NFC West Preview

Of all the divisions in the NFL last season, the NFC West had the greatest gap between the teams. The 49ers cruised to 13 wins and a trip to the NFC championship game. Seattle finished a game above .500 and a playoff berth. Then there was the parting of the Red Sea as we hit the Rams and Cardinals, who combined to go 9-25.

Entering 2023, the 49ers are the team to beat despite question marks about quarterback Brock Purdy. Yes, he went on a magical seven-game run last season, but can he sustain that for an entire 17 game and postseason run? He has plenty of weapons at his disposal, including running back Christian McCaffrey, tight end George Kittle, and wide receivers Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings. Purdy should have plenty of time playing behind a strong offensive line that allowed a respectable 31 sacks last season.

As good as the 49ers are offensively, the defense is the star of the show. They allowed a mere 16.3 points per game last season. The run defense was extremely stingy, surrendering only 78 yards per game. While the 49ers allowed 20 touchdowns through the air, they also intercepted 20, led by Tashaun Gipson Sr, who snatched five. Nick Bosa leads a strong pass rush with 18.5 sacks from last season, and the addition of Javon Hargrave from Philadelphia further strengthens and already potent unit. Rookie Jake Moody takes over the kicking duties. The question is whether the 3rd round pick from Michigan can handle the pressure likely seen late in big games.

Seattle is in a good spot after a surprise second-place finish last season. Quarterback Geno Smith will need to continue his stellar play that produced 4282 yards passing and 30 touchdowns. He has a fearsome wide receiver duo in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, who both surpassed 1000 yards receiving in 2022. The bulk of the work on the ground will go to Kenneth Walker III, who looks to repeat a 1000-yard rushing season.

In addition to the offense needing to stay on point, the Seahawks needs improvement on the defensive side of the ball, particularly against the run. Last season, opponents gashed through the defense for over 150 yards per game. The pass defense was respectable, intercepting 14 passes, led by Riq Woolen’s six picks. Joining Woolen in the secondary are Quandre Diggs, Devon Weatherspoon, Julian Love, and Jamal Adams. Linebackers Darrell Taylor and Uchenna Nwosu combined for 19 sacks last season and are expected to make life miserable again this season for quarterbacks. Kicker Jason Myers hit 34-of-37 field goal attempts last season and is among the best in the league.

It’s hard to believe that the Rams won the Super Bowl just two years ago, but they lost Jalen Ramsey to the Dolphins, and suffered injuries to wide receiver Cooper Kupp and quarterback Matthew Stafford. A full season of Stafford will clearly help. The 35-year-old veteran has thrown for over 52000 yards in his career. He will look to find Kupp, Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell and tight end Tyler Higbee. On the ground, the Rams will depend on Cam Akers who rushed for 1414 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

Defensively, the Rams showed some promise last season, allowing only 115 yards per game on the ground, intercepting 16 passes, and allowing 22.6 points per game. The new look secondary without Ramsey features Tre Tomlinson, Jordan Fuller, Russ Yeast, and Cobie Durant. They will likely to be tested early and often since the Rams are relatively difficult to run against. A big hole to fill will be the loss of Leonard Floyd to the Buffalo Bills. Floyd led the Rams in sacks with nine. Johan Williams steps into Floyd’s spot with big shoes to fill.

The Cardinals bring up the rear in the division, mainly due to the fact that Kyler Murray is recovering from a torn ACL. Joshua Dobbs will be the starting quarterback. He was drafted in 2017 and has only 85 career pass attempts under his belt. His wide receiver corps is far from intimidating with the trio of Marquese Brown, Rondale Moore, and Greg Dortch. Tight end Zach Ertz is still reliable, but won’t carry a team. On the ground, James Conner rushed for 782 yards and seven touchdowns last season, but he isn’t a workhorse back at this stage of his career.

As thin as the Cardinals are offensively, they are just as limited defensively. Last season they allowed 26 points per game with 29 touchdowns through the air and 21 on the ground. Cornerback Marco Wilson led the team with three of their 11 interceptions. With the offense limited, the defense will have to be more adept at forcing turnovers. The problem is that leading sacker JJ Watt retired, and second leading pass rusher Zack Allen is now in Denver. The Cardinals must rely on a line of Zaven Collins, Carlos Watkins, Leki Fotu, and Jonathan Ledbetter, who combined for three sacks last season. Kicker Matt Prater, in his 17th season, hit 22-of-25 last season.

The 49ers will win the division and if Purdy can prove last season wasn’t a fluke, can make a return trip to the NFC Championship game. Seattle is poised to make another playoff run, while the Rams should close the gap to stay on their heels. The Cardinals’ roster is so thin and could end up with the worst record in the NFL.