The Los Angeles Rams open the 2023 NFL season exactly where they left off last year, with a trip to play the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle swept the season series in ‘22 but LA has a 8-5 record against the division rival under Sean McVay.
Based off the two games played between the bitter foes last season, fans should expect the opener to be another tightly contested battle. I spoke with John Gilbert from SB Nation’s Seahawks blog Field Gulls to gain more insight on the opposition before we head into a new campaign, with Seattle favored by 5.5 points according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Q - Geno Smith was superb for Seattle as he tossed a career-high 30 touchdown passes, making the Pro Bowl while winning Comeback Player of the Year honors in the process. Could you detail what made Smith so special in 2022 and what are your expectations for him this season?
A - Smith was phenomenal in 2022 by playing within the scheme and getting the ball where it needed to go when it needed to get there. During his decade in Seattle Russell Wilson consistently put up elite production, but a huge portion of that production came out of structure and was not the type that could be repeated. That’s where Smith’s production was different for Seattle, and why there should be a lot of optimism for Smith to not just potentially repeat his 2022 season, but possibly improve significantly in 2023. In spite of his age, he’s still relatively inexperienced when it comes to playing experience. He’s been on the field for fewer snaps in his career than guys like Marcus Mariota, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Daniel Jones, so there should still be room to improve in the areas where he did struggle in 2022, and so combining a full offseason of work with another year in the system should have Seahawks fans extremely excited.
Q - Seattle swept the season series between LA last year by a combined seven points. The Seahawks clearly have the upper hand in this matchup in terms of talent. What should Seattle have taken away from those Rams games to prevent additional nail-biters against lesser teams in ‘23? Also, Seattle is listed as a 5.5-point favorite with an O/U of 46 by DraftKings Sportsbook so how do you envision this matchup playing out?
A - Yes, Seattle swept the season series last year, but that pair of wins by a combined total of seven points came in games started by John Wolford and Baker Mayfield with Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford not playing a single snap. Kupp is obviously out for Week 1, but I find it hard to imagine that having Stafford and Donald healthy wouldn’t have had an impact on the outcome of either of those games. Thus, while the Rams gutted the defense and certainly have a roster with issues, Sean McVay was able to coax 30 points a game out of a Jared Goff led offense, and if they can keep Stafford on the field the Rams should have a puncher’s chance in most games. And because this is Seahawks-Rams we’re talking about, I’m expecting a pair of nail biters again this year.
The Rams and Seahawks always seem to be in close games, even when the teams don’t seem to be as evenly matched. For this game, the spread seems a bit too large for my liking just because things always seem to come down to the wire when these two teams play. So, I’m taking the Seahawks to win, but I’d guess the Rams cover in a game that sees a lot of points scored.
Q - Wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and cornerback Devon Witherspoon were the crown jewels of Seattle’s rookie class. What kind of impact do you envision for them in their rookie campaigns and what is your overall assessment of the Seahawks’ freshman class?
A - Witherspoon missed much of training camp with a hamstring injury, so while my guess is that we’ll see him for a few snaps in the opener, I won’t be surprised if his playing time is limited while they let him get acclimated and learn the system. That said, my guess is he’ll be worked into games with bigger and bigger snap counts in the coming weeks, and I won’t be surprised if he’s starting opposite Riq Woolen by the end of the October.
JSN is also coming back from injury, a broken bone in his wrist suffered during the preseason, and my guess he’ll play, but not get as much playing time as many fans want early in the season. It should not be a surprise at all if either Cody Thompson or Jake Bobo see snaps early in the season until Smith-Njigba is fully healthy, but just like when the Seahawks let Tyler Lockett play roughly two dozen snaps a week and a half after having a bone in his hand surgically repaired late in the 2022 season, a very tight pitch count should not be a surprise.
Q - Who were some notable standouts during training camp and preseason? Any disappointments or players you’re particularly worried about heading into the opener?
A - The biggest disappointment during training was simply the fact that injuries sidelined so many of the 2023 draft picks during training camp. As noted in the prior question, both Witherspoon and JSN missed time with injuries, but both second round picks, Zach Charbonnet and Derick Hall missed time, as did fourth round NT Cam Young, fifth rounders Mike Morris and Olu Oluwatimi and seventh rounder Kenny McIntosh hasn’t practiced since hurting his knee in the mock game on August 4. The starters didn’t see a lot of playing time in the preseason, so Week 1 will be the first time for fans to get a good look at many of the most exciting names on the roster.
Q - Following the Russell Wilson trade, Seattle made a shocking playoff appearance. I predicted the Seahawks to win the NFC West this year by a game over the Niners. This team had another stellar draft so it’s not hard to see them improve upon such a surprising campaign. What is this team’s ceiling and how far away are they from becoming a Super Bowl contender?
A - Every draft seems stellar until the players step onto the field to perform, so while the 2023 draft class is certainly promising, there’s no need to count those chickens just yet. The 2022 class absolutely hit it out of the park, and combining a full offseason of work for those guys with the core members of the roster and the targeted additions of guys like Julian Love and Dre’Mont Jones, and 2023 is certainly exciting. That said, there is so much youth and inexperience on the roster that 2024 or 2025 might be the true peak for the group as a whole, but in a weak NFC there’s no doubt the group should be able to compete for a playoff spot. Whether or not the team can displace the 49ers atop the division or not, only time will tell, but the reality is that in the six seasons since McVay and Kyle Shanahan were hired in 2017 the Seahawks have won just a single division title, so until they show that they’re better than San Francisco, it’s the Niners division to lose.