The NFC West Division race last season ended up becoming a remarkable one thanks to what happened to the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks. The Rams looked old, and their top players missed significant time with injuries. Los Angeles went from winning the Super Bowl to finishing in third place with a 5-12 record.
The Seahawks were left for dead before last season after they traded Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos. Seattle, however, rallied around veteran quarterback Geno Smith and made a run to the postseason as a Wild Card. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has shown he was up for a rebuild. Carroll has led Seattle to the playoffs in 10 of his 13 seasons. The Rams are hoping to establish they can once again be contenders.
Seahawks, Rams Have Close Series
The surging Seattle Seahawks opens the season as 5.5-point favorites for the matchup with the Rams at 4:25 p.m. at Lumen Field in Seattle. The Seahawks lead the all-time series 27-24. The teams became division rivals when the NFL realigned the division in 2002.
Seattle clinched its playoff spot last season by beating Los Angeles 19-16 in overtime on Jan. 8, 2023 in Seattle. Home-field advantage has been a large part of Seattle’s success since the Seahawks built their new stadium in 2002. Seattle has a 114-55 record at home since moving into its new home.
Geno Smith Holds Keys to Surging Seattle’s Success
There’s a lot to like about Smith’s story. The West Virginia graduate was drafted by the New York Jets in 2013 and took a long road to success in the NFL. While he didn’t find a role in the Big Apple, Smith got his break when he ended up with Seattle in 2020.
Before the 2022 season, Smith was in a quarterback competition with Drew Lock, who the Seahawks received in the trade for Wilson. He stunned everyone last year by throwing 30 touchdown passes and piling up a 9-8 record as a starter.
Smith, who piled up a career-high 4,282 passing yards, nearly doubled his career touchdown passes. Smith, 32, had only thrown 34 total touchdown passes during his first eight seasons. He may be due for some regression after completing 69.8 percent of his passes last season, but he provides Seattle with a solid veteran presence.
The Seahawks have also provided Smith with plenty of weapons. Veteran wide receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett each surpassed 1,000 yards receiving last season.
Stafford Needs to Prove He Can Still Play at 35
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford was relieved when he was knocked out for the season with an injury in Week 11 last season. While no one desires to get hurt, Stafford spent all season getting pummeled behind a largely ineffective offense line. However, Stafford showed from the season-opener last season that his arm may not have the zip it used to.
The Ram’s big issue last season was they couldn’t support Stafford with a solid running game. Los Angeles was 27th in the league in yards per carry last season. Los Angeles wide receiver Cooper Kupp saw his hamstring issue regress last week in practice. He is day-to-day for this game and may be forced to sit out with the nagging injury.
Surging Seattle Hopes Secondary is Improved
The Seahawks believe the defensive backfield has the most potential for improvement in 2023. Seattle drafted Devon Witherspoon with the No. 5 pick in last spring’s draft, but he has struggled with a hamstring injury. The Seahawks also brought in Julian Love in free agency.
Seattle will be without safety Jamal Adams to start the season, so Love will step in for him. Witherspoon and Riq Woolen will open the year as the starters at quarterback. Trey Brown and Michael Jackson will provide depth on the edge.
Aaron Donald Can Still be Dominant
There have been some trade rumors going around following star defensive tackle Donald. While it is unlikely the Rams will part ways with him, some of the whispers may be surrounding the concern that Los Angeles won’t be playing well. The other problem is the Rams may not be able to rebuild without trading the high-priced defensive star.
Los Angeles mortgaged its future to win the Super Bowl two years ago by dealing draft picks. Donald was limited by an injury last season for the first time in his career. Donald only recorded five sacks in 11 appearances. He had recorded ten or more sacks in the five seasons before that.
Walker In Search of Big Year 2
Michigan State product Kenneth Walker was a beast as a rookie for Seattle. The rookie could take on a workload of 228 carries and rushed for 1,050 yards and nine touchdowns. A surging Seattle tried to add depth at the position during the draft this season.
The Seahawks picked UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet in the second round. Seattle will likely ensure both players get their share of carries to keep both guys fresh. Walker was relatively injury-free during his rookie season. Walker did have to miss two games last year due to ankle issues.
Rams Secondary Will be Tested
Los Angeles’ secondary isn’t held in high regard. How could it be? The Rams dealt star cornerback Jalen Ramsey to Miami. Los Angeles also let safety Taylor Rapp leave in free agency. The Rams brought in Ahkello Witherspoon in free agency.
Witherspoon had some good moments with Pittsburgh last season but wasn’t consistent enough to stay in the lineup for the entire season. Los Angeles’ secondary may catch a break as Seattle rookie wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba has had some injury issues during preseason. Smith-Njigba may be forced to sit out.
The Rams’ secondary needs time to figure out how to play together and matching up with a difficult Seattle team may make things challenging.