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ESPN lists Los Angeles Rams as “NFC West division favorites”

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell looks at every NFC contender and determines the Rams deserve a significant amount of respect.

Houston Texans at Los Angeles Rams
Houston Texans at Los Angeles Rams
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Earlier today, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell put all of the teams above .500 in the NFC into tiers. The results are pretty par for the course, but it’s the first week (to my knowledge) that the Los Angeles Rams have been given an edge over the Seattle Seahawks to win the NFC West.

Here is how Barnwell broke down the NFC playoff picture:

The Outsiders

Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions

The Mixer

Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks

Division Favorites

Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles

It’s worth noting that while the Rams are now favorites to win the NFC West, their chance of making the playoffs (85.2) is the lowest of the division favorites. Here’s what Barnwell had to say about the Rams:

You might not want to give the Rams too much credit for mopping the floor with the Cardinals, Giants and Texans over the past four weeks, but history tells us that blowing out bad teams can be a better indicator of future success than squeaking out wins over good teams. Throw in the Colts and 49ers and the Rams have gone 5-0 against the dregs of the league while outscoring their opposition by more than 26 points per game.

I'd argue that the Rams already proved they were real by beating the Cowboys in Dallas in Week 4, but if you're looking to see how the Rams might fare against playoff competition, you'll get your chance over the rest of the season. Los Angeles gets to travel to Arizona and has a home game against the 49ers to finish the season, but its other five games are against stiff competition. Sean McVay's team will host the Eagles and Saints and leave California to face the Seahawks, Titans and Vikings, with its trip to Minnesota coming this week. Each of those five teams have a 70-plus percent chance of making the postseason.

We should be past the point of wondering whether the Rams are for real. Their offense isn't going anywhere, even against tougher competition. The only concern should be injuries, and while Jared Goff is still being pressured at a rate well above league average (29.3 percent), he has been sacked on only 4.3 percent of his dropbacks, which is sixth best in the league. The Rams also could get the ball out quicker to ease some of the stress on Goff, given that he's averaging 2.7 seconds before throwing the ball, which is the sixth-longest wait in the league.

McVay has done a good job of taking some of the stress off Todd Gurley in these recent blowouts. While Gurley had 26 touches in the pre-bye 33-0 shutout of the Cardinals, the Rams gave Gurley just 18 touches in the win over the Giants and 17 touches during Sunday's victory against the Texans. Fantasy owners won't be thrilled with the throttling down, but the Rams will need bigger doses of Gurley in the month to come.

The Rams are in great playoff shape, but that rematch against the Seahawks looms large in their race for the NFC West. The Times' model gives the Rams a 78 percent chance of making the postseason and a 52 percent chance of winning the division. If they beat Seattle at home, the Rams' chances of winning the division soar to 83 percent, but their shot at the West falls to 41 percent if they can't overcome the league's best home-field advantage.

Not much there that we didn’t already know, but ponder with me for a moment. If the Rams go 2-3 in the rough part of the schedule and beat Arizona and the 49ers, they’re 11-5. Not bad for a rookie head coach. But if they can go 3-2 in the stretch of tough games, that jumps to 12-4 and likely a home playoff game.

Pretty exciting stuff for what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.