by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

We conclude our summer previews with a look at the NFC West.  Teams as usual are listed in order of predicted finish, with last year's straight-up, spread, and "Over/Under" records included.

dynasty that never was, or the dynasty that’s still to be? Fair questions to ask about the Seattle Seahawks (2016 SUR 11-6-1; {PSR 8-10; O/U 10-8), who looked on their way to multiple titles a few years ago, with a young, championship-level core that won Super Bowl XLVIII in a romp and if not for a temporary loss of consciousfness the following year would have won back-to-back Supes. Entering 2017, however, the Hawks are off consecutive ignominious playoff exits, and have to be satisfied with that one Super Bowl win and recognition as the NFC’s only team with at least one playoff win in five consecutive postseasons.

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Still, heady stuff for a franchise whose humble origins we recall quite clearly back in the wonderful year of 1976, on the very day the Montreal Olympics would come to a close. On that Sunday, Seattle officially entered the NFL for its inaugural game against the 49ers in the old Kingdome to open the preseason. We were watching the San Francisco telecast, which was being shown in our locale of Reno (which is 49ers territory) as the Hawks fell behind 24-0 at the break but rallied in the second half behind unheralded first-year QB Jim Zorn, who had spent the previous season on the Cowboys taxi squad. Zorn led a breathtaking late rally that had Seattle inside of the San Francisco 5-yard-line in the waning seconds before a final try was foiled, as the 49ers hung on for a 27-20 win.

That fighting spirit would transmit thru the first four years of the franchise under HC Jack Patera, who was the DL coach for the best years of the Purple People Eaters in Minnesota before getting the expansion Seahawks up to speed. Patera’s bunch improved to 5-9 in its season year of 1977, putting 56 points on the Bills in one game. By its third year of 1978, Seattle was 9-7, a mark the Hawks duplicated in ‘79, with established stars such as the southpaw QB Zorn, RB Sherman Smith, and WR Steve Largent, before the momentum temporarily slowed in the early ‘80s and Chuck Knox arrived to revive the operation in 1983. Overall, it has been a mostly-exciting four-decade run in Seattle, with the greatest achievements in the recent Pete Carroll era.

It is fair to ask, however, how close the latest championship window might be to closing for the Hawks, as a year ago the budding dynasty displayed some cracks in the foundation. Running the football, a staple of Carroll’s best Seattle teams, suddenly became a chore; unable to physically dominate as in the Marshawn Lynch years, the Hawks sagged to just 99 ypg on the ground. Meanwhile, the iconic “Legion of Boom” secondary began to look very mortal after free safety Earl Thomas went down with a broken leg in a late November loss at Tampa Bay. There were also suggestions that Carroll’s notorious rah-rah style might be wearing a bit thin. Boisterous CB Richard Sherman, one of the faces of the franchise, was also the subject of incessant trade chatter in the offseason.

So much for the glass-is-half-empty analysis. The glass-is-half-full crowd will maintain that much of last season’s drop from dominance had to do with nagging ankle and knee injuries that slowed QB Russell Wilson, and limited his trademark mobility. There is still elite-level talent on both sides of the ball; the “D” continues to ran among the NFL’s best. And even with some of the aforementioned issues, Carroll’s team still romped to the NFC West crown at 10-5-1, three lengths ahead of the runner-up Cardinals.

Many key components, however, are also nearing or at 30 years of age and with contracts that end in a year or two. While the Seahawks might keep winning for a while, the core of the group that got Seattle on top a few seasons ago might not be together much longer past 2017, which has created a bit of urgency at CenturyLink Field.

It’s the availability of a healthy Wilson once again, however, that makes us believe Seattle might have another serious title run in its tanks this fall. Wilson’s limitations last season mostly removed one of his greatest assets, and greatest fears for opposing defenders...making plays on the move. Wilson’s TD passes thus dipped from 34 to 21 and his rush yards cut more than in half (553 to 259) from 2015. Now beyond those ailments, Wilson is healthy again and could easily wind up in the MVP discussion once again. Meanwhile, though Tyler Lockett has been slow to recover from last year’s broken leg, Doug Baldwin has emerged as a dependable target after his 94 catches from last season, and look for o.c. Darrell Bevell to continue to look for more ways to involve former Saints and Pro Bowl TE Jimmy Graham into the offensive mix.

