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2022-23 NFC West Preview

Over the past few years, the NFC West has been considered the benchmark for all divisions in the NFL. Of the last eight Super Bowls, five of them have involved a team from the NFC West. It contains the defending champion Los Angeles Rams led by Aaron Donald, Kyler Murray, and a high-flying offense in Arizona, a well-coached squad in San Francisco, and the Seattle Seahawks, who are still searching for their identity as a team. It’s been an ultra-competitive division, with talented rosters on all teams, but can they continue to hold onto the throne in 2022?

Los Angeles Rams

Key Additions:
WR Allen Robinson (FA)
MLB Bobby Wagner (FA)

Over the past five years, the Los Angeles Rams have always been championship contenders, and last season they were finally able to put it all together, winning the Super Bowl. Heading into the 2021 season, the Rams were expected to compete. In January, they were able to acquire veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford from Detroit. Over the course of his 12-year career with the Lions, Stafford threw an insane 282 touchdowns but was never able to sustain team success, only making the playoffs once in his tenure. At the time of the trade, many believed that perhaps Detroit got the better end of the bargain, bringing in QB Jared Goff, 3 first-round picks, and a 2021 third-rounder, but at this point, I think it’s safe to say that the Rams landed a pretty good deal.

Pairing up with Stafford was a very talented offense guided by Sean McVay’s playcalling. The Rams were stacked at the receiver position with Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and DeSean Jackson at their disposal. At running back, they had a young duo of Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers before trading for Sony Michel from New England. They also had a pretty strong offensive line led by a 39-year-old Andrew Whitworth, a future hall-of-famer. On the defensive side of the ball, Los Angeles was equally star-studded. On the line, they had DT Aaron Donald, the best at the position and arguably the best and most impactful player in the entire league. In the secondary, the Rams were led by Jalen Ramsey, who is consistently a top-five cornerback in the NFL. Ramsey, like Stafford, had been acquired via a trade with Jacksonville back in 2019 for 2 first-round picks.

The Rams started off the year as a top team in the league, going 7-1 in their first eight games. As if their star-studded lineup wasn’t enough, they made a huge move at the trade deadline to acquire Von Miller from the Broncos, one of the top linebackers in the league. The Rams continued to burn through draft picks, sending Denver 2021 second and third-round picks in the process. But even then, Los Angeles wasn’t done, signing receiver Odell Beckham Jr to replace an injured Robert Woods. These two players were crucial to the success of the Rams’ championship run, with Miller notching multiple sacks and Beckham Jr catching a touchdown on the way to a 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals to secure the Super Bowl win.

Over the year, Stafford threw a career-high 41 touchdown passes while Cooper Kupp broke the single-season receiving yard record with 1,947 yards and 6 touchdowns. It’s fitting that he broke Calvin Johnson’s record since Stafford was also his quarterback. There was just so much to love about the Rams last season, with numerous players deserving a ring such as Donald, Stafford, and Beckham.

The Rams are hoping to run it back this season, retaining much of their original core, but also losing some of the newly-added star power that assisted in their Super Bowl win. Von Miller joined the Buffalo Bills on a 6-year $120 million contract, Andrew Whitworth retired, and OBJ has yet to sign a deal with any team but is unlikely to return to Los Angeles. But somehow, the Rams arguably may have gotten even better in the off-season. First, they brought in MLB Bobby Wagner from the rival Seahawks for $50 million over 5 years. The future hall-of-famer has been one of the top linebackers for years now.

Then they signed receiver Allen Robinson out of Chicago to a 3-year $46 million deal. Robinson has consistently been a very good receiver despite catching passes from bad NFL quarterbacks. It’s not very often that a Super Bowl winning team improves the next season, but that argument could be made for the Rams this year. With hopes of going back-to-back, only time will tell if the Rams can repeat the success of last year.

Arizona Cardinals

Key Additions:
WR Marquise Brown (trade)

The past year has been, well, eventful for the Arizona Cardinals. They’ve gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Let’s start with last offseason. In 2021, the Cardinals brought in many new additions through free agency to the Valley of the Sun. Many of these were seasoned veterans, such as RB James Conner, WR A.J. Green, and DT J.J. Watt. The hope was that these vets would help out with an inexperienced squad built around young star quarterback Kyler Murray.

On the offense, Murray certainly had weapons to work with. A year prior in 2020, the Cards traded for superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans. There was a consensus that Arizona had completely fleeced Houston since the Cardinals received a top-three receiver in Hopkins while the Texans got only aging RB David Johnson, a 2020 second, and 2021 fourth-rounder in return. Hopkins teamed up with third-year receiver Christian Kirk, who had only compiled 1299 yards and 6 touchdowns over two years. Adding to that receiving corps was AJ Green, who signed to a one-year deal.

