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 equivalent to defensive finish J.J. Watt and extensive receiver A.J. Green 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 additional time, by the way in which) and the Cardinals getting into Week 6 because the league’s sole undefeated workforce.

These storylines prompted FiveThirtyEight to surprise if the NFC West is best division in NFL history. 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 turned the primary workforce in NFL historical past to win a division with a dropping document.

ESPN reporters Josh Weinfuss (Arizona Cardinals), Lindsey Thiry (Los Angeles Rams), Nick Wagoner (San Francisco 49ers) and Brady Henderson (Seattle Seahawks) reply essentially 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 offered by 5 weeks that it is the hardest division. The 49ers have misplaced three in a row and have not seemed good at instances, and the Seahawks do not seem like the Seahawks of previous. Is the NFC West an incredible division? Sure. Is it the hardest? The AFC West and NFC South could need a phrase.

Thiry: FiveThirtyEight’s argument the NFC West might be the perfect division in NFL historical past has handed the eyeball check by 5 weeks, however shifting 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 all the division within the postseason forward of 17 different groups, in keeping with ESPN’s Soccer Energy Index.

Wagoner: To this point, sure. The division was a Seattle late-game meltdown in opposition to Tennessee from turning into the primary in NFL historical past to begin the season 8-0, proving the power of the group when enjoying different NFC divisions and the AFC. The Cardinals are the NFL’s solely undefeated workforce and the Rams have a win in opposition to the defending Tremendous Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As well as, the in-division video games have largely been hotly contested. The West already seemed powerful, however the Cardinals’ emergence has taken it to a different degree.

Henderson: Properly, it is obtained extra mixed wins than some other division, and the league’s lone unbeaten workforce. So … yeah. We’ll see if the Seahawks can keep afloat and keep away from dragging issues down. Exhausting to argue this hasn’t been the perfect division to date.

How’s your quarterback?

Weinfuss: Murray has been fairly good. That was sarcasm. Murray is without doubt one of the finest in soccer proper now. He is the co-favorite with the Buffalo BillsJosh Allen for MVP in keeping with Caesars sportsbook. Statistically, he is one of many high quarterbacks within the recreation. He is a conundrum for defenses due to his potential to run, sidestep, cease, minimize, after which throw each sort of go within the e book. 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 top-of-the-line quarterbacks within the NFL.

Thiry: Stafford is delivering precisely what was anticipated when L.A. accomplished a blockbuster commerce for the veteran quarterback in the course of the offseason. Stafford’s arm, understanding of the protection and skill to throw beneath strain has enabled coach Sean McVay to open the playbook, together with explosive throws downfield the Rams lacked in current 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 workforce 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 in keeping with Stafford, even higher days lie forward. “We might 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 figuring out that my finest recreation of soccer hasn’t been performed but.”

Wagoner: The 49ers have essentially the most sophisticated 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 in opposition to Arizona when Garoppolo was coping with a proper calf damage. Lance flashed the dual-threat potential Garoppolo merely would not have, leaving many to surprise if he will increase San Francisco’s upside. Barring one other damage, it appears Garoppolo will return as starter after the Week 6 bye, however it stays to be seen for the way lengthy. If the sagging offensive manufacturing (and the accompanying sluggish begins) proceed, Lance’s time will come. That is very true if the Niners do not get their season pointed in the best course.

Henderson: It is not good in Seattle. However beneath the circumstances, it might be a lot worse. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reviews there is a robust likelihood Wilson can return in as few as 4 weeks. That stretch consists of the Seahawks’ bye in addition to two winnable video games — Sunday evening on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oct. 31 at house vs. the presently winless Jacksonville Jaguars. A Monday evening recreation in opposition to the New Orleans Saints in between can 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 indicate 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 recreation and take the strain off Smith.

What is the largest challenge dealing with every workforce?

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 workforce 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 recreation. It has been dominant. If the Cardinals can sustain that sort of offensive charge, the one factor stopping them this 12 months is staying wholesome. If they will do this, the ceiling is absolutely excessive. If they can not, an damage to key gamers might 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 major letdown in a 37-20 loss to the Cardinals. At instances, the offense, protection and particular groups seem like Tremendous Bowl-caliber items, with Stafford finishing highlight-reel throws and the protection standing robust on the purpose line, however every part has additionally been liable to letdowns and due to this fact the workforce 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 recreation.

Wagoner: The 49ers, mired in a three-game dropping streak, have had many points, however most of them appear to fall beneath the disappointing offensive efficiency umbrella. The dominant Tremendous Bowl protection of 2019 is not round anymore, that means the offense must make up the distinction. To this point, that hasn’t occurred. The Niners are nonetheless shifting 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 sluggish 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 not less than 450 yards in 4 straight video games. In accordance with ESPN Stats & Data, that is the longest streak in workforce 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 influence performs from Jamal Adams, who is not blitzing as usually. Seattle’s protection obtained 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 will pull off one other turnaround. But when Smith goes to have any likelihood at retaining them alive, it might’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 will 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 scorching final season earlier than collapsing by 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 stunned 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 not less than make issues fascinating down the stretch. | Evaluating the NFC West — Cardinals and Rams goal title; Seahawks and 49ers clear up QB quandaries


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