The Hawks also believe they have upgraded other areas that were issues a year ago, mainly the infantry, which never seemed to recover from the absence of Marshawn Lynch, with place-holder Christine Michael leading the team with all of 469 YR...all before he was released in mid-November. The hope this season is that ex-Packer Eddie Lacy, the featured addition in free agency, is beyond some of the weight issues that stalled his progress in Green Bay and can reprise the old power running dimension that Lynch once provided. A young OL was also hampered by inconsistency a year ago and added some veteran upgrades in free agency, including T Luke Joeckel (via Jags) and G Oday Aboushi (via Texans). Both have been dealing with minor aches thru preseason but should be ready for the opener at Green Bay. Unfortunately, LT George Fant won’t after tearing an ACL vs. the Vikings in August, but the Hawks quickly added G Matt Tobin in trade from Philly, allowing Rees Odhiambo to move to Fant’s vacated tackle spot. Carroll also tired of Steven Hauschka’s inconsistency (including six missed PATs in 2016) and is hoping ex-Viking Blair Walsh proves an upgrade at PK.

Meanwhile, GM John Schneider reacted to the secondary’s late-season decline minus Thomas by upgrading depth via the draft, when Schnieder took three safeties and a corner. Of those, third-rounders Shaquill Griffin (CB/UCF) and Delano Hill (S/Michigan) and fourth-rounder Tedric Thompson (S/Colorado) look like they could be involved in the rotations. Kam Chancellor, beyond past contract issues, is a fixture at SS, as is safety-mate (and now healthy) Thomas, and the talkative Sherman (trade talk and all) at a corner.

The front seven remains robust and helped key a platoon that led the league in rush yards per carry (just 3.4) and tied for third in sacks with 42. DE Cliff Avril emerged as a Pro Bowler and recorded 11 sacks, while ex-Michigan State DE Frank Clark emerged as a pass-rush force with ten sacks. (Clark’s preseason wrist injury is not likely to keep him out of the opener vs. the Packers). Vet DE Michael Bennett remains a force when healthy. Schneider addressed DL depth in the draft when adding another Michigan State product, DT Malik McDowell, with the team’s first pick (early in Round 2). The LB crew remains top-notch, with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright each off of Pro Bowl seasons.

Since the bar has been set so high in Seattle, it might seem like nit-picking to list the problem areas of a team that went 10-5-1 and won its division in a runaway. But the Seahawks are measured by Super Bowls these days, which was the hope when Carroll was hired in 2010. The window-is-closing argument, however, also involves Carroll, who turns 66 this season and is the NFL’s oldest head coach. Though a youthful 66, the Carroll era might not have long to run, and this year might be Seattle’s best chance in the foreseeable future to win another Supe. The clock is ticking.

Spread-wise, Carroll is off of his first losing mark vs. the number since his Seattle debut season of 2010. Still, Carroll has often been a pointspread force in the past, and the Hawks enter 2017 with a 15-3 mark their last 18 decisions as an underdog. Curiously, while Carroll is working on seven straight wins (6-1 vs. the line) against the 49ers, and has won and covered four straight at Arizona, he’s only 2-4 SU and vs. the spread the last six vs. the lowly Rams. Go figure!

While the subject is the closing of championship windows, there is no more appropriate case study in the NFL than the Arizona Cardinals (2016 SUR 7-8-1; PSR 6-10; O/U 10-6), whose window, it can be argued, might already have shut. Which is a viable conclusion after the Big Red sagged to below .500 a year ago and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

There’s more. Veteran linchpins QB Carson Palmer (now 37) and WR Larry Fitzgerald (34) are both in the twilights of their careers, and salty 64-year-old HC Bruce Arians, who presided over the recent revival in the desert, has had recent health issues and was said to be contemplating retirement after last season. In the end, that trio has returned for one more run at the ring, but it is fair to ask if the Cardinals’ best chance at a Super Bowl since the magic Kurt Warner year of 2008 might have passed by in 2014 and 2015, when QB injuries derailed the former and the Carolina Panthers the latter in the NFC title game. Or is there another run left for this recent core of the Arizona operation?

The thought in the desert is that QB Palmer has at least one big season left in him. Palmer attempted a career-high 597 passes last year, but overall his numbers dipped considerably from 2015. An encouraging close to the campaign, however, convinced Arians and GM Steve Keim that keeping Palmer gives the Big Red a better chance to get back to the playoffs than grooming a successor. Regarding the latter, none were selected in the draft, with only ex-Jag and 49er Blaine Gabbert added in the offseason to do battle with Palmer’s longtime caddy Drew Stanton for the backup role. It’s thus sink or swim with Palmer, and hoping he stays healthy (which has been a chore in recent years) in 2017; Keim will apparently worry about who is piloting the offense for 2018 after the season.

