Only two teams have captured the NFC West in the last four years, the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks. So it’s not surprising that the other two teams in the division, Los Angeles and San Francisco, have new head coaches this season. The rosters of the Rams and 49ers have been heavily retooled — but enough to pursue the Cardinals and Seahawks at the top of the division? That’s the subject of this week’s Talk of Fame Network poll — who wins the NFC West in 2017? Do you like Russell Wilson and the Seahawks? David Johnson and the Cardinals? Or are we in for a surprise from either the Rams or 49ers? Here are your options:
Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals took a huge step back,, tumbling from the NFC title game in 2015 to a non-playoff finish and a losing record (7-8-1) in 2015. And that’s puzzling because Arizona was one of only two teams to finish in the NFL’s Top 10 in both offense and defense. The Super Bowl champion Patriots were the other. But two starters from the NFL’s second-ranked defense departed in free agency, end Calais Campbell and safety Tony Jefferson. The Cardinals used their top two draft picks to replace them, claiming edge rusher Haasan Reddick in the first round and safety Budda Baker in the second. Running back David Johnson is dynamic, both in the running and passing games. He led the NFL with 20 touchdowns a year ago, 16 rushing and four receiving. But quarterback Carson Palmer is 37 and all-world receiver Larry Fitzgerald is 33. So the clock is ticking on this offense.
Los Angeles Rams. The Rams had the NFL’s worst offense with rookie quarterback Jared Goff, generating a league-low 224 points along the way to a 4-12 finish, costing head coach Jeff Fisher his job. If Goff is not the answer – if the Rams made a huge mistake in passing on Carson Wentz for Goff at the top of the 2016 draft – new coach Sean McVay will have his offensive struggles early on in his head-coaching tenure. To help Goff, Los Angeles signed wide receiver Robert Woods in free agency away from Buffalo and veteran Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth away from the Cincinnati Bengals. The Rams also went heavy on offensive weapons in the draft, selecting tight end Gerald Everett in the second round and wide receiver Cooper Kupp in the third.
San Francisco 49ers. The Colin Kaepernick era came to a painful end in San Francisco with the 49ers winning just two games a year ago. For good reason – they ranked 31st in the NFL in offense and last in defense. A complete rebuild was in order, starting at the top. The 49ers hired former Pro Bowl safety and Hall-of-Fame candidate John Lynch as general manager and Kyle Shananan as head coach. Kyle’s father Mike was the offensive coordinator when the 49ers last won a Super Bowl in 1994. San Francisco used its first three draft picks on defense, selecting edge rusher Solomon Thomas in the first round, linebacker Reuben Foster in the second and cornerback Akhello Witherspoon in the third. Lynch addressed the offense in free agency, signing quarterback Brian Hoyer, wide receiver Pierre Garcon and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks captured the West last season with a 10-5-1 record, but the absence of Marshawn Lynch was glaring. In his brief one-year retirement, Seattle sank to 25th in the NFL in rushing … and lacked balance offensively. The Seahawks hope to remedy that in 2017 with a healthy Thomas Rawls and the free-agent signing of Eddie Lacy. This is a team that will continue to win on defense with a cast that includes seven Pro Bowl veterans: Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Joining the cast this season will be tackle Malik McDowell, a first-round pick out of Michigan State, and defensive backs Shaquill Griffin and Delano Hall, a couple of third rounders.