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NFC West will be the league’s toughest division in 2023

Sustained run of NFC West dominance hasn’t ended

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams fanbase rejoiced seeing the 49ers getting the snot kicked out of them on Sunday, losing 31-7 to the Philadelphia Eagles and seeing Brock Purdy leave with what turned out to be a torn UCL.

If it wasn’t for all the injuries and a few questionable calls, the NFC Championship would be even more satisfying. San Fran can take it as karma for soundly beating the Rams every year since 2019, but perhaps L.A. won’t go so quietly into the night.

Not to talk about the Niners more than I have to, they truly did have an impressive season given all the adversity they faced. SF went into the game on a 12-game winning streak, most of which came after trading for Christian McCaffrey, and were playing a third-string quarterback for the entire winning streak, something that was mentioned at least a hundred times over the course of Sunday’s broadcast.

Purdy will now be out six months and it’s an interesting question of who they will treat as QB1 when 2023 training camp begins: Purdy, Trey Lance, or is it possible that Jimmy Garoppolo actually didn’t play his final game with the 49ers?

All things considered, Garoppolo may have still been the best quarterback in San Francisco, he brings the experience, and he didn’t have a huge market on the trade block in 2022. With Purdy out and Lance so inexperienced, the 49ers may still yet give Garoppolo enough money to return for another season. Where that leaves Lance and Purdy is anybody’s guess, but it seems like San Francisco isn’t content to fall apart.

They have Kyle Shanahan at head coach and even if they lose DeMeco Ryans at defensive coordinator—it is reported that his hiring with the Houston Texans will come by the middle of the week—there is some thought that Vic Fangio may spurn his offer from the Dolphins to return to the 49ers instead. The defense, ranked first in the league in 2022, is as loaded as any in the NFL.

Needless to say, the NFC West may have seen the Rams fall to 5-12 and the Cardinals implode even worse—with Kyler Murray set to potentially miss half the season as he recovers from a torn ACL—but there’s reason to expect at least two playoff teams again in 2023. Of the last 10 NFC champions, six of them have still come from the West.

Going back a decade, the NFC West has boosted two Super Bowl winners (‘13 Seahawks and last season’s Rams). Since 2013, every team has won the division at least once. Seattle has won the most division titles at four. Thanks to the success of Sean McVay, LA has the second-most with three while the Niners have two and the Cardinals have one.

In that span, at least two NFC West teams have made the playoffs in eight of those 10 seasons with the exception of 2016-17. The Cardinals and 49ers even joined the Rams in the postseason just last year. The division also dominated NFC Championship matchups in 2013 (49ers vs Seahawks) and 2021 (Rams vs 49ers).

The Seahawks are not sure who their starting quarterback will be in 2023, as Geno Smith is a free agent, but even if they lose him the replacement could be coming through the draft. Seattle holds the fifth overall pick thanks to their Russell Wilson trade with the Denver Broncos and there’s a chance that with or without Geno, the Seahawks will select a quarterback. We might see Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud in the division next year, joining a team that snuck into the playoffs at 9-8.

Sustained dominance within the division has become an expectation across the sport. If a single West team isn’t prepared for their bloodbath of a divisional race, they might as well count themselves out of the hunt. This is not a division to mess around with like the AFC South. (Congrats NFC East, the neverending carousel of division winners which has now put the Eagles into the Super Bowl for the second time in the last six seasons, but they are the only NFC East team to get that far since the Giants in 2011.)

The NFC South didn’t have a single team with a winning record. The NFC North may lose Aaron Rodgers and they were led by a Vikings team that was much worse than their record. If the Rams can turn around under Sean McVay, the NFC West could again have three teams with a winning record and reaching the playoffs next season.

Even though the Eagles run the conference at this time, the NFC will go West at one point or another. Maybe as soon as next year with three potential contenders.