The NFC West used to be one of the most hotly contested divisions in football, but the Seattle Seahawks have pulled away from the rest of the pack in recent years.
Seattle cruised to the NFC West title with a 10-5-1 record despite sporting arguably the NFL’s worst offensive line and a rotating carousel at running back, while the rest of the division faltered miserably.
For the first time during the Pete Carroll Era, the Seahawks caught a glimpse of their own mortality, with injuries to Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas revealing that the team’s Super Bowl window may be closing quicker than anyone once imagined.
The Seahawks still boast an impressive array of talent, but time is running out for the core of the club to capture their second Super Bowl ring. Can the rest of the NFC West knock the Seahawks off their perch?
The Cardinals entered last season as a trendy Super Bowl pick after losing to the Panthers in the 2015 NFC Championship Game but struggled through a miserable 2016 campaign. Everything that could’ve gone awry last year did, but now the Cardinals’ talented roster is seeking redemption.
Arizona still boasts plenty of offensive firepower, finishing sixth in scoring offense last season with 26.1 points per game. David Johnson was a revelation, scoring 20 touchdowns en route to Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors, while Larry Fitzgerald led the NFL with 107 receptions. John Brown and J.J. Nelson round out a group that ought to overwhelm opponents with their speed. If the Cardinals’ offense is firing on all cylinders, they’ll be tough to beat.
Tyrann Mathieu returns after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury and when he plays unreservedly, there isn’t a single safety in the league who can do what he can. Mathieu will rejoin a secondary that boasts six-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson, promising second-round pick Budda Baker, and an overall opportunistic and talented group that should keep the Seahawks and other contenders on their toes.
The Cardinals’ defense – and to a larger extent, their entire philosophy – relies on calculated aggression and blazing speed. If the they can punish teams with their ability to shrink the field, they could make a deep playoff run.
Los Angeles Rams
No more parties in L.A.
That should be the Rams’ motto entering the team’s second year in Los Angeles after a disastrous return under the bright lights last season. This campaign may come down to how Jared Goff progresses after struggling immensely during his rookie campaign. The Rams made marginal upgrades at wide receiver, but if Goff can’t become a reasonable facsimile of a starting quarterback this fall, the Rams are doomed.
The duality of Todd Gurley is another question that needs to be answered. Gurley starred during his rookie season but submitted a dreadful sophomore campaign. Which Gurley are the Rams going to get in 2017: the one who looked like the future face of the NFL, or the back that looked completely lost?
Los Angeles sports a top-heavy defense led by Aaron Donald, who is the NFL’s best defensive tackle by an increasingly wide margin. Donald alone cannot save the Rams from mediocrity though, and Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree, and newly signed outside linebacker Connor Barwin will be counted on to steady the team’s pass rush.
Ultimately, the Rams have some star power but not enough depth to seriously challenge the Seahawks.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco will start the 2016 season under a new regime, with Kyle Shanahan taking over as head coach and John Lynch installed at general manager, while Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley will vie for the team’s starting quarterback role. The 49ers could be the worst team in the NFL this year and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The 49ers are going through a drastic rebuild and their offense is downright woeful. Joe Staley is the last staple from the 49ers teams of yesteryear and will be expected to mentor a young offensive line, while rookie Joe Williams could usurp Carlos Hyde at running back. It would be a shock if this offense stays above water.
San Francisco finished dead last in most defensive categories last year but the unit enters the season on a positive trajectory. DeForest Buckner showed glimpses of stardom last season, while the 49ers selected defensive end Solomon Thomas with the No. 3 pick in this spring’s draft to shore up the line. NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks remain as solid veteran presences and first-rounder Reuben Foster could sneak under the radar as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
Gone are the days where the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry was among the NFL’s best. The 49ers are rebuilding and still have a long way to go to catch their nemesis.
Also from this series
- Can anyone unseat the Cowboys in the NFC East?
- Can anyone unseat the Packers in the NFC North?
- Can anyone unseat the Falcons in the NFC South?
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