Evaluating the NFC West: Cardinals and Rams target title; Seahawks and 49ers solve QB quandaries


The hype that got here with the NFC West was inevitable, actually.

It began within the offseason, when the Los Angeles Rams made a blockbuster commerce for quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Arizona Cardinals added large names resembling defensive finish J.J. Watt and vast receiver A.J. Inexperienced to a combination that already included quarterback Kyler Murray, receiver DeAndre Hopkins and outdoors linebacker Chandler Jones.

Add within the San Francisco 49ers, the 2019 NFC champions, getting wholesome over the offseason and the star energy of quarterback Russell Wilson and coach Pete Carroll for the defending division champion Seattle Seahawks, and we knew this season had potential. And it has been enjoyable, beginning with the division going a mixed 7-1 over the primary two weeks (the loss was in extra time, by the way in which) and the Cardinals getting into Week 6 because the league’s sole undefeated staff.

These storylines prompted FiveThirtyEight to marvel if the NFC West is greatest division in NFL historical past. Whereas that can play out finally, we all know {that a}) the NFC West can ball and b) that it is shifted 180 levels from the place it was in 2010, when the Seahawks grew to become the primary staff in NFL historical past to win a division with a shedding file.

ESPN reporters Josh Weinfuss (Arizona Cardinals), Lindsey Thiry (Los Angeles Rams), Nick Wagoner (San Francisco 49ers) and Brady Henderson (Seattle Seahawks) reply probably the most urgent questions within the division:

Has the NFC West lived as much as its preseason billing because the hardest division?

Weinfuss: It is actually good however I am not bought by way of 5 weeks that it is the hardest division. The 49ers have misplaced three in a row and have not appeared good at instances, and the Seahawks do not seem like the Seahawks of previous. Is the NFC West an important division? Sure. Is it the hardest? The AFC West and NFC South might need a phrase.

Thiry: FiveThirtyEight’s argument the NFC West might be the very best division in NFL historical past has handed the eyeball take a look at by way of 5 weeks, however transferring ahead it appears disputable provided that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is sidelined indefinitely and 49ers quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance are additionally coping with accidents. However, all 4 groups have higher than a 25% likelihood to make the playoffs, placing your complete division within the postseason forward of 17 different groups, based on ESPN’s Soccer Energy Index.

Wagoner: Up to now, sure. The division was a Seattle late-game meltdown towards Tennessee from changing into the primary in NFL historical past to begin the season 8-0, proving the energy of the group when enjoying different NFC divisions and the AFC. The Cardinals are the NFL’s solely undefeated staff and the Rams have a win towards the defending Tremendous Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As well as, the in-division video games have principally been hotly contested. The West already appeared robust, however the Cardinals’ emergence has taken it to a different stage.

Henderson: Properly, it is acquired extra mixed wins than another division, and the league’s lone unbeaten staff. So … yeah. We’ll see if the Seahawks can keep afloat and keep away from dragging issues down. Onerous to argue this hasn’t been the very best division thus far.

How’s your quarterback?

Weinfuss: Murray has been fairly good. That was sarcasm. Murray is without doubt one of the greatest in soccer proper now. He is the co-favorite with the Buffalo Payments’ Josh Allen for MVP based on Caesars sportsbook. Statistically, he is one of many high quarterbacks within the sport. He is a conundrum for defenses due to his potential to run, sidestep, cease, minimize, after which throw each kind of go within the ebook. There is not a lot he cannot do bodily. So long as he stays wholesome, which was the difficulty final season throughout Arizona’s 3-6 end, Murray will proceed being among the finest quarterbacks within the NFL.

Thiry: Stafford is delivering precisely what was anticipated when L.A. accomplished a blockbuster commerce for the veteran quarterback through the offseason. Stafford’s arm, understanding of the protection and skill to throw underneath stress has enabled coach Sean McVay to open the playbook, together with explosive throws downfield the Rams lacked in latest seasons. By way of a 4-1 begin, Stafford has handed for 1,587 yards, the third-most within the NFL and the fourth-most by any participant throughout his first 5 video games with a staff in NFL historical past. He has accomplished 4 passes for 40-plus air yards, regardless of having 5 such completions final season with the Detroit Lions. And based on Stafford, even higher days lie forward. “We would like to be 5-0,” he mentioned after a 26-17 Week 5 win over division rival Seattle. “However we’re the place we’re, and I believe the enjoyable factor is being 4-1 and realizing that my greatest sport of soccer hasn’t been performed but.”