Some of the bumps in the passing game a year ago did allow RB David Johnson to emerge as a force in just his second campaign. Johnson led the NFL in TDs with 20 while gaining 1239 YR and catching 80 passes, and now perhaps the league’s best dual-threat weapon. With Arians saying he’d like to get Johnson at least 30 touches per game this fall, the focus of the offense appears to have shifted away from Palmer.

As for Fitzgerald, he was still good enough to catch 107 passes last season, but gaining fewer than 10 yards per catch is almost unheard-of for a wideout, and more befitting an RB. To stretch the field, Palmer needs Jaron Brown, who suffered a torn ACL last October, and John Brown, who dealt with sickle cell issues and a cyst on the spine last fall, back to where they were a couple of years ago. (John Brown showed he past a preseason quad injury by catching a pair of TD passes in the 24-14 win at Atlanta on August 26.) Meanwhile, the OL remains functional as long as it avoids some of last year’s injuries which have likely aided the depth, while Keim and Arians are hoping another oldster, 42-year old PK Phil Dawson, signed from the 49ers, proves an upgrade after Chandler Catanzaro’s well-documented inconsistencies last season.

The “win now” theme also rings true on the defensive side, where the Cards lost five starters and over 5000 NFL snaps in the offseason and replaced them with well-traveled vets like 35-year-old LB Karlos Dansby, making his third tour of duty in the desert, and 32-year-old SS Antoine Bethea. Keim also went “D” in the draft with first-round LB Hasson Reddick from Temple and 2nd-round SS Budda Baker from Washington; both figure into the rotations, with the speedy Reddick likely to be lining up alongside Dansby in the Cards’ 3-4 looks.

Indeed, the “D” is still an elite platoon, ranking second overall a year ago for d.c. James Bettcher, an up-and-comer whose aggressive schemes have resonated and who might be in line to succeed Arians not far down the road. Playmakers still abound, especially in the 2ndary where ballhawks like ex-LSU stars CB Patrick Peterson and the “Honey Badger” himself, SS Tyrann Mathieu, continue to roam. WLB Markus Golden emerged as a sackmeister with 12.5 a year ago, while “SAM” Chandler Jones finished with 11 sacks. Though it is time for former first-round pick DE Robert Nkemdiche from Ole Miss to step it up as will be required after Keim allowed Calais Campbell to walk in free agency to the Jags. Nkemdiche was hobbled by ankle problems as a rookie last season and has still to record his first NFL sack, and has to deliver soon before being regarded as a bust.

If all breaks well for the Cardinals, a return to playoff contention is not out of the question, especially with the bottom of the NFC West (Rams and 49ers) in rebuild mode. The schedule, featuring interconference games with the palatable AFC South, does not appear overwhelming. So, if the aging stars on offense (specifically Palmer) stay healthy, the Big Red is an intriguing darkhorse in the NFC. Whatever, enjoy Palmer, Fitzgerald, and Arians while you can; regardless what happens this fall, the Cardinals might have a much different look in 2018.

Spread-wise, Arians suffered thru his first losing campaign vs. the number a year ago after a 31-16-1 spread mark the previous three campaigns. Arizona is also just 6-10 vs. the line at U of P Stadium the past two regular seasons. The big trend to note lately has been “over” on the road...13-1 the last 14 (whew!), counting the 2015 NFC title game loss at Carolina.

It’s appropriate that the San Francisco 49ers (2016 SUR 2-14; PSR 5-11; O/U 10-6) base their operations adjacent to the Great America theme park in Santa Clara. That’s because the Niners’ fortunes in recent years have resembled a gridiron version of the Grizzly or Gold Striker rollercoasters at the next-door amusement park. The franchise has hit some stunning peaks and valleys in just the past six years, looking lifeless at the end of the Mike Singletary era in 2010, then recovering quickly and reaching the Super Bowl in just two years under Jim Harbaugh before the ride began another steep descent.

How steep? San Francisco hit rock bottom last year at 2-14, and now enters a season with its fourth coach in as many years after the end of the Harbaugh era, and regimes of Jim Tomsula (who never had a chance) and Chip Kelly (who never had a clue) quickly running aground. As did the tenure of GM Trent Baalke, who would win an internal power struggle with Harbaugh a few years ago but proceeded to make mistake after mistake before being terminated in the wake of the latest plunge into the depths.

