The NFL offseason brings a sense of renewed optimism for each team. Everyone is undefeated. Each free agency signing and draft selection made their team better - even though we know over time there will be as many notable misses as hits.
There has been a great deal of change take place in the NFC West.
Star players have left the division - Russell Wilson, Von Miller, Chandler Jones, Andrew Whitworth, and Christian Kirk. Deebo Samuel and Jimmy Garoppolo have uncertain futures with the San Francisco 49ers.
New names have joined the fold - Drew Lock, Noah Fant, Allen Robinson, Charvarius Ward, and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Bobby Wagner had been a stalwart in the NFC West, and he left the Seattle Seahawks and joined the rivalrous Los Angeles Rams.
Time will tell the impact of each of these changes, but for now it’s time to look at the upside. There are reasons to be optimistic about each team in the heat of the NFC West race in 2022:
The Cardinals jumped out to a 10-2 record in 2021 - largely driven by an MVP-level performance from star quarterback Kyler Murray. Things fell apart after a Week 14 loss to the Rams, and the team skidded to a 1-4 record to close out the regular season. An injury to Murray in an emotional Week 8 contest against the Green Bay Packers could explain the team’s downturn.
Murray’s flashes of greatness before the injury serve as a preview for what’s in store in 2022.
The Cardinals have no shortage of weapons on the offensive side of the ball - and now Murray is reunited with his favorite college target, Marquise Brown. AJ Green was effective last season and Rondale Moore hopes to build on a promising rookie year.
When Arizona’s offense is firing on all cylinders, there are few opposing teams that are able to keep up.
Los Angeles Rams
Matthew Stafford lifted the Rams to a Super Bowl championship, but it’s fair to say there’s still room for improvement after his first season in LA. Stafford threw 17 interceptions in as many games - though he stepped up his game and was arguably the best quarterback in the post season.
What if we see the playoff version of Matthew Stafford during the 2022 regular season? He can build on his success by striking a balance between limiting mistakes and taking calculated shots downfield.
Yes, the Rams lost Von Miller - and that is a big detriment to their fearsome pass rush; however, Justin Hollins, Terrell Lewis, and Chris Garrett form an adequate trio. The team may also feel compelled to trade for a veteran contributor if the early season returns on this group are not satisfactory.
It’s also possible that LA secondary is improved over last season. The dependable Troy Hill returns after a season with the Cleveland Browns, and the Rams have drafted a number of defensive backs over the last two seasons.
Is it possible that winning a Super Bowl was just scratching the surface of what’s possible for the Stafford-led Rams?
San Francisco 49ers
With Deebo Samuel attending the team’s mandatory minicamp, the 49ers are returning a vast majority of their key contributors from the squad that made it to the NFC Championship game in 2021.
Trey Lance flashed a unique skillset during limited action in his rookie season, and now we get to see what he’s capable of on a full-time basis. If the 49ers were good enough to carry Jimmy Garoppolo to a game short of the Super Bowl, how good can they be if Lance turns out to be a superstar?
Kyle Shanahan understands how to get the most of out of San Francisco’s star players - and the combination of George Kittle, Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Kyle Juszczyk gives defenses headaches.
If the NFL stage does not prove to be too big for Trey Lance, the ceiling for this 49ers team could be incredibly high.
There are two reasons to be optimistic if you are a fan of the Seahawks:
1 - Drew Lock joins a team with capable playmakers and plays his best football since his rookie season, making Seattle’s rebuild seem significantly shorter than originally thought.
2 - Lock joins a Seahawks roster that has dramatically deteriorated in recent years, and Seattle secures a top draft slot in 2023 - which they use to select their quarterback of the future.
The worst outcome for Seattle is probably also the most unlikely, which is that they are a mediocre team in 2022. They would likely still need to move on from Lock in 2023 but could lack the draft resources to do so. In a strange way, this should give comfort to fans of the team.
Perhaps the most significant reason to be optimistic about the Seahawks is that taking lumps in 2022 could result in a more promising future down the line.