The NFL’s two westernmost divisions still look like the best of the league. We’ve already previewed the AFC West, which brings us to the home of the 2021 Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams: the NFC West.
With some luck, any—and maybe even all—of the four teams could make the playoffs, although that may be particularly difficult for Seattle. More realistically, the Rams, Cardinals, and 49ers will be battling it out for two playoff spots. As always, the rivalries in the division run deep and any of the teams can beat each other, so their seasons will come down to how they play in their other games. So, without further delay, here is my breakdown of each team, in reverse order of their predicted finish.
2021 Record: 7-10; 4th in the NFC West.
With Russell Wilson heading to the Broncos (and signing a huge contract), the Seahawks have completely turned away from the players from their recent period of dominance (head coach Pete Carroll is still calling the shots though). Weirdly, the loss of Wilson feels like a net gain for the team, even though they don’t currently have a functional passer to play at quarterback. Drew Lock and Geno Smith aren’t the answer, but the last few years showed that—at least in Seattle—neither was Russell, so by moving on the team seems to have made the best decision both for the long term and maybe even for this season.
2022 Draft Picks:
Round 1 (No. 9 overall, from Broncos) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Round 2 (40, from Broncos) – Boye Mafe, LB, Minnesota
Round 2 (41) – Ken Walker III, RB, Michigan State
Round 3 (72) – Abraham Lucas, OT, Washington State
Round 4 (109, from Jets) – Coby Bryant, CB, Cincinnati
Round 5 (153) – Tariq Woolen, CB, Texas-San Antonio
Round 5 (158, from Dolphins through Patriots and Chiefs) – Tyreke Smith, DE, Ohio State
Round 7 (229) – Bo Melton, WR, Rutgers
Round 7 (233, from Dolphins through Chiefs) – Dareke Young, WR, Lenoir-Rhyne
Carroll. Pete may have a Super Bowl to his name (and another one that at least Marshawn Lynch thinks the coach cost the team by himself), but his style has not been meshing well with the younger team. Now with the defense turned over and his old QB gone, it will be up to Carroll to show he has the ability to adapt with the team, and he has shown little ability to do that in the past.
The rest of the division is too strong for a rebuilding team without a viable quarterback to seriously compete, so the Seahawks will once again come in last place. I think that they will rally a bit and flirt with going over .500 and with a playoff spot, but in the end, will just miss out on both. After the season, both Caroll and GM John Schneider will retire and the turnover from the days of the Legion of Boom will be complete.
2022 record prediction: 8-9; 4th in NFC West
2021 Record: 11-6. Second place in the division. Lost to the Rams in the wild-card round.
Is Kyler Murray the answer? After what seemed like a good chance that the team would move on from the young star, the Cardinals decided in the offseason that Murray was their guy. Now the question is whether or not Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury can actually lead the team over the hump. For the first half of the 2021 season, the Cards seemed like one of the best teams in the league and Murray was nearly unstoppable. Then things changed. The team barely made the playoffs and was quickly dispatched by their division rivals. When Murray is not able to run, either by design or because of injury, the team just looks disjointed. It will be up to Kingsbury (who himself has had a lot of hype over the years with limited results to show for it) to take this team up a notch. Particularly with the Rams coming back strong and the 49ers looking solid coming off their own playoff run, the season could also easily spiral out of control if the Cardinals start slow.
2022 Draft Picks:
Round 2 (No. 55 overall) – Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State
Round 3 (87) – Cameron Thomas, DE, San Diego State
Round 3 (100, special compensatory, from Ravens) – Myjai Sanders, DE, Cincinnati
Round 6 (201) – Keaontay Ingram, RB, USC
Round 6 (215, compensatory) – Lecitus Smith, OG, Virginia Tech
Round 7 (244) – Christian Matthew, CB, Valdosta State
Round 7 (256, compensatory) – Jesse Luketa, LB, Penn State
Round 7 (257, compensatory) – Marquis Hayes, OG, Oklahoma
Murray. The team gave the QB the money to keep him around, now he has to show he has staying power, improve his accuracy in the passing game, and recover fully from the leg injury that nearly derailed the Cardinals down the stretch last season.
