The Gridiron Grind: NFC West 

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By Ron Johnson

NFC West

We continue our series by focusing on the most dysfunctional division in the NFC. The West Division saw multiple shifts and division leaders in 2022. The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks exchanged division leads all the way to the end of the season, while the Rams and Cardinals were battling for possession of the basement. This year, the rules could change, and we find out if any of these teams were a one trick pony.

NFC West Preview

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals were most likely tapping out midseason because nothing seemed to go right for them in the process. Thankfully and mercilessly, their season ended with their seventh straight loss, 38-13, to the 49ers dropping them to 4-13. Kliff Kingsbury was showed the door, and Jonathan Gannon was given the keys to the kingdom after spending the last two years with Philly as their Defensive Coordinator.

So just when we thought Arizona was ready to turn a corner, Draft Day arrived with a shocker from the franchise right off the bat. They traded away their No. 3 pick while Bleacher Brothers was on the air LIVE for the draft.

But they made up for it by getting someone that can keep Kyler Murray on his feet by drafting Paris Johnson, Jr. out of Ohio State, then switching to defense to get who they feel will be the heir apparent to J.J. Watt, BJ Ojulari out of LSU and stayed with defense by grabbing Garrett Williams from Syracuse before switching back to offense to get Stanford’s Michael Wilson, UCLA’s Jon Gaines II, and Clayton Tune from Houston.

They utilized the fifth round to add more beef to the defense in the form of Owen Pappoe from Auburn and continued in the sixth with Louisville’s Kei’Trel Clark along with West Virginia’s Dante Stills.

So there is plenty of opportunity in the desert for the Cardinals to get better and stay better. They start the season off with a visit to DC to face the Commanders before coming home for a pair of games versus the NFC East to close out September (NY Giants and Dallas). They then get their frequent flyer miles in October as they visit all three division foes (Niners, Rams and Seahawks) with a game at home against the Bengals in the middle of all that madness and the Ravens prior to Halloween.

November has a pair of home games (Falcons & Rams) and a pair of away games (Browns & Texans) that could see the Cards be either 2-2, 1-3, 0-4 or 4-0 in the Gobble Month. After some early Christmas shopping with the Steelers to open December, and a bye week in between, they host Brock Purdy and the Niners before visiting the Bears on Christmas Eve, then the Eagles on New Years’ Eve and finishing off the season at home against the Seahawks.

2023 Season Outlook: 7-10

Los Angeles Rams

Two years ago, this dream team took a page out of LeBron’s playbook and created a super team. That Super Team went on to win the Super Bowl…then they broke up leading to that Super Bowl win being nothing more than a band aid on a gunshot wound. The Rams went from top dogs to pound puppies as they finish the defense of their World Championship with a 5-12 record (with only one win on the road). As a Rams fan, I can say what no other Rams fan has the stones to say: The Rams were a dumpster fire last season with no end in sight.

Then the draft came with the Rams hoping to make some noise before they hit the field. They started with drafting TCU’s Steve Avila to help with the blocking, then replaced the departed Von Miller with Tennessee’s Byron Young, gave the REAL AD some backup in the form of Kobie Turner out of Wake Forest, went to the offensive side of the ball and got Stetson Bennett, who was fresh off a National Championship with Georgia, dug deep to get Appalachian State’s Nick Hampton to bolster up the defense, went back to the offense and to Georgia to get Warren McClendon to go with Clemson’s Davis Allen to backup Tyler Higbee, added a new weapon for Stafford and partner for Cooper Kupp in the form of BYU’s Puka Nacua, replaced Jalen Ramsey with TCU’s Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, picked up Nebraska’s Ochaun Mathis and Ole Miss’s Zach Evans before rounding off with Wingate’s Ethan Evans, Oklahoma State’s Jason Taylor II and “Mr. Irrelevant” Desjuan Johnson from Toledo.

Did you catch it all? Good, because there will be a quiz later.

 After their final preseason game in Denver, the Rams will head to the PacNorth and lock up with the Seahawks before going back to Calif to face the Niners, leading up to their Super Bowl Rematch with the Bengals, this time in Cincinnati. They open October on the road against the Colts before welcoming the NFC Champion Eagles, Cardinals and Steelers prior to their Halloween showdown with Cowboys. 

After they have an early trip to Wisconsin to face the Packers, they return home to lock up with the Seahawks, then spend Thanksgiving weekend in the desert with the Cardinals. December has them testing their road knowledge (which they need considering they only one once on it last year) as they travel to Baltimore for the Ravens, New York to face the Giants and the Bay Area to finish off with the Niners. In between those, however are games where they are hosting the Browns, Commanders and Saints.

