The NFC West was one of the most competitive divisions in football last season and that (probably) won’t change heading into the 2022 season. There were seismic shifts in the division with Russell Wilson finally leaving the NFC West for the AFC West and the Denver Broncos. While the Seahawks will be rebuilding this year with Drew Lock and Geno Smith under center this season, the Cardinals, 49ers and defending Super Bowl Champion Rams all look to make it back to the playoffs again this year. While these are some talented rosters, let’s see what all these teams still need heading into week one.
Los Angeles Rams – Avoid the Super Bowl Hangover
After trading first round picks like they were going out of style, the LA Rams finally captured their long-awaited Lombardi Trophy. Matthew Stafford unlocked the missing piece of the Rams offense as he passed for 4,886 yards, 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Cooper Kupp had a season for ages at wide receiver, catching 145 passes from Stafford for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns. For context, the past three seasons Kupp had 2,700 yards and 19 touchdowns on 226 catches.
Mid-season addition Odell Beckham Jr became a vital second wide receiver after Robert Woods tore his ACL, as Beckham racked up 305 yards and five touchdowns in seven games. Beckham only put up 202 yards and 0 touchdowns in six games with the Browns, but was vital to the Rams success.
The Rams defense is just as good as ever, even with the loss of Von Miller. They still have arguably the best player in football in Aaron Donald and a top five corner in Jalen Ramsey along with host of other supporting pieces like Leonard Floyd, Jordan Fuller and Troy Hill in the slot.
While it could have been easy for the Rams to just run it back with the same roster or become complicit, the Rams opted for what they always do: stay aggressive. To replace Beckham after he tore his ACL in the Super Bowl (SoFi Stadium fix your turf) the Rams went out and grabbed former Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson on a three-year 46.5 million contract to be the new number two option behind Kupp. Then the Rams took former division rival Bobby Wagner after he was released by Seattle.
The one thing the Rams have to avoid is the dangerous Super Bowl hangover. There is a reason that’s nearly been two decades since a team has repeated as Super Bowl Champions (2004/2005 New England Patriots). There have been teams who have nearly been able to do it, the Chiefs after defeating the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, made it back for Super Bowl LV but lost to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-9. Back when Tom Brady nearly three-peated earlier in the decade, as after making the historic 28-3 comeback against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, the Patriots made it back for Super Bowl LII but lost to the true GOAT Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles 41-33. The Patriots were able to rebound the following season as they took down the LA Rams 13-3 in one of the most boring Super Bowls of all time. As a side note, I will never forgive them for combing SpongeBob’s “Sweet Victory,” and Travis Scott at half-time, that was a betrayal that will never be forgiven.
It will be a tough hill to climb as every team on the Rams schedule will give them their best shot: division rivals in San Fran and Arizona twice, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Vegas, the Chargers, the Broncos, the Packers and they will start the season on opening night against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. It’s a gauntlet of a schedule but if the Rams can get through that, they have a shot to be back-to-back champs.
Arizona Cardinals – Avoid the second half collapse
Another year with Kliff Kingsbury at head coach, another year of the team collapsing in the second half of the year. Every team he has coached since 2013 has fallen off the proverbial cliff in the second half of the season. The trend that developed under his watch at Texas Tech has continued into his full three seasons as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
2019 they started 3-3-1, finished the year 2-7 to go 5-10-1 on the season. Then in 2020, with a chance to clinch the seventh seed in the NFC with a win over division rival Rams who without Jared Goff who had sustained a hand injury in their week 16 game against the Seahawks. The Cardinals also had an easy route as the Chicago Bears finished after a blowout loss to the Packers in Week 17. It was shocking that it had even come to this point after the 6-3 start they were on to begin the year. However, in classic Kliff Kingsbury fashion, the Cardinals went 2-4 heading into week 17.
Well, did the Cardinals take advantage of the opportunity to make the playoffs against a backup QB? No, no they did not and in humiliating fashion. The Cardinals who go on to lose the game 18-7 after Kyler Murray got knocked out of the game and backup Chris Streveler threw the lone touchdown for Arizona. However, he also threw an 84-yard pick six to Troy Hill that all but finished the game in the second quarter.
Because of the loss, the Cardinals missed the playoffs and allowed the Bears to make the playoffs as the seven seed (Thank you for sucking Arizona).