Aside from the questions about Murray, the team looks solid heading into the season. I think their upside remains limited and the division is too difficult for them to get a great position out of it. With the Rams holding strong and an already strong San Francisco squad looking to take a step up, I think the Rams wind up the last team out of the playoffs.
2022 record prediction: 10-7; 3rd in NFC West
San Francisco 49ers
2021 Record: 10-7. 3rd place in the NFC West, beat Dallas and Green Bay in playoffs before losing to Rams in the NFC Championship game.
In 2021 the 49ers turned what was looking like a lost season into an NFC Championship game berth and a close loss to their division rivals in Los Angeles. The team rallied behind embattled quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo—while still not asking him to actually do anything—to pull off unexpected wins in the first two rounds of the playoffs. GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have built a strong core, but the team is wildly unpredictable from season to season. The last four years have seen the team either make NFC championship game appearances (2019, 2021) or miss the playoffs entirely (2018, 2020).
2022 Draft Picks:
Round 2 (No. 61 overall) – Drake Jackson, LB/DE, USC
Round 3 (93) – Ty Davis-Price, RB, LSU
Round 3 (105, special compensatory) – Danny Gray, WR, SMU
Round 4 (134) – Spencer Burford, OT, Texas-San Antonio
Round 5 (172) – Samuel Womack, CB, Toledo
Round 6 (187, from Broncos) – Nick Zakelj, OT, Fordham
Round 6 (220, compensatory) – Kalia Davis, DT, UCF
Round 6 (221, compensatory) – Tariq Castro-Fields, CB, Penn State
Round 7 (262, compensatory) – Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State
Is Trey Lance ready to play? Lance was drafted to anchor the franchise in this new era but so far has barely seen the field. The franchise is clearly ready to move on from the limited Garoppolo, but it remains to be seen if Lance is the answer. If he isn’t, the team could easily face a steep drop.
Lance finally takes over and some of the issues, like star “slash” WR Deebo Samuel’s unhappiness and TE George Kittle’s tendency to disappear due to injury, are suddenly lessened. Coach Kyle Shannahan still has the upper hand over McVay in the regular season and they wind up coming just a single game away from grabbing the division title.
2022 record prediction: 12-5; 2nd in NFC West
Los Angeles Rams
2021 Record: 12-5; 1st in the NFC West, Super Bowl Champions.
The Rams finally won it all under head coach Sean McVay after basically selling the farm to make sure it could happen. McVay’s offense took a significant step up with the arrival of QB Matthew Stafford. With Stafford at the helm, Cooper Kupp looked like an MVP and the entire field was opened up in a way that allowed McVay’s full playbook to be available. Stafford has his own issues from time to time—he threw a league-leading 17 interceptions, usually trying to force the ball into windows that are too small—as he has done since his time at the University of Georgia.
2022 Draft Picks:
Round 3 (No. 104 overall, special compensatory) – Logan Bruss, OG, Wisconsin
Round 4 (142, compensatory) – Decobie Durant, CB, South Carolina State
Round 5 (164, from Patriots through Raiders) – Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame
Round 6 (211, compensatory) – Quentin Lake, S, UCLA
Round 6 (212, compensatory) – Derion Kendrick, CB, Georgia
Round 7 (235, from Ravens through Jaguars and Buccaneers) – Daniel Hardy, DE, Montana State
DE Aaron Donald is still considered by many to be the best player in football and he is back to anchor the defense, but after finally winning it all last season many people predicted he would retire. He will be back (and has been fired up in practice), but there are questions about how much he might be interested in putting his body on the line after officially cementing his place in the all-time annals. The team is mostly the same since GM Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay didn’t want to mess with a winning formula, but that also means everyone is older. Also, after having gone all-in to win, the cupboard is pretty bare for the future. But the team is still in “win now” mode, and luckily, they have the talent to do just that.
There hasn’t been a repeat champion in the NFL since the 2003-04 New England Patriots (Super Bowls 38 and 39) and I don’t think the Rams will be able to pull that off, but with McVay at the helm, Stafford running the offense, and Donald mastering the defense, they should be right in the mix again.
2022 record prediction: 13-4; 1st in NFC West