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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Have the Rams closed the gap on the 49ers? We’ll find out early

May 20, 2024 at 10:15 AM

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Several analysts have praised the Los Angeles Rams for their strong draft class, prompting speculation about whether last year's NFC West runner-up might have closed the gap on the division-champion San Francisco 49ers.

Judy Battista of NFL Media compiled a list of the most vulnerable reigning division champions heading into the 2024 season. While the 49ers are still considered the class of the NFC West, with little concern about being dethroned, Battista wonders how much the Rams have improved over the offseason.

We might get an answer quickly, as the 49ers and Rams are set to face off at SoFi Stadium in Week 3.

San Francisco has dominated recent regular-season matchups with the Rams, winning nine of the last 10. The only loss came during last season's finale, a game in which most starters were either limited or did not play, given that both teams had already clinched playoff spots.

"The 49ers have a wildly talented roster, even with trade rumors swirling around Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, and even following the departure of defensive stalwart Arik Armstead," Battista remarked. "They remain thisclose to winning a Super Bowl, have a young, still-ascending quarterback (Brock Purdy), the defending Offensive Player of the Year (Christian McCaffrey), name-brand stars at many other positions and an offensive mastermind at head coach (Kyle Shanahan)."

The 49ers didn't receive as high marks for their draft class, but Shanahan and general manager John Lynch believe they have bolstered their roster for the future. While many expected San Francisco to address the offensive line with their first-round selection, the team used the No. 31 overall pick to add another wide receiver, Ricky Pearsall, to an already talented position group.

Still, Battista believes it would be unwise for the 49ers to overlook the Rams, who could be poised for another playoff push.

"The greatest threat, as always, is likely to come from the Rams, who exceeded expectations in what was supposed to be a reset season last year and put together a strong draft class with an emphasis on trying to replace the disruptiveness of the retired Aaron Donald," Battista explained.

"The first meeting between the teams comes in Week 3 (in Los Angeles), so we'll get an early indicator of how much the 49ers might be pressed. But if they stay healthy and John Lynch manages to keep the roster intact, they shouldn't slip much."
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