Another re-boot thus commenced after last season, and there is hope in Silicon Valley that this time it sticks. Offensive wiz Kyle Shanahan, who most recently turned the Falcons offense into a near-Super Bowl winner, succeeds the ill-suited Kelly, while former NFL DB (and Stanford alum) John Lynch has made an unconventional move from the broadcast booth into the GM role. (Niner fans are hoping this doesn’t mirror a similar move made by Matt Millen into the Lions front office several years ago).

The new braintrust, however, made the NFL sit up and take notice on draft night, culling three extra draft picks from the Bears just to move down one spot (from 2 to 3) in the first round so Chicago could take North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky, who wasn’t on the SF radar. Five more trades followed, including one with Seattle so the 49ers could steal Alabama LB Reuben Foster with the 31st pick near the end of the first round.

There was also plenty of personnel inflow and outflow in free agency. The most publicized was QB Colin Kaepernick’s decision to opt out, but there were more significant developments, including the search for a successor to Kaepernick at QB. Enlisted would be the Chicago QBs from last season, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, the former reunited with Shanahan after posting a winning mark and good numbers when together with the Browns a few years ago. Hoyer’s familiarity with the Shanahan system and play-action skills should provide the Niners with an upgrade; though Kaepernick’s raw stat line (16 TDP and only 4 picks) didn’t look bad last season, he was mostly ineffective and guilty of several poor decisions, and his progress since an early breakthrough in the Harbaugh years had seemingly stalled. The Niners also won just once in Kaepernick’s starts last season. Some scouts believe that third-round pick C.J. Beathard from Iowa, who has played with the “2s” in mostly-impressive preseason work, could soon supplant the injury-prone Hoyer and might be the QB of the future.

For the time being, however, Hoyer is in the saddle, and if Shanahan’s past offenses with the Falcons, Browns, and Redskins are an indication, the new Niner “O” will want to go vertical. Speaking of the Redskins, ex-Washington WR Pierre Garcon was one of the featured FA additions after catching 1041 yards worth of passes from Kirk Cousins a year ago. (More on Cousins in a moment.) Marquise Goodwin was also added from the Bills and could provide an improved deep threat, while returnee Jeremy Kerley became an effective target out of the slot last season when leading SF with 64 catches.

Lynch continued his roster makeover along the OL, where at least one FA (C Jeremy Zuttah from the Ravens) and maybe a couple of more (T Garry Gilliam from the Seahawks and G Brandon Fusco from the Vikings) could break their way into the lineup. It will help the balance of the offense if RB Carlos Hyde, who has flashed plenty of upside, can finally stay healthy for an entire season (a knee injury last Christmas Eve ended his 2016 just 12 yards shy of 1000 yards). A rookie to watch might be Utah’s Joe Williams, who ran with plenty of flair in the preseason. Meanwhile, after losing vet Phil Dawson to the Cards in free agency, Lynch added ex-Bear and Giant Robbie Gould to handle the PK chores.

Lynch was similarly busy trying to rebuild a “D” that was one of the league’s most robust a few years ago but had become roadkill by last season when it ranked last vs. the run and overall. The aforementioned Bama LB Foster and Stanford DT Solomon Thomas, taken with the third overall pick in the draft, were two of the Niners’ top three players on the board. Foster’s stock might have dropped a bit due to shoulder issues, but he has looked like dynamite in summer and if preseason work is any indication is already a playmaker to watch, as his 8 tackles in just 25 snaps in an August 27 game at Minnesota would suggest.

A young staff assembled by Shanahan includes new d.c. Robert Saleh, in his first such assignment, and tasked with upgrading that aforementioned soft rush defense among other improvements needed on the stop end. Having invested heavily in the draft the past couple of seasons along the line with a Pac-12 flavor (a pair of ex-Oregon Ducks, DE Arik Armstead & DT DeForrest Buckner, plus Stanford’s Solomon Thomas), the Niners look for a payoff this fall. One of the last holdovers from the Harbaugh Super Bowl team, LB NaVorro Bowman, looks to make a recovery from his latest devastating injury (Achilles tendon this time) and will provide valuable leadership if he can stay on the field. Injuries wrecked the LB corps last season, and happened again in summer when Malcolm Smith, added from the Raiders in free agency, tore a pectoral muscle and might be sidelined for the season. Though OLB Aaron Lynch emerged as a playmaker and last year and vet pass-rush specialist Elvis Dumervil was a FA addition from the Ravens.