Then 2021 came around and the Cardinals seemed to be destined for a deep postseason run as they started the season 10-2. However, after tweeting a weird photo of the Chicago Bean after the Cardinals dispatched the Bears 33-22 at Soldier Field, the Cardinals went into a tailspin going 1-4 to finish the season.
The most embarrassing loss came against the Lions at Ford Field where they lost 30-12 and Kyler Murray went 23-for-41, 257 yards while throwing one touchdown, one interception and getting sacked twice. It was only the second win for the Lions that season in which they only won three games and tied another.
The Cardinals would go on to lose in the wild card round in blowout fashion to the eventual champs in the LA Rams 34-19.
If the Cardinals want any chance to reach their full potential, they must remain consistent from game one to game 17 and it will be difficult without Chandler Jones (now with Vegas) and Deandre Hopkins for six games for violating the league's PED policy. Murray will have to put that mandated film study time to good use (I know it’s not in the contract now but it’s still funny).
San Francisco 49ers – Trey Lance Develops into a Solid Starter
This man will determine the success of the San Francisco 49ers this season. The mean they traded a kings ransom of draft picks to select third overall in 2021.
Lance didn’t see a lot of playing time in his rookie year, as he only played 178 total snaps all year, which included two games in which he started, week five (Cardinals) and week 17 (Texans). In that first career start against Arizona, Lance went 15-for-29, 192 yards no touchdowns, one pick and was sacked twice. The 49ers also utilized Lance’s natural running ability as he took off 16 times for 89 yards and was the 49ers leading rusher and while they lost 17-10, it was a decent outing for a guy many considered to be the rawest QB out of the high profile QBs from the 2021 class.
Lance was much more efficient in his second start against the Houston Texans, as he completed 69% percent of his passes for 231 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. It was helped by the fact that Elijah Mitchell ran the ball 21 times for 119 yards (5.6 yards per carry). It was the Houston Texans, who went on to finish the year ranked as the 27th total defense in the league and gave up the sixth most yards per carry (4.6).
Now with Lance as the full time starter ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo, we will truly see what Lance is as an NFL QB with defenses preparing for him every week. Lance should be helped by the bevy of play makers on this San Fran offense, with All-Pro tight end George Kittle, hybrid wide out Deebo Samuel and deep running back room of Mitchell and Trey Sermon, not to mention one of the best offensive play callers in Kyle Shanahan.
Lance has the tools at his disposal to be a solid NFL QB in his first year as the starter in the Bay Area. The question is, will he become one?
Seattle Seahawks – The 2023 QB Draft
When you talk about end to an era, Seattle Seahawk fans had to finally let go of the last player remaining from the Legion of Boom and it was arguably the most important one to leave. Russell Wilson, probably the best quarterback in franchise history, now gone to the Denver Broncos in a massive trade during the off-season to compete in best division in football, the AFC West. With that move, the Seahawks must now look for a new man who can lead them to the same heights that Wilson did in Seattle.
That man is not currently on the roster, and it may be some time before they do even find him. No offense to either of quarterbacks duking it out for the starting job currently Seattle, with newly acquired Drew Lock and Geno Smith, they are not the answer. Smith is 31 years old and has never shown any evidence of being an average starting QB. He didn’t inspire much confidence on national TV in the Seahawks second preseason game, going 10-for-18 for 112 yards and scored no points against the Chicago Bears starting or second-string defense. Not all the issues were Smith’s fault and DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett saw three snaps a piece in the game, but Smith still wasn’t that great either.
Then there is Lock, who based on his age (25) you would think he would be the franchise guy moving forward. However nothing from his 21 career starts lends any credence to him being any sort of franchise level or even average starting QB.
He has 25 career passing touchdowns, 20 interceptions and only has 4,470 yards in his three-year career up to this point. The main thing he is known for is not some game winning drive or insane touchdown pass, it’s a dance he did on the sideline while on the bench.
The Seahawks are going to be building up the roster for bit, but whatever young QB steps in next into Seattle will at least have two good running backs in Rashad Penny and Kenneth Walker, two stud wideouts in Metcalf and Lockett, and hopefully a good offensive line based on 2022 draft picks Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas. The Seahawks will be back, the question will be who’s under center and whether Metcalf stays around long enough to find out.