2023 Season Outlook: 9-8 or 10-7

Seattle Seahawks

Geno Smith became the hero of the Seahawks after the departure of Russell Wilson. Besides beating Wilson in their only showdown last season, he did enough to get them into the playoffs. The team finished 9-8 to clinch a spot that was up for grabs between them and Detroit, only to lose once again to Brock Purdy and the Niners in the Wild Card Round. But if you ask Pete Carroll, it was a successful campaign considering they did lose their gunslinger prior to the season. 

And in fairness, he would be right. When it came time to fill some holes on the team, they went all out during the draft. They started by beefing up their fragile defense in the form of Devon Witherspoon (Illinois), Derick Hall (Auburn), Cameron Young (Mississippi State), Mike Morris (Michigan) and Jerrick Reed II (New Mexico). They also added some much needed help to the offense by drafting Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State), Zach Charbonnet (UCLA), Anthony Bradford (LSU), Olusegun Oluwatimi (Michigan) and Kenny McIntosh (Georgia).

If these guys can make an immediate impact, expect the Seahawks to make a return trip to the postseason and hopefully not get an early exit in the process.

They open the season against the Rams before taking a trip to Detroit to face the Lions and returning home to face the Panthers. Their next four involve two road games (@NY Giants & @Cincinnati) followed by two home games (Arizona & Cleveland). They have a trip to Baltimore to face the Ravens before returning home to face the Commanders, then another road trip, this time to LA to face the Rams then back home to face the Niners pre-Thanksgiving before ending November in Arlington to face the Cowboys.

After a late bye week, they travel to San Francisco to face the 49ers, do some last minute Christmas shopping while entertaining Philadelphia and spend Christmas Eve in Nashville against the Titans. After spending New Years’ Eve at home with the Steelers in a Super Bowl Rematch before finishing the season in the desert against the Cardinals.

2023 Season Outlook: 9-8 or 10-7

San Francisco 49ers

If you were to say that the 49ers were one win away from the Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback, let alone “Mr. Irrelevant,” I’d tell you that you were drinking heavier than I was. But that is indeed what happened with them. After losing Jimmy G at the beginning of the year, they lost Trey Lance in the middle of it and had to rely on Brock Purdy to lead them to the playoffs and beyond. They finished 13-4 (their best mark since 1998) with the NFC West Crown before losing to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.

The Niners didn’t have to really do much in regard to updating their roster, but when they did, they mastered the class exceptionally. On defense, they got Penn State’s Ji’Ayir Brown, South Alabama’s Darrell Luter, Jr., Georgia’s Robert Beal Jr., TCU’s Dee Winters and Purdue’s Jalen Graham. On offense, they drafted Alabama’s Cameron Latu, Oklahoma’s Brayden Willis and Michigan’s Ronnie Bell. Like I said, the Niners mastered the art of drafting with this pack.

The Niners open defense of their division crown on the road against the Steelers before heading to LA against the Rams. They then have their home opener against the Giants before facing the Cardinals and the Cowboys in a divisional playoff rematch. After visiting the Dawg Pound, they head to the Twin Cities in hopes of silencing the Skoal. They return home before Halloween to face the Bengals in a potential Super Bowl Preview then head to Florida to face the Jaguars and back home to face the Bucs.

They visit the Seahawks on Thanksgiving then return to Lincoln Financial Field for the first time since the NFC Championship. They open December at home against the Seahawks before visiting the Cardinals in the desert and celebrating Christmas with the Ravens at home. After a brief encounter with the Commanders in DC, they finish the season off in a potential division title showdown with the Rams at home.

2023 Season Outlook: 12-5

The team with the most pressure on their shoulders will be the Niners. After “Mr. No Longer Irrelevant” Brock Purdy surpassed all expectations last year, he will be in the hot seat this year. Not only will he be trying to prove that last season was not a fluke, but he will be trying to give Deebo Samuel a reason to stay as it is clear he may be looking elsewhere for that elusive Super Bowl Championship. Seattle will be looking to improve with Geno Smith still as starter. While Geno improved last season versus his previous seasons, the question now becomes which Geno Smith will take the field this year. 

Arizona is just hoping that the gamble they took trading off their top five pick will pay in dividends and at least have a season of promise rather than a season of paper bags. As for the Rams, they have something to prove to themselves above anyone else. People already have issues with the fact that OBJ was a one-trick pony, Von Miller ran to Buffalo without so much a thought, Baker Mayfield couldn’t handle being a backup and they made AD look like a chump after the work he put in during that Super Bowl run.

Sean McVay will have his work cut out for him as he gets a healthy Bradford and Kupp back, a primetime receiver from the draft, a defense that is hungrier than in recent memory and a fire that seems to still burn for both himself and Aaron Donald. I think the Rams want the chance to send Donald off right with another ring, but they have to mentally erase the stench of last season to get there.

I see the Rams and Seahawks splitting their series, but again, the pressure will be on the 49ers since they managed to get all this done with their rookie quarterback who got bumrushed in the NFC Championship by the Eagles. 

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