The last couple of years, the rugged NFC West has been viewed as the best division in football. However, for the first time in at least three years, enough questions have risen to question if the division deserves to be called the best.
To identify where the division is headed we will review and preview each team to help sort out who will come out on top and how good the overall division will be.
The Seahawks have been the most feared team in the NFL the last couple of seasons. Their success plays a major role in the level of respect the entire division has received as of late.
But will the Seahawks still be that special team they have been over the last three seasons?
A valid questioin indeed. The very thing that has made them Champions and garnered the respect of their peers looks to be falling apart before our eyes.
The defense is not the same unit it was just two seasons ago. While John Snyder has done a helluva job keeping the nucleus in place, the nucleus doesn't appear to have the same focus that they once had.
Kam Chancellor has been holding out all offseason as he looks to get paid - admittedly so - the way he deserves. Earl Thomas is currently dealing with a shoulder injury he suffered in the post season eight months ago. The fact that it still lingers is not a good thing. Michael Bennett has made it very clear he is not happy with his contract. He says he's sticking around for the kids, aka his teammates, in a marriage that's basically over.
And then there's Richard Sherman. Without question, no matter who you ask, you will be told he is either the best corner in the NFL or the second best. He has gotten paid like the best. He has gotten endorsements like the best. He has gotten respect like the best. Sherman has gotten everything he ever wanted. In return he has gone quiet.
Sherman has not been nearly as outspoken as the world has become accustomed to. Which raises the question, with all his success has he lost his edge? His work ethic and focus stemmed from doubters, but they're all gone, so where is his head now?
On offense, the Seahawks resigned Russell Wilson to the second largest contract - on a annual basis - in the NFL. Wilson is arguably the best young quarterback in the NFL and for anyone who says he is not, because they likely gave that title to Andrew Luck, will almost certainly name Wilson as the second best.
The Seahawks drafted Tyler Lockett who was my second favorite receiver in the entire draft. A guy I believed would have been a sure fire top 10 pick if he was four inches taller and 20 lbs heavier. They also brought in Jimmy Graham, who is unanimously viewed as the second best tightend in the NFL behind only Rob Gronkowski.
With Marshawn Lynch showing no signs of slowing down, the offense could start to take some of the load off the defense. However, Lynch has openly admitted he only came back for the money that was offered. Fred Jackson was an exceptional signing for both on field and in the locker room. The big issue here is the offensive line. It has not been good in recent years and doesn't look like it's going to be much better.
The issue with the Seahawks this season will be the taste of success and fame. This team became world champs because they were fueled by being doubted and underdogs for so long. Wilson is too short, Sherman is to slow, Baldwin is short and slow, Chancellor is too big to play safety, Thomas is too small, Wagner needs height. They all proved the world wrong - and they all have been rewarded with contracts, endorsements, and gorgeous celebrity companions. Now they'll need to find new motivation, because like so many before them, their success will look to kill their momentum.
The 49ers experienced football genocide this offseason. They lost more players to retirement, free agnecy, and suspensions than any team in recent NFL history.
Without question the biggest blow was the heart and soul of the team retiring in Patrick Willis. To anyone that watched the 49ers play last year, the initial thought would be it's Chris Borland's time to take over completely, but he too retired. Only days later word surfaced that Justin Smith was leaning towards retirement. He would later follow through. Then Anthony Davis retired as well. At this point panic began to set in.
The Niners also fired the coach that brought them back to prominence in Jim Harbaugh. They allowed Frank Gore to walk, who was the only consistent and reliable piece they have had on offense the last decade. Michael Crabtree and Mike Iupati left via free agency as well. Iupati's departure could be the biggest blow to the offense.
No team in the NFL had more turnover from top to bottom than the 49ers. Colin Kaepernick worked out with Kurt Warner in the offseason, but his training camp was somewhat quiet, and there was not many reports about signs of vast improvement. He cannot be the same quarterback he has been if this team wants to win more than five games.
A sneaky good addition to this team was the signing of Jarryd Hayne. The ex-rugby star looks like the real deal. He should steal a lot of snaps on offense. He's an explosive runner with exceptional vision, cutting ability, power, and speed. He will make an immediate impact on special teams and will likely improve the run and pass game quite a bit if the coaching staff allows him to. Jim Tomsula has the tallest order of any coach in the NFL to fulfil this season.