The secondary didn’t leak quite as much a year ago, though that might have been due to foes running at will against the soft underbelly of the front seven. To mimic the single-high scheme that has worked well for Shanahan mentor Dan Quinn’s defenses in Seattle and Atlanta, the Niners need a rangy safety, and hoping it can be Jimmie Ward, who moved from a nickel back to a corner just a year ago. The in-the-box safety role is best suited for holdover Eric Reid. Another rookie, 3rd-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon from Colorado, could start at a CB spot after Tramaine Brock was released following a domestic dispute.

It would be hard to be much worse than the 49ers’ 2-14 a season ago (when both wins came against the division rival Rams!), but the early indicators are that the product should improve, perhaps significantly, under Shanahan. There will also be lots of eyes on the QB situation, and ongoing rumors that Washington’s aforementioned Kirk Cousins could land at Levi’s Stadium as a FA next year, but if Hoyer can stay healthy, the Niners might not be as anxious to find a new pilot in 2018. Stay tuned.

Spread-wise, we’re tempted to dismiss most of the Niners’ poor marks the past two years in the ill-fated Tomsula and Kelly regimes, but one of the first things Shanahan must do is make Levi’s Stadium a bit of a fortress again after the Niners dropped 6 of 8 vs. line (and 7 of 8 SU) at home a year ago. We also don’t expect SF’s recent “under” trend as host (17-7 the past three seasons) to continue for Shanahan.

, that was a real root canal! We’re talking about last season for the Los Angeles Rams (1016 SUR 4-12; PSR 4-10-2; O/U 7-9), whose return to the grand, old Coliseum recalled more of the desultory Harland Svare years of the early 1960s than the success-laden eras of George Allen and Chuck Knox. It got so bad for the Rams last season that they lost their last 7 and 11 of their last 12 games after an encouraging (but deceiving) 3-1 break from the gate. Over the last ten games, LA scored as much as 21 points just twice, and lost both of those games, one by 28 points at New Orleans and the other at home vs. the lowly 49ers, who rallied for their only win behind QB Colin Kaepernick in a penultimate 22-21 verdict.

We can wait a moment to recall the 2016 mess in L.A. and provide an update on some of the peripheral doings regarding the franchise, not the least of which is the new state-of-the-art stadium being constructed on the old Hollywood Park racetrack site in Inglewood. Delays, partly due to heavy winter rains, have pushed the opening date back to 2020 from the originally-scheduled 2019. Sources tell us that there are various other problems related to the site and construction, and another unseasonably wet winter could protend more delays. In the meantime, the Rams will stay an extra year at the venerable Coliseum, while the Chargers, who have moved from San Diego and will be joining the Rams in their new palace, are now forced to play an extra year in the smallish 30,000-seat StubHub Center in Carson, a usual MLS stadium for the LA Galaxy.  All as the Bolts try to claim some of the up-for-grabs LA market, which went without any NFL teams from 1995-2015, from the Rams.

Since we remain in no hurry to rehash the unsightly doings last season at the Coliseum, we can also report on Rams fashion news, as the team has made a subtle switch back to white horns on the helmet after 44 seasons of yellow/gold hues. The Rams have to be careful about this one; their iconic horns, the first NFL helmet design as introduced by long-ago RB Fred Gehrke, who first painted the horns on the helmets in 1948, have been subjects of controversy before. Thru 1963, those horns were yellow, and the Ram colors blue and yellow/gold, though the advent of TV had made the horns a bit harder to decipher, and a decision was made by then-owner Dan Reeves to change the gold to white on the helmets and uniforms for better clarity on the TV sets. In black-and-white, that made some sense, but when color TVs began to proliferate in the mid-to-late 60s, the Rams’ drab outfits made them look like hospital orderlies, and a movement commenced to spruce up the costumes. The end product came in 1973 with the re-introduction of gold in place of white in the color scheme, which included new gold pants and a return to gold horns on the helmets.

Now, in a nostalgic mood to look like the Roman Gabriel-Deacon Jones Rams of the ‘60s, the unis have gone full circle, with white having mostly supplanted gold, save for a bit of trim on the jerseys. The Rams have kept a set of blue pants to wear on the road to add a bit more color to the ensemble, but we wonder how many in the current Ram organization, from owner Stan Kroenke on down, know the horn-color history, and that the LA fan base once upon a time would revolt against the drab blue-and-white look and embrace the gold horns and pants. Something tells us that five or so years down the road, we might be looking at another fashion change.

