NFC West Target Title Evaluation – Cardinals and Rams; Seahawks and 49ers solve QB dilemmas

October 14, 2021

The hype that came with the NFC West was inevitable, really.

It started in the offseason, when the Los Angeles Rams made a successful trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Arizona Cardinals added big names like defensive end JJ Watt and wide receiver AJ Green to a mix that already included the quarterback Kyler Murray, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. and outside linebacker Chandler Jones.

Add in the San Francisco 49ers, the 2019 NFC champions, who bounced back during the offseason, and the star power of quarterback Russell Wilson and coach Pete Carroll for the defending division champion Seattle Seahawks, and we knew that this season it had potential. And it’s been fun, starting with the division going 7-1 for the first two weeks (the loss was overtime, by the way) and the Cardinals entering Week 6 as the only undefeated team in the league.

These stories led FiveThirtyEight to wonder if NFC West it’s the best division in NFL history. While that will play out eventually, we know that a) the NFC West can pitch and b) that it has moved 180 degrees from where it was in 2010, when the Seahawks became the first team in NFL history to win a division with a losing record. .

ESPN reporters Josh Weinfuss (Arizona Cardinals), Lindsey Thiry (Los Angeles Rams), Nick Wagoner (San Francisco 49ers) and Brady Henderson (Seattle Seahawks) answer the division’s most pressing questions:

Has the NFC West lived up to its preseason billing as the toughest division?

Weinfuss: It’s really good, but in five weeks I’m not convinced it’s the toughest division. The 49ers have lost three in a row and haven’t looked good at times, and the Seahawks don’t look like the Seahawks of old. Is the NFC West a big division? Yes. Is it the hardest? The AFC West and NFC South may want to talk.

Thiry: FiveThirtyEight’s argument that the NFC West might be the best division in NFL history has passed the eyeball test for five weeks, but going forward seems moot given that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, he’s off duty indefinitely and 49ers quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance are also dealing with injuries. . However, all four teams have more than a 25% chance of making the playoffs, putting the entire division in the postseason ahead of 17 other teams, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

Carter: So far yes. The division was a late-game Seattle meltdown against Tennessee by becoming the first in NFL history to start the season 8-0, demonstrating the strength of the group when playing against other NFC and AFC divisions. . The Cardinals are the only undefeated team in the NFL and the Rams have a victory against the defending Super Bowl champion, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Also, the division games have been mostly hotly contested. The West already looked tough, but the rise of the Cardinals has taken it to another level.

Henderson: Well, they have more combined wins than any other division, and the only undefeated team in the league. So yes. We’ll see if the Seahawks can stay afloat and avoid dragging things out. It’s hard to argue that this hasn’t been the best division yet.

How is your quarterback doing?

Weinfuss: Murray has been pretty good. That was sarcasm. Murray is one of the best in football right now. He is the co-favorite with Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills for MVP according to Caesars bookmaker. Statistically, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the game. He’s a conundrum for defenses due to his ability to run, dodge, stop, cut, and then throw all kinds of passes in the book. There is not much I cannot do physically. As long as he stays healthy, which was the problem last season during Arizona’s 3-6 final, Murray will remain one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Thiry: Stafford is delivering exactly what was expected when LA completed a highly successful trade for the veteran quarterback during the offseason. Stafford’s arm, understanding of defense and ability to throw under pressure have allowed coach Sean McVay to open up the playbook, including the explosive downfield pitches the Rams lacked in recent seasons. Through a 4-1 start, Stafford has thrown for 1,587 yards, the third-most in the NFL and the fourth-most for any player in his first five games with a team in NFL history. He has completed four passes for more than 40 passing yards, despite having five completions last season with the Detroit Lions. And according to Stafford, even better days are ahead. “We would love to be 5-0,” he said after a 26-17 victory in Week 5 over division rival Seattle. “But we are where we are, and I think the fun is being 4-1 and knowing that my best soccer game has yet to be played.”

