There are plenty of arguing points to suggest the National Football Conference Western Division is the toughest in the National Football League.
This offseason, those arguments have added talking points.
The four teams comprising the NFC West are the Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals. Only the 49ers from this quartet finished the 2021 regular season with a losing record and two, the Rams and Seahawks, advanced to the postseason.
The Rams, who have by most accounts the best defense in the NFL and have been one of the highest scoring teams in the league over the past three seasons, added veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford to their arsenal. Stafford was a one-time first overall pick in the NFL draft, and he replaces another overall number one selection, Jared Goff, who the Rams jettisoned to the Detroit Lions in the acquisition of Stafford.
Consider the Rams a top threat to replace the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as defending Super Bowl Champions next year.
Now, the Cardinals have reportedly added defensive stud J.J. Watt to their roster. If you are wondering how the Houston Texans have gone from a playoff participant two seasons ago to an also-ran now, consider two of their three best players from recent seasons are now wearing Arizona uniforms, DeAndre Hopkins and Watt. This while the Texans are still rumored to perhaps be parting ways with their other “best player”, quarterback Deshaun Watson.
While the Texans drop like an anvil off a roof, the Cardinals add defensive prowess to a team with one of the most dynamic young quarterbacks in the league, Kyler Murray.
The Cardinals also have something else going