For the longest time, the NFC West looked like it belonged to one team and one team only -- the San Francisco 49ers, who started 8-0 with one of the top pass defenses the league has seen in decades.
The Seattle Seahawks adjusted the narrative in Week 10, however, with a thrilling overtime victory in San Francisco. That victory alone thrust Pete Carroll's squad into the mix for a divisional title.
Now, as the final quarter of the 2019 season draws near, the West could very easily transform into a three-horse race.
A year after contending with the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, the Los Angeles Rams have endured a number of hardships, with serious questions emerging about even their core stars -- quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley among them. But a 3-0 start allowed them to stay afloat for a while, and with two wins in their last three games, including a beat-down of the Arizona Cardinals in Week 13, they're now in a prime position to lock up a playoff berth, with three divisional games remaining on their schedule.
First up: A prime-time showdown with the Seahawks on Sunday night.
Also make sure and listen to our Week 14 Best Bets Podcast in the player below and hit that subscribe button for eight-plus podcasts per week delivered straight to your favorite pod app.
Few teams are hotter than Seattle right now. Russell Wilson is playing MVP-caliber football. He's got a killer ground game on his side. The Seahawks have won five straight, edging the Niners, Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings in consecutive weeks. They can also clinch a playoff spot simply by beating the Rams this weekend. L.A. isn't to be taken lightly, either, though. A victory would go a long way toward getting a Wild Card, and Goff is fresh off maybe his most inspiring performance of the year -- a 424-yard, two-touchdown effort against the Cardinals.
As we gear up for this crucial NFC West clash, here's a look at a few key matchups, some information on how to tune in, plus a prediction for how the rivalry will shake out:
It's no coincidence that Goff and Kupp both posted their best stat lines in weeks against Arizona. You can debate whether Goff's poise dictates Kupp production more than Kupp production dictates Goff's poise, but either way, when these two are connecting, the Rams offense is in a good place. Flowers, meanwhile, will be coming in with confidence after logging his second interception in as many weeks against Minnesota. He's feisty, so his matchups with Kupp could go a long way in shaping L.A.'s passing game.
All signs point to Havenstein being ready to go on Sunday night as he recovers from a knee injury. But he'll be someone to keep an eye on if, in fact, he returns to his starting right tackle spot and comes face to face with Clowney, who will be looking to rebound in prime time after a quiet outing against the Vikings. Even if Havenstein doesn't take back his spot, rookie Bobby Evans will be equally vital to keeping Goff upright in the pocket.
Donald makes these kinds of lists by default, but his presence will be especially important for L.A. on Sunday, not only because Wilson is one of the best in the game at eluding pressure but because the Seahawks thrive when they can establish a methodical ground game. If the Rams want to win this game, they need Donald to make himself known in the trenches in every way possible -- up the middle, pressuring Wilson, but also as a wall to Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny or whomever else is carrying the ball.
How to watch
If this feels like the perfect opportunity for the Rams to spoil Seattle's hot streak, recapture a little bit of the national spotlight and juice up their playoff chances, well, that's because it is. You have to think Sean McVay will come in prepared enough to keep this close after L.A. fell by just one point during the two sides' Week 5 battle in October. Even so, it's hard to project another 400-yard day from Goff, especially if Clowney heats up. And while the Rams defense has flashed, it's also proven occasionally vulnerable against the run -- which just so happens to be Seattle's calling card. Give it to Wilson and the current NFC West favorites.
Pick: Seahawks 30, Rams 24