Matthew Stafford, Rams Clinch 1st NFC West Title Since 2018 with Cardinals' Loss

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 10, 2022

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) warms up before an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The Los Angeles Rams are the NFC West champions for the first time since 2018.

Los Angeles clinched the division title Sunday with the Arizona Cardinals' loss to the Seattle Seahawks even though it lost to the San Francisco 49ers in overtime.

While the division was undecided heading into the first Week 18 in NFL history, the scenarios were fairly straightforward. Los Angeles entered its game against the 49ers with a 12-4 record, meaning all it had to do was win or tie to clinch the NFC West crown.

The Cardinals came into Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks at 11-5 and needed to both win and get some help from the 49ers.

As Jeremy Cluff of the Arizona Republic noted, a win for the Cardinals and a loss for the Rams would trigger a tiebreaker scenario that would give the division to Kyler Murray and Co. because of the team's better record in NFC West games.

A division championship is always notable, but it may be even more so this year for the Rams because the NFC West is the best division in the conference.

It was the only one with three teams above .500 entering Sunday's games. In fact, the NFC East was the only other division in the NFC with even two teams above .500, and the Philadelphia Eagles were barely there at 9-8.

The battle between the Rams and Cardinals wasn't the only Week 18 intrigue in the NFC West, as San Francisco was trying to hold off the New Orleans Saints for a wild-card berth. New Orleans needed a win over the Atlanta Falcons and a loss by the 49ers to the Rams to reach the playoffs.

That's three NFC West teams that came into the last week of the regular season with Super Bowl dreams still alive, and even the last-place Seahawks have a history of organizational success with playoff appearances in eight of the previous nine seasons. The infrastructure of Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll was also in place this year, leaving no easy wins within the division.

Yet the Rams and Cardinals separated themselves from the pack and fittingly split their two head-to-head matchups, with the road team winning each time.

Los Angeles underwent a drastic overhaul by sending Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions in a deal that landed Matthew Stafford before the season. Throw in the acquisitions of Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller to go with household names such as Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, and talent is not a question for the Rams.

Cooper Kupp also emerged as arguably the best wide receiver in the league with Stafford throwing him the ball, and Darrell Henderson Jr. helped make up for the loss of Cam Akers before Sony Michel did the same when Henderson was injured in the backfield to make the Rams all the more dangerous.

The Cardinals are plenty dangerous as well, with Murray making plays with his arm and legs and James Conner as a touchdown machine in the backfield.

However, the DeAndre Hopkins injury during a Dec. 13 loss to the Rams appeared to limit their ceiling. That defeat kicked off a three-game losing streak and dropped them from 10-2 to 10-5 and out of the running for the NFC's No. 1 seed.

Still, a bounce-back win over Dallas in Week 17 hinted at Super Bowl potential and kept them alive in the division race heading into Sunday.

Now that the Rams have won the division, attention turns to the NFC playoffs, which will be top-heavy with contenders in the Green Bay Packers, Cowboys and defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Los Angeles' NFC West crown is ideal for seeding as it looks to maximize matchups with a home game to kick start its postseason even though the Packers landed the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. 

It will now look to parlay a title in the toughest NFC division into a Super Bowl run.