Carter: The 49ers have the toughest quarterback dynamics in the league, not just in the division. Coach Kyle Shanahan has kept his word that Garoppolo will be the starter, with rookie Lance getting situational snapshots. Lance made his first start against Arizona when Garoppolo was dealing with a right calf injury. Lance showed off double threat ability that Garoppolo just doesn’t have, leaving many wondering if San Francisco’s lead will increase. Barring another injury, it looks like Garoppolo will return as a starter after the Week 6 break, but for how long remains to be seen. If the drop in offensive production continues (and the slow starts that come with it), it’s time for Lance. That’s especially true if the Niners aren’t heading their season in the right direction.

Henderson: Not good in Seattle. But under the circumstances, it could be a lot worse. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that there is a strong possibility that Wilson could return in as little as four weeks. That stretch includes goodbye to the Seahawks as well as two winnable games: Sunday night at the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oct. 31 at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars who are currently winless. A Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints in the middle will be more difficult. But backup quarterback Geno Smith is competent enough and the schedule is favorable enough to think the Seahawks have a chance to snap out of that three-game streak at 4-4. They would need their defense to show up and running back Chris Carson to stay healthy (he missed last week with a neck injury) so the Seahawks can lean into the running game and take pressure off Smith.

What is the biggest problem each team faces?

Weinfuss: Injuries for the Cardinals. Through a 5-0 start, Arizona has shown the NFL that it has the offense and defense to win big. This team doesn’t have many, if any, major weaknesses. Until he scored just 17 to clinch a win over the 49ers on Sunday, Arizona was averaging 35 points per game. It has been dominant. If the Cardinals can maintain that kind of offensive rhythm, the only thing holding them back this year is staying healthy. If they can do that, the ceiling is really high. If they can’t, an injury to key players could stop the momentum before it really kicks in.

Thiry: Inconsistency for the Rams. A week after an emotional 34-24 win over the Buccaneers, the Rams suffered a significant disappointment in a 37-20 loss to the Cardinals. At times offense, defense and special teams appear to be units of Super Bowl caliber, with Stafford completing outstanding pitches and defense staying strong at the goal line, but each phase has also been prone to disappointment and thus So much so, the team has had to do what the players described as ugly wins in Indianapolis and Seattle. For the Rams to reach their full potential and forge a deep postseason and Super Bowl career, they must constantly prepare week by week and develop the ability to consistently play all three phases throughout a game.

Carter: The 49ers, mired on a three-game losing streak, have struggled a lot, but most seem to fall under the disappointing offensive performance umbrella. The dominant defense of the 2019 Super Bowl is no more, which means the offense must make up the difference. So far, that has not happened. The Niners are still moving the ball fairly consistently, but they lack big plays (their 15 plays over 20 yards are tied for 27th in the league) and they have gotten painfully slow starts. In the four games since Week 1, the Niners have scored a combined 21 points in the first half. No matter who the quarterback is, the Niners need more of everyone on offense, including Garoppolo and Lance.

Henderson: It’s Wilson’s injury for the Seahawks, but we’ll get to that in a second. Because unless Seattle can fix its broken defense, it won’t matter how long it takes Wilson to get back. The Seahawks have allowed at least 450 yards in four straight games. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that’s the longest streak in team history and tied for the longest in NFL history. The issues are general: troubled cornerback play, an underperforming passing run, not enough conclusions and not enough impact plays from Jamal Adams, who isn’t pitching as often. Seattle’s defense got off to another historically bad start last year, and lasted longer than this one before turning 180 degrees midseason. The impetus was the fever of the pass. The Seahawks have as much firepower as last year, which suggests they can pull off another change. But if Smith is going to have any chance of keeping them alive, he can’t wait until the middle of the season. It has to happen now.

How will the division be shaken?

Weinfuss Finish Order: Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, Niners. The Cardinals will not only win the division, they will be one of the top two seeds in the NFC.

Thirty order of finish: Cardinals, Rams, 49ers, Seahawks. The Cardinals will win the division. It’s still a somewhat risky choice, given that Kliff Kingsbury’s team started last season before collapsing in the second half of the schedule. Murray is playing great with another season of experience and the defense has been toughened up.

Wagoner Finish Order: Rams, Cardinals, 49ers, Seahawks. The Rams and Cardinals make the postseason, but don’t be surprised if the third-ranked here does, too.

Henderson’s Order of Arrival: Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, 49ers. The Seahawks will get Wilson back and fix their defense in time to at least make things interesting down the stretch.