The Rams make one of the biggest splashes the offseason saw this year. They traded Sam Bradford to the Eagles for Nick Foles and a handful of draft picks. They followed that up with another big offseason splash by shocking the world and drafting Todd Gurley at number 10 overall in the 2015 NFL draft. The Rams were wildly expected to draft a lineman and Gurley was expected to slide due to a torn ACL and hefty injury rapsheet.
The Rams followed the Gurley pick with a slew of linemen additions. The Rams now possess the most unproven line in the NFL. This unit is by far the biggest wild card of this team.
They also have a new offensive coordinator who's primary focus appears to be to figure out new and innovative ways to get Tavon Austin the ball. Austin has flashed lightning in a bottle, but has yet to do so consistent enough to be considered a reliable threat.
On defense, the Rams have a unit that is one of the most highly anticipated defensive units of the NFL this season. Every starter was returned with only one being "upgraded". Akeem Ayers could be the unsung hero of the free agency period for this team. Nick Fairley received the bulk of the hype as he joined Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, and Aaron Donald to create a defensive line that features five former first round - top 14 - picks.
Alec Ogletree lost weight in a effort to get faster and focus on his fundamentals. The team returns a secondary that could be poised for a breakout season. After a bumpy start to the season, T.J. McDonald finished the final eight games of the 2014 season as the top ranked safety in the NFL. Rodney McLeod finished ranked in the top 17 for coverage. In the offseason Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson both stayed in St. Louis and is said to be having their best offseason to date.
The Rams had a violent and ferocious defensive unit in 2014, and it looks poised to take the next step into dominance with it's continuity on the roster and in the classroom as the unit retains the same coordinator for the first time in four years.
The Rams are said by most to be the wildcard of the division. I would give that distinction to the Cardinals.
The Cardinals have the potential to be the best team in the division. What they lack is the consistency of play at that level. There are days they look like they're destined to beat anyone on any given Sunday. Then there's days they revert back to their old ways.
I'll just put this out there, Patrick Peterson is not the best corner in the league and needs to stop getting recognition of being the best. Just because you shadow the top receiver on the opposing team does not make you the best. It just makes you annoying. He gets beat far too often, and after the abuse he endured after talking trash to Julio Jones last season, he should remain quiet all of this season. He's good no doubt, and I'd say top 5-7 without question. But not top two or three.
Tyrann Mathieu is 100% healthy and should be back to his difference maker ways. Deone Bucannon will be a sneaky stud. While he is not being talked about much he reminds me of a former Cardinals stud safety named Adrian Wilson.
At linebacker Daryl Washington continues to be a compete knucklehead and will be unavailable due to suspension. The team did however sign Sean Weatherspoon who when healthy is one of the better linebackers in the NFL.
The real steak and potatoes of this team lies within the trenches. Their defensive and offensive line should be damn good. The defensive line was one of the hardest to run on last season and should continue that trend this season. The offensive line showed better than expected and now boasts Iupati, who happens to be one of the best run blockers in the NFL. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games in the trenches.
Add in a healthy Carson Palmer and there's reason for optimism amongst Cardinal nation. This team played half of it's season without a starting quaterback in 2014 and still nearly finished with the best record in the NFL. No reason they can't accomplish this feat with their top signal caller.
John Brown is a true difference maker and Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald are true chain movers. The backfield does not need to be great just competent. Losing Todd Bowles was a blow, but the talent should overcome his departure.
The Seahawks doesn't seem as focused as they have been in recent years, while the Cardinals and Rams look to be on a serious rise. This division plays each other like no other division. Regardless of how any of the teams seasons are going when it's a division game, expect a slobber knocker.
This division is still all about physicality and some bad ass defense. Three teams will win at least 8 games and the division will once again finish the season as the best in the NFL.
Ultimately I see the Seahawks taking a few steps backwards this season. Russell Wilson however, will keep them on the winners side of the NFL. The Cardinals could very well sweep the Seahawks this season. I do see the Seahawks losing twice at home which is a very big deal. The Rams will be a good team better than they have been but they are still their own worst enemy and will lose games they should easily win. The 49ers have seen too much turnover to overcome a massive slide and have way too many question marks in an inconsistent quarterback.
- Seahawks at least 10 wins
- Cardinals at least 10 wins
- Rams at least 8 wins
- 49ers at least 6 wins