Over his ten-year career in Cincinnati, he had assembled 649 catches for 9,430 yards with 65 touchdowns and seven Pro Bowl selections. Green had been widely considered one of the top receivers of the 2010’s. In the backfield, James Conner joined running back Chase Edmonds to form a talented duo. Conner had spent his previous four seasons in Pittsburgh as the featured back. On the defensive side of the ball, Arizona signed J.J. Watt to a 2 year, $28 million dollar deal. JJ is considered one of the most accomplished players of the 2010s, notching 5 Pro Bowl selections, 5 First-Team All-Pro selections, 3-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and the 2017 Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award. Watt reunited with former Houston teammate DeAndre Hopkins and formed a scary pass-rushing duo with OLB Chandler Jones.

Starting off the season, the Cardinals were red-hot, beating Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans 38-13 in Nissan Stadium. They went on to have a league-best record of 7-0 before dropping six of their last ten games. Despite the stumbling finish, the Cardinals made the playoffs as a Wildcard and faced the division rival Rams in the first round. Let’s just say this game wasn’t pretty for the Cardinals. They lost 34-11, with Murray being practically nonexistent, throwing for only 134 yards and 2 interceptions. The offseason brought more problems, starting with contract drama surrounding Murray.

Coming up on a contract year, Kyler unfollowed the Cardinals on Instagram and deleted all of his posts involving Arizona. This led many to believe there was a rift between Murray and the team, jeopardizing his future in The Valley. Eventually, he resurrected the posts and is expected to be paid a max contract by Arizona in the future. But this was the least of the Cardinals’ worries, as they had much more news to deal with regarding DeAndre Hopkins.

In early May, Hopkins was suspended six games for the 2022 season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. In reaction, the Cardinals made a draft-night trade with the Baltimore Ravens to acquire WR Marquise Brown. Brown is coming off his best season with the Ravens, compiling 1,008 yards and 6 touchdowns. Brown was teammates with Murray in college at Oklahoma and was a key reason Murray won the Heisman in 2018. The Cardinals also lost a lot in free agency, such as linebackers Jordan Hicks signing with Minnesota and Chandler Jones signing with Las Vegas. Both will leave a huge hole at the linebacker position, but it will give Isaiah Simmons a chance to showcase his skills. The third-year linebacker has struggled to find his spot since being drafted 8th overall from Clemson in 2020.

The Cardinals will have an uphill battle this year without their star wideout in DeAndre Hopkins, but are banking that Kyler Murray’s continued development will allow Marquise Brown to become a top receiver. If there isn’t any substantial success in Arizona this season, we could experience massive changes next year in the organization, including a new front office, head coach, or maybe even quarterback.

San Francisco 49ers

Key Additions:
CB Charvarius Ward (FA)

The San Francisco 49ers are a very interesting team at the moment and are difficult to analyze because they have a lot going on right now. Back in 2020, a season removed from a trip to Super Bowl LIV, the team saw 22 total players miss substantial time due to injuries, some of these players included Jimmy Garappolo, Richard Sherman, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, George Kittle, and Nick Bosa, who only played two games before tearing his ACL against the Jets.

In 2020, the Niners finished with a disappointing 6-10 record, resulting in last place in the NFC West and the twelfth overall draft pick. Last year before the draft however, they made a blockbuster trade with the Miami Dolphins. The Niners mortgaged much of their future; the 2021 12th Overall Pick, 2021 third-rounder, and San Francisco’s 2022 and 2023 first-rounders in order to move up to pick three. The immediate speculation was that they were trading up to draft a quarterback, with viable options including Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones. In the end, they drafted Trey Lance from North Dakota State to lead the franchise. It was believed that he would eventually replace Garappolo, who had only proven to be an average/mediocre quarterback in his stint with San Francisco.

During the 2021-22 season, the Niners started slow, going 2-4 in their first six games, but they ended strong, finishing 8-3 to end the year at 10-7, clinching a playoff berth. In the Wildcard Round, they faced the Dallas Cowboys in an instant-classic, winning 23-17. Next in the Divisional Round, they played the Green Bay Packers, who were fresh off a league-best 13-4 record and a first-round bye. The Packers were led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who won back-to-back MVP in 2021 and 2022. Rodgers was coming off an unimaginable season in which he threw 4,115 yards, 37 TD’s and only 4 interceptions.

But in a snowy game at Lambeau Field, neither offense could muster much of anything. But a late-game blocked punt touchdown for the Niners tied the game at ten apiece, and a 45 yard field goal from Robbie Gould secured the 49ers a 13-10 victory over Green Bay. In the NFC Championship however, San Francisco’s magical run finally came to an end against the eventual champion Los Angeles Rams. In a tightly contested West Coast rivalry, the Rams came on top 20-17 after scoring thirteen unanswered against the Niners.

It was a heartbreaking loss for San Francisco, but there was plenty to be proud of. For one, wide receiver Deebo Samuel had a breakout season in which he became a premier pass-catcher in the league. He put up 1.405 receiving yards (5th most in NFL), and six receiving touchdowns. He was used as a hybrid-player; taking reps at running back as well as wide receiver. There are still disputes regarding Samuel’s contract with San Francisco, but for the time being, it appears he’ll suit up in the red & gold.

