The St. Louis Rams open the 2011 regular season at No. 17 in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings, their highest Week 1 positioning since opening 2007 in the same spot.
That 2007 team bottomed out at No. 32 by Week 5 and pretty much flatlined from there, finishing the season at No. 29. The Rams were never higher than 25th in 2008 or 30th in 2009. They peaked last season at No. 16 and qualify as a team on the rise after significantly improving their win total last season.
The Rams are the only NFC West team to rank 20th or higher on all five ballots this week. Our newest panelist, Ashley Fox, separated by only one spot the Rams and Arizona Cardinals, who ranked second among NFC West teams at No. 21 overall. The rest of us ranked the Rams higher by 4-7 places in our rankings.
Three of five panelists ranked the San Francisco 49ers higher than the Seattle Seahawks, but Seattle edged San Francisco for the 25th overall spot because Fox and James Walker favored the Seahawks by relatively wide margins.
We'll have actual games by which to measure these teams a week from now. Imagine that.
Earlier: Ranking NFC West teams following training camps.