There are many rivalries throughout all of sports. In baseball, the pair of rivalries between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, have lasted nearly a century. In basketball, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers have been heated rivals since the NBA’s inception. However, in football, rivalries are much different.
Due to roster turnover, teams do not stay relevant enough to warrant rivalry status. Consider the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. When both teams were at the height of their powers, there was no greater rivalry in the NFL. After the 49ers faded, that matchup lost almost all of its extra luster. Despite this, the next great NFL rivalry is right around the corner, and it’s between the 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams.
Inside the Next Great NFL Rivalry: The San Francisco 49ers vs. The Los Angeles Rams
The 49ers and the Rams finished 31st and 32nd respectively in total yards gained throughout the 2016 season. When Chip Kelly and Jeff Fisher were let go, it was apparent that both of these NFC West franchises would hire a coach with expertise on the offensive side of the ball. Of the six NFL head coaching hires in the 2016 off-season, only two full time offensive coordinators were hired. Both were young, eager, and described as offensive geniuses. So far, it looks like Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay will live up to their billing.
Shanahan and McVay are the two youngest coaches in the NFL right now, but that’s not their only similarities. They both got their first job as a quality control coach under Jon Gruden for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They both served multiple seasons as offensive coordinator for the Washington Professional Football Team. More importantly, they worked closely together for four years in Washington, developing a close bond.
While the animosity between Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll fueled the last NFL rivalry, the admiration of the two young coaches will fuel the next rivalry. Because they are such great friends, the matchup will mean more to both of them. Wanting to ensure they best the other, each coach will put extra craft into the offensive game plan.
Consider their week three matchup against the Rams. At that point, the 49ers had not scored a touchdown on the season. They managed to put up 39 points. After the offensive spectacle that resulted in a two point Rams victory, the two coaches shared a bear hug and a few pleasantries. The next 10 years will be filled with similar offensive outbursts, followed by embraces between the two offensive gurus.
The most important position in all of sports is quarterback. A good quarterback can hide a lot of team flaws. A truly special quarterback, like Aaron Rodgers, can take a roster devoid of talent and make them a Super Bowl contender. While it is too early to say whether Jimmy Garoppolo or Jared Goff will ascend to Rodgers level, their play so far in their young careers suggest they will be high caliber players for a long time.
What Garoppolo has done since taking over as the starter for the 49ers has been remarkable. He has not lost a game, and managed to put up 44 points on the number one ranked defense at the time in the Jacksonville Jaguars. Goff has had a similar meteoric rise. After an abysmal rookie year, Goff has really turned it around. He has raised his average yards per attempt from 5.2 to 8.0, jumping from last to third in the league.
If Garoppolo and Goff continue their success, and manage to grow, it could be similar to when Tom Brady and Peyton Manning had their rivalry. Brady and Manning were the two best quarterbacks of their era, and faced off 17 times. While their rivalry was great, it was personal, and never really extended to the team level. Garoppolo and Goff will face off twice a year for the foreseeable future. Watching these young stars execute their coach’s offense to precision will help fuel this young rivalry.
The coaches and the quarterbacks will have the biggest impact on this rivalry, but there are other elements that will contribute. Both coaching staffs are riddled with former Washington and Atlanta Falcons assistants. Matt LeFleur serves as McVay’s offensive coordinator, while his brother Mike LaFeur serves as Shanahan’s pass game specialist. Wade Phillips is one of the best defensive coordinators of all time, and is getting the most out of the Rams personnel. Robert Saleh is a young defensive coordinator, but is incredibly bright, and has a good understanding of how to build a defense. These are both incredible staffs.
The state of the NFC West plays a huge role in this too. The Seahawks have dominated the division over the past several years. Now, with the Legion of Boom old, injured, and bickering, the Seahawks look they will be headed for some rebuilding years. The Arizona Cardinals have a talented roster. However, with no quarterback of the future, and rumors that Bruce Arians will not be returning, the division looks ripe for a battleground between the 49ers and the Rams.
The Rams have unquestionably more talent on the defensive side of the ball. The 49ers will look to address that with their abundance of draft picks and cap space. Despite that, the rosters are pretty similar at the other positions. Both teams do not have any true studs at wide receiver or tight end. They make plays because of scheme and quarterback play. Both teams have two of the best punters in the NFL in Bradley Pinion and Johnny Hekker. While Carlos Hyde may be on the way out as a free agent, he has shown himself to be a very capable running back, though not quite on the level of Todd Gurley. Outside of coach and quarterback, there is a lot to point to that these teams are excellent matches for each other.
The world already saw the first matchup between these two teams. That Thursday night matchup saw both teams light up the scoreboard, and an incredibly entertaining game. The world will be robbed of an encore performance. With the Rams having clinched the division, they will rest some of their key starters, including Goff. The regular season finale will not see Shanahan maneuvering Garoppolo and the rest of his pieces in a strategic chess match with McVay and Goff. There will be plenty more of these games in the foreseeable future though. The NFL may not have it’s next great rivalry showcased on Sunday, but it will be on display for the next 10 years.