NFC West – Excuse me

The biggest questions for every NFL Team.  

One division at a time.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

Just exactly how quickly can the Murray-Hopkins connection turn into one of the league’s best? 

We all know that the Texans botched the trade and gave the Cardinals one of the game’s best receivers for a song.  That’s not Arizona’s fault.  They’d have been fools to think twice about bringing Hopkins in for a sporadically used running back and a second draft pick.  With the addition of Hopkins and a very solid draft, Arizona looks to be better in 2020. 

Lots better. 

The only question is this: with the current situation, will Murray and Hopkins be able to get on the same page before the season starts?

We know that OTAs will be limited somewhat, and who knows what camps and preseason games will look like, if they even happen.  Is Hopkins the sort or receiver who needs thousands of practice reps to do his thing?  No, but Kyler Murray is a young quarterback who’ll need to get used to his new weapon’s quickness, reach and route running.  I don’t see any scenario where Hopkins doesn’t improve Arizona’s offense, but how effective the duo becomes this season could depend on how much time they can spend together before the real games get rolling.  

Los Angeles Rams

Aside from Aaron Donald, who can provide some flash for the Rams defense?

Obviously Aaron Donald is one of the most dominant defensive forces in years.  He’s an inside rusher that compresses pockets and creates pressure even when offensive lines have the edges on lockdown.  He’s a force of nature that effects every single snap.  That being said, his presence likely isn’t enough if the Rams don’t have some heat off the edge to keep him from getting triple-teamed.  He also needs affair to middling secondary to give him time to create that interior pressure.  Without those two things, his efforts might not amount to much in the win-loss column. 

Dante Fowler is gone, and so is Cory Littleton, both exiting in free agency.  Will Michael Brockers step up if his ankle stays healthy?  What about former first-round pick Leonard Floyd, who the Bears let walk instead of picking up the fifth-year option?  Can he be a spark in his new uniform after four unremarkable seasons in Chicago?  Sean McVay and new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley would love to see him flash the kind of dominance that made him a top-ten pick back in 2016.  They’d love him to improve on his career-high seven sacks from last season and give defenses something else to worry about.  

San Francisco 49ers

Can San Francisco avoid the inevitable post-Super Bowl-loss let down? 

Unable to contain Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, the Niners have the unenviable task of trying to get back to the big show not after a win, but after a crushing loss in which they built a ten point lead in the third quarter, only to give up more than twice as many points in the fourth quarter (21) than they had in the first three quarters of the game.  Sadly, it wasn’t a first for Niners coach Kyle Shanahan, whose Falcons suffered a similar meltdown against the Patriots a few years back. 

Teams rarely rebound well after Super Bowl losses, the rare exception being the Buffalo Bills of the late eighties/early nineties, who managed to get to and lose four straight big games.  Oddly enough, all of those losses came at the hands of NFC East opponents.  Twice to the Cowboys, and once each to the Redskins and Giants. 

But I digress. 

The point is, the Niners have a tough road ahead of them in a tricky division and a top-heavy conference. 

Can the Niners repeat as NFC champs?  I believe that they can for two reasons.  First, they have an elite defense that returns most of its core while adding tremendous rookie DT Javon Kinlaw, and second, they have a young quarterback who should be buoyed by the acquisition of a true number one wide receiver, Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk.  On paper, I don’t expect that the Niners to take a big step back this season, but it’s almost impossible to tell how the loss will affect the morale in the locker room.  

Seattle Seahawks

Can they repeat last season’s playoff run?

This may seem like a vague and non-specific question, and it is.  But I have my reasons. 

Bear with me. 

Sure, they won a road playoff game against the probably shouldn’t have been there Eagles, but the Seahawks just weren’t as good as the 11-5 record that got them the wildcard.  In the hunt for the postseason, Seattle lost three of their last four games, including losses to the Rams and Cardinals.  More importantly, Seattle won a lot of close games.  Waaaaay too many close games.  Games that shouldn’t have been very close for a playoff-bound team. 

Don’t believe me? 

Cool.  How about this, the Seahawks squeaked out ten of their eleven wins by a one-score margin, including one-point wins over the Rams and Bengals.  Yes, those Bengals.  Seattle boasted the second-worst point differential among all playoff teams at +7.  The only team worse was the Texans, whose Jekyll and Hyde nature had them winning the AFC South at -7. 

So, if we’re cool with the fact that Seattle was an 8-8 or 9-7 team that overperformed because of Russell Wilson reasons, did they improve in the offseason?  Pete Carroll seemed like he was trying to be clever in the draft, ignoring team need and focusing on lesser-known talent, as a result, I gave the Seahawks the lowest grade in the division.  Add on a mediocre free agency period where the Seahawks saw a lot of talent exit, highlighted by Jadaveon Clowney refusing a one-year $15 million deal to return, and it’s highly unlikely that Seattle can catch lightning in a bottle again next year.  

For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.

Image Source: AP Images

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