(Jared Goff photo courtesy of Cal)
(Carson Palmer photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals)
Talk of Fame Network
The 49ers have changed coaches, and the Rams have changed cities.
But does anything change at the top of the NFC West this season? The Cardinals captured the division in 2015, and the Seahawks went to the playoffs as a wild card. The AFC West also sent a team to the NFC championship game for a fourth consecutive season.
The NFC West is the subject our weekly Talk of Fame Network poll as we ask our listeners and readers to identify the best team in the division. Here are your options:
Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals won a franchise-record 13 games and advanced to the NFC championship game, where they lost to the Carolina Panthers. Arizona was one of only two teams to rank in the NFL’s Top 5 in both offense and defense last season. The Cardinals finished with the No. 1 ranked offense and the fifth-ranked defense. Only the Panthers scored more points than the 489 of the Cardinals. Quarterback Carson Palmer flourished in the offense of Bruce Arians, passing for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns, with only 11 interceptions. David Johnson is an emerging star at running back, rushing for eight touchdowns and catching four more TD passes as a rookie in 2015. Defensively, the Cardinals forced 33 turnovers, again finishing second in the NFL to the Panthers. Arizona bulked up on the defensive front with the selection of tackle Robert Nkemdiche with its 2016 first-round pick.
(Bruce Arians photo courtesy of Arizona Cardinals)
Los Angeles Rams. The Rams bolted St. Louis this offseason for Los Angeles, returning to southern California for the first time since 1994. In need of a name to place on their Hollywood marquee, the Rams made a blockbuster deal last April, sending six premium picks to the Cleveland Browns for the first overall selection of the 2016 draft and the right to select quarterback Jared Goff. This team is not without talent. Even with an unstable quarterbacking situation a year ago, the Rams still beat the Cardinals in Arizona and swept the Seahawks on the way to a 7-9 finish. Todd Gurley had a splendid rookie season rushing the football, gaining 1,106 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns. Defensively, tackle Aaron Donald collected 11 sacks, and cornerback Trumaine Johnson intercepted seven passes. Goff arrives in Los Angeles as the third all-time leading passer in Pac-12 history with 12,220 career yards and 96 touchdowns at Cal.
(Todd Gurley photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams)
San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers pulled the plug on the Jim Tomsula experiment after just one 5-11 season, hiring Chip Kelly as their new head coach after he was cut loose by the Eagles. Tomsula had a defensive background, Kelly has an offensive background — and he gives the 49ers a better chance of getting a return on their $114 million investment in quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers had 11 draft picks and spent them trying to fortify holes on the offensive line and at cornerback. San Francisco drafted Oregon pass rusher DeForrest Buckner in the first round, then selected three offensive linemen and three corners. But the key to any resurrection by this franchise is tied to the career resurrection of Kaepernick, who passed for only 1,615 yards and six touchdowns in eight starts last season before losing his job to Blaine Gabbert.
(Chip Kelly photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles)
Seattle Seahawks. Marshawn Lynch has retired, and four other starters moved on free agency — offensive tackle Russell Okung, guard J.R. Sweezy, pass rusher Bruce Irvin and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane. But quarterback Russell Wilson returns, and he’s the catalyst of a team that has gone to two of the last three Super Bowls. Not only was he a Pro Bowler last season; he was the Pro Bowl MVP. During the regular season he passed for 4,024 yards, with 34 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. Wilson also rushed for 533 yards and another score. Like the Cardinals, the Seahawks finished in the Top 5 in both offense and defense. The Seahawks finished fourth in the NFL in offense, controlling the ball for almost 32 minutes per game. That kept the Seattle D fresh and allowed the Seahawks to finish second in the NFL on that side of the ball. Seattle finished first against the run and second against the pass, and defensive stalwarts Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Bobby Wagner are all back in 2016.
(Earl Thomas photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)