Wagoner: The 49ers have probably the most difficult quarterback dynamic within the league, not simply the division. Coach Kyle Shanahan has caught by his phrase that Garoppolo would be the starter, with rookie Lance getting situational snaps. Lance made his first begin towards Arizona when Garoppolo was coping with a proper calf damage. Lance flashed the dual-threat potential Garoppolo merely would not have, leaving many to marvel if he will increase San Francisco’s upside. Barring one other damage, it appears Garoppolo will return as starter after the Week 6 bye, nevertheless it stays to be seen for a way lengthy. If the sagging offensive manufacturing (and the accompanying gradual begins) proceed, Lance’s time will come. That is very true if the Niners do not get their season pointed in the proper path.

Henderson: It is not good in Seattle. However underneath the circumstances, it might be a lot worse. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reviews there is a sturdy likelihood Wilson can return in as few as 4 weeks. That stretch contains the Seahawks’ bye in addition to two winnable video games — Sunday night time on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oct. 31 at residence vs. the at the moment winless Jacksonville Jaguars. A Monday night time sport towards the New Orleans Saints in between shall be tougher. However backup quarterback Geno Smith is competent sufficient and the schedule is favorable sufficient to suppose the Seahawks have an opportunity at rising from that three-game stretch at 4-4. They’d want their protection to point out up and working again Chris Carson to remain wholesome — he missed final week with a neck damage — so the Seahawks can lean on the working sport and take the stress off Smith.

What is the greatest challenge dealing with every staff?

Weinfuss: Accidents for the Cardinals. By way of a 5-0 begin, Arizona has proven the NFL that it has the offense and protection to win large. This staff would not have many, if any, main weaknesses. Till scoring simply 17 to squeeze out a win over the 49ers on Sunday, Arizona was averaging 35 factors a sport. It has been dominant. If the Cardinals can sustain that kind of offensive price, the one factor stopping them this 12 months is staying wholesome. If they’ll try this, the ceiling is admittedly excessive. If they cannot, an damage to key gamers may cease the momentum earlier than it actually will get going.

Thiry: Inconsistency for the Rams. Every week after an emotional 34-24 win over the Buccaneers, the Rams suffered a big letdown in a 37-20 loss to the Cardinals. At instances, the offense, protection and particular groups seem like Tremendous Bowl-caliber models, with Stafford finishing highlight-reel throws and the protection standing sturdy on the aim line, however every part has additionally been liable to letdowns and due to this fact the staff has needed to grind out what gamers described as ugly wins in Indianapolis and Seattle. For the Rams to realize their full potential and forge a deep playoff and Tremendous Bowl run, they have to persistently put together week-to-week and develop the power to play persistently in all three phases all through a sport.

Wagoner: The 49ers, mired in a three-game shedding streak, have had many points, however most of them appear to fall underneath the disappointing offensive efficiency umbrella. The dominant Tremendous Bowl protection of 2019 is not round anymore, which means the offense must make up the distinction. Up to now, that hasn’t occurred. The Niners are nonetheless transferring the ball pretty persistently however are missing large performs (their 15 performs of 20-plus yards are tied for twenty seventh within the league) and have been getting off to painfully gradual begins. Within the 4 video games after Week 1, the Niners have scored a mixed 21 first-half factors. Irrespective of who’s at quarterback, the Niners want extra from everybody on the offense, Garoppolo and Lance included.

Henderson: It is Wilson’s damage for the Seahawks, however we’ll get to that in a second. As a result of except Seattle can repair its damaged protection, it will not matter how lengthy it takes Wilson to get again. The Seahawks have allowed at the very least 450 yards in 4 straight video games. Based on ESPN Stats & Data, that is the longest streak in staff historical past and tied for the longest in NFL historical past. The problems are throughout the board: problematic cornerback play, an underperforming go rush, not sufficient takeaways and never sufficient impression performs from Jamal Adams, who is not blitzing as typically. Seattle’s protection acquired off to a different traditionally dangerous begin final 12 months, and it lasted longer than this one has earlier than it did a 180 round midseason. The impetus was the go rush getting going. The Seahawks have as a lot firepower as final 12 months, which suggests they’ll pull off one other turnaround. But when Smith goes to have any likelihood at preserving them alive, it will probably’t wait till midseason. It has to occur now.

How will the division shake out?

Weinfuss order of end: Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, Niners. The Cardinals will not simply win the division — they’re going to be one of many high two seeds within the NFC.

Thiry order of end: Cardinals, Rams, 49ers, Seahawks. The Cardinals will win the division. It stays a considerably dangerous decide, given Kliff Kingsbury’s squad began sizzling final season earlier than collapsing by way of the second half of the schedule. Murray is enjoying terrific with one other season of expertise and the protection has tightened up.

Wagoner order of end: Rams, Cardinals, 49ers, Seahawks. The Rams and Cardinals attain the postseason however do not be shocked if the third-place finisher right here does, too.

Henderson order of end: Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, 49ers. The Seahawks will get Wilson again and repair their protection in time to at the very least make issues fascinating down the stretch.

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