn and went from the league’s last undefeated team to a wild card.

This year, the Cardinals are trying to avoid such issues, but the road is tougher. Arizona didn’t add much outside of receiver Hollywood Brown, but fellow wideout DeAndre Hopkins is suspended for the first six games. Defensively, the Cards lost Pro Bowl pass rusher Chandler Jones in free agency and didn’t replace him.

As for the San Francisco 49ers, they pushed the Rams in the NFC Championship Game — having a lead in the fourth quarter — before ultimately falling short. Now, they’re going with second-year quarterback Trey Lance as they prepare to move on from veteran Jimmy Garoppolo.

How Lance matures and develops is probably the biggest x-factor in how the NFC West shakes out, if not the entire league altogether.

The Rams remain the class of the West, but if Lance shines, the Niners could push to the top.

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