We have delayed talking about the 2016 edition that was so desultory that HC Jeff Fisher, who had accompanied the team from St. Louis, was forced to walk the plank in mid-December, with special teams coach John Fassel, son of former NY Giants HC Jim Fassel, given the interim reins for the last three weeks. Though it speaks well of the young Fassel that he was the only staff member retained by a new regime that cleaned house in the offseason. The Rams are hoping that a new staff led by the NFL’s youngest coach, 31-year-old Sean McVay, fresh off of a stint as the Redskins’ o.c., will point the organization in the right direction.

Among McVay‘s first tasks is to tutor 2nd-year QB Jared Goff, the top pick of the 2016 draft but who endured one of the roughest rookie QB campaigns in history a year ago. Which might have been expected as the Fisher Rams had an o.c. who had never been an o.c. before and a QB coach in his first year in the NFL. Now, with McVay and up-and-comer Matt LaFleur as the new o.c., Goff might finally get some direction. If nothing else, the pass-game concepts will improve.

It will help Goff immeasurably if McVay and LaFleur can unlock RB Todd Gurley, who endured a bad sophomore slump after a big rookie year in 2015, gaining 1106 yards. Last year, Gurley regressed to 885 YR, looking tentative, and barely gaining 3 ypc. Adding vet T Andrew Whitworth from the Bengals should help strengthen the forward wall, which has been reshuffled with the hopes that natural improvement among young linemen such as Gs Jamal Brown and Cody Wichmann, and T Andrew Donnal, transforms the line into more of a functional unit. It will have to if improvements are to manifest for what was the league’s worst offense last season.

McVay and GM Les Snead also overhauled the WR corps and added a final touch by acquiring FA-to-be WR Sammy Watkins from the Bills in the summer after Sammy’s Buffalo teammate, Robert Woods, and Eastern Washington rookie Cooper Kupp (likely to be used in the slot) were added in the offseason. But wideout Tavon Austin, inked to a bigger contract last season, never came close to emerging a year ago and was dealing with hamstring issues in the summer that cost him most of the training camp. And even in a best-case scenario, it will take Goff time to get acclimated to the new targets within a new offense.

Perhaps McVay’s best move since his hiring was stealing sage d.c Wade Phillips, most recently in a second tour of duty with Denver where he molded a Super Bowl-winning defense two years ago. Phillips has installed his familiar 3-4 scheme, a change from the 4-3 looks preferred by the Fisher regime. But that also means some of the players will be learning new positions, such as former DE Robert Quinn, now in an OLB role. Expected to be used all over the line is DT Aaron Donald...if, that is, he ever reports after holding out for the entirety of summer.

That the platoon was able to rank in the top ten a year ago without getting any help whatsoever from the offense speaks to some of the talent Phillips inherits. Though Donald’s return to active duty will be key, Phillips has a few other cornerstones, such as DT Michael Brockers, and LBs Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron, who accounted for better than 25% of the stop unit’s tackles last season and between them have five season’s worth of 110+ tackles.

The secondary, however, struggled a bit as last season progressed, with missed tackles an area of concern. As was the drop in interceptions from to a mere one for CB Trumaine Johnson, who picked off seven passes the previous season. If he recovers to 2015 levels, the payoff should be a significant contract upgrade; if not, the Rams will have to look elsewhere for help on the corner next year. Mo Alexander, however, did emerge as a force at FS in 2016, and one of Phillips’ CBs from Denver, Kaywon Webster, moved from the Broncos in free agency and will be an alternative to injury-prone E.J. Gaines, who has missed over half of the games the past two seasons.

Like the 49ers, it is hard to imagine the Rams being much worse than they were in 2016 (when, embarrassingly, they were San Francisco’s only victim...twice), and we have plenty of questions about Goff emerging quickly as a competent QB after his considerable struggles in 2016. The Phillips defense should be fun to watch, though it will need to get DT Donald on the field ASAP. For the moment, LA fans will probably be satisfied with an improved product, but with indicators that the honeymoon period ended last fall, and new competition in town with the Chargers, the Rams risk further alienating a notoriously-fickle support base unless they upgrade...soon. And the last thing Stan Kroenke (and the league) would like to see in 2020 is plenty of empty seats at that fancy new stadium in Inglewood.

Spread-wise, the Rams also collapsed to 4-10-2 a year ago after mostly holding their own vs. the number in the Fisher era. The Rams also hardly made a fortress of their new/old Coliseum home, covering just once in seven tries (one “home” game was played at Twickenham in London), and that W came in the home opener vs. Seattle. Also note that only once in the last eight seasons (2013) have the Rams had more “overs” than “unders” in any campaign.

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