The 49ers also saw Nick Bosa have an incredible comeback-season just a year after tearing his ACL. Bosa notched 15.5 sacks, fourth most in the league. But the Niners did lose a lot of starters to free agency this year. Coming off of a Pro Bowl season, OG Laken Tomlinson cashed in with the New York Jets on a three-year deal. The Broncos also poached multiple key defenders for the Niners. First, they stole D.J. Jones, a top run-stuffer on a 3-year, 30 million dollar deal, then signed slot corner K’Waun Williams. Losing these players will be very difficult for the Niners, but they’ve shown as a franchise that through savvy drafting, they can easily draft replacements.

This upcoming season, the 49ers have the potential to be a top team in the NFL. With the continued development of role players, and the emergence of Trey Lance, the sky’s the limit in the Bay Area. But with the loss of multiple key starters and the possibility of trading their star receiver: Deebo Samuel, can the Niners live up to the lofty expectations?

Seattle Seahawks

Key Additions:
TE Noah Fant (trade)
QB Drew Lock (trade)
OT Charles Cross (draft)
RB Kenneth Walker (draft)

When comparing all of the teams in the NFC West for this upcoming season, none will look as different as the Seattle Seahawks. This is because their two best players of the decade will be suiting up in different uniforms. On offense, their franchise quarterback Russell Wilson was traded to the Denver Broncos, and on defense, Bobby Wagner will start as the middle linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams. The Hawks appear to be headed into a full rebuild, so let’s look into how they got into this position.

Technically, we can look all the way back to Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 to figure out where it all went wrong in Seattle. The Seahawks, a year removed from destroying the Broncos the Super Bowl, faced Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a very competitive game. The undisputed strength for the Seahawks was their defense, which is considered one of the greatest defenses of all time. The defense was showcased by the “Legion of Boom”, which was the nickname of the Seahawks’ stingy secondary. Some of the members of this group included Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas.

Together, they formed one of the best secondaries in the league, as Sherman was a legendary ball-hawk, while Chancellor and Thomas were the hardest-hitting safety duo ever known to man. However, none of this matters in Super Bowl XLIX. Brady torched the Legion of Boom, throwing four touchdowns in the contest. But the Seahawks, led by young superstar Russell Wilson, had one more chance to put Seattle up 31-28 and win the game, and we all know what really happened then. With 26 seconds left in the game, it was second & goal and the Seahawks had the ball on the one yard line. It was almost certain that they would hand the ball off to “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch and win the game.

Nope. Russell Wilson throws a pass to Ricardo Lockett, but it’s picked off by Malcom Butler at the goal line. End of game. New England wins 28-24. That questionable play call by Pete Carroll began the slow began eventual downfall of the Seattle Seahawks. Eventually, Sherman and Thomas left in free agency for greener pastures and Chancellor retired. Meanwhile, the Hawks made a few playoff appearances, but never made a run or had any real success. Offensively, Wilson developed into a top ten quarterback and a surefire hall-of-famer, but Seattle could never give him enough offensive-line help, leading to his eventual departure from the Pacific Northwest.

After a 7-10 season, it was finally time for a rebuild. First, the Seahawks traded Russell Wilson to the Broncos in a shocking but expected move. Although it was sad to see their franchise icon leave in bitter fashion, Seattle got a pretty good return from the nine-time Pro Bowler. In the trade, the Seahawks received QB Drew Lock, TE Noah Fant, DE Shelby Harris, and Denver’s first and second round picks for the 2022 and 2023 NFL Draft. Drew Lock was once considered a promising quarterback drafted in the second round out of Missouri in 2019, but has struggled mightily since he arrived in the NFL.

Fant was a Broncos’ first-rounder in 2019 from Iowa and seems to be a solid tight end heading into the future. And Harris is a 30-year old defensive end who was a fan-favorite in Denver, but is an average end and can be replaced. With the draft picks acquired, the Seahawks landed OT Charles Cross and OLB Boye Mafe. At this point, no one knows how they’ll end up, but currently, they are viewed as solid draft picks and strong building blocks for the future.

It’s undoubted that the Seattle Seahawks are heading into a new era, and searching for their new identity after losing franchise icons Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner. It’ll probably be a rough couple of years before Seattle is in any sort of contention, but there’s a lot of optimism for the future of the franchise, as they already have important building blocks, such as WR D.K. Metcalf or LB Jordyn Brooks. This rebuild was inevitable ever since the result of Super Bowl XLIX, but the future is hopeful in Seattle.

Historically, the NFC West has set the bar for the rest of the divisions in the NFL, but it will be difficult to hold onto this title with the emergence of the AFC West. The defending champion Los Angeles Rams look to hold onto success with savvy offseason moves, the Cardinals are hoping to find success despite uncertainty with the franchise, the 49ers are anticipating to take the next step with quarterback Trey Lance and a strong defense, and the Seahawks are heading into a full rebuild in hopes to return stronger in the future. There’s a lot of questions to be answered in the gauntlet known as the NFC West, and this upcoming season, those questions will be answered.


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