Until last night's improbable win by the Seattle Seahawks over the defending champion New Orleans Saints, expectations were fairly low for the NFC West heading into 2011. In fact, it looked like the St. Louis Rams, with a young, talented quarterback and a few additions of some playmaking talent, had the run of the division next year by default.
The Rams path to victory next year somehow doesn't seem as easy after yesterday. San Francisco made headlines by landing the offseason's most coveted coaching candidate. Jim Harbaugh takes over a team that has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, with the one question mark, and it's a big one, being starting QB. Quarterback is the one question facing every team in the division other than the Rams. But outside of that keystone position, those team have enough talent to compete. That does not that they will, but they could. Success for those teams, particularly the 49ers and the Seahawks, hinges on what path they take to address their QB needs. If either team opted to bring in a temporary solution, a veteran game manager type that was good enough to play while a rookie learned the ropes, they could easily top their respective outputs from this season. Hell, Seattle did it yesterday afternoon with Matt Hasselbeck.
All of that ups the ante for the Rams, especially head coach Steve Spagnuolo and GM Billy Devaney. For Spagnuolo, fans won't be so tolerant of another season of conservative football. Pete Carroll, as much as we may hate to admit it, took advantage of the opportunities the Saints handed him. As much as I like Spagnuolo, I can't imagine the Rams' head coach pursuing a similar game plan against the Saints.
For Devaney, this is his biggest offseason yet. Sure, having the first overall pick in the draft and taking a quarterback carries plenty of franchise-defining risk, but now he has to make the foundation he's built into a competitor, a winner. The Rams' GM has to find playmakers to give the supremely talented Sam Bradford some real weapons and the offense some scoring punch, as well as find players to shore up soft spots on the roster (OLB for example) and provide enough depth so that injuries can't postpone a desperately needed winning season, something the Rams haven't had since 2003.
A new owner that's as competitive as he is profit-driven (because he knows the two things are inextricably linked) seems like he's afforded his new team more than enough of a grace period. It's unlikely that Stan Kroenke will tolerate another losing season. I can't imagine that the fans will tolerate it either. I won't.
ENJOY WITH ABSOLUT RESPONSIBILITY®