The NFC West is going to be a gauntlet in 2020. The Los Angeles Rams are still contenders, the 49ers are the current division and conference champs (but not Super Bowl thanks to Mahomes), the Cardinals are the buzzy upstart, and Seattle is the standard-bearer.
For the Rams, it isn’t clear who their biggest rival is heading into the season. Most rivalries are binary like Yankees-Red Sox, UCLA-USC, or Johnny Bananas-Wes Bergmann, but the Rams have two major rivals in their division. What makes determining their biggest rival is that both teams are great and will continue to be great heading into the season.
All due respect to the Cardinals, they are not a rival to the Rams. Sorry. They were never good at the same time and their games rarely if ever had real stakes.
Case One: Seattle Seahawks
Over the course of the 21st century, the Seahawks have been the Rams most consistent rival. When the Greatest Show on Turf was flying high, Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander led a Mike Holmgren coached team and they would remain thorns in each others’ side. Prior to 2018, the Rams last playoff win was their 2006 win in Seattle where they became the first 8-8 team to win a playoff game. In 2011, both teams were 6-9 and playing in a loser leaves town match for the NFC West.
During the Jeff Fisher era the Rams were offensively inert but their defense always gave Russell Wilson fits and their Steven Jackson or Todd Gurley hodgepodge offenses actually made the Legion of Boom work.
When Sean McVay entered the NFC West, the Seahawks were the team he had to measure himself against. In 2018, the Rams swept them signaling a changing of the guard.
Last season when things weren’t going well, the Rams still split the season series, and if not for a missed Greg Zuerlein field goal, they’d have swept them. In 2020, this will continue to be one of the games both teams will hype themselves up for the most which gives them a strong case to the Rams biggest rival.
Case Two: San Francisco 49ers
The Seahawks became a rival to the Rams in the 21st century but they started out in the AFC West. Last season, both Rams and 9ers fans were excited because it was the first time in decades where their games felt like the old days.
The Rams-9ers history part of a long tradition of SOCAL-NORCAL rivalries such as Dodgers-Giants, USC-Stanford, and Clippers-Warriors. Unfortunately, the rivalry largely died when the Rams moved to St. Louis. Plus, the Greatest Show on Turf only briefly intersected with the Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens team and then both teams began a descent into irrelevance.
What makes their renewed rivalry even better is the link between Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, both as offensive minds and their dynamic in Washington. Plus their teams are very similar.
Jared Goff is a much maligned quarterback who wants respect as does his NorCal counterpart Jimmy Garoppolo. Aaron Donald is the best pass rusher of his generation and Nick Bosa looks to be best of the next generation. Richard Sherman and Jalen Ramsey are both shut down corners who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, and even their GMs Les Snead and John Lynch are both guys who swing big and draft well. The fact that they are not only two great teams with a great history, but their geographical ties are back, which gives them a strong case as their biggest rival.
Despite the history, both personal and football, the 9ers have never been a consistent rival. That’s not all their fault but until McVay and Shanahan consistently take titles from each other, this rivalry peaked in the 80s along with Van Halen, Joe Piscapo, and supply-side economics.
Seattle and be it St. Louis/Los Angeles were always battling in a way that the 9ers and Rams never really did. Plus the 9ers are at the risk of falling prey to the Super Bowl hangover. Until further notice the Seahawks are the standard-bearer in the NFC West and the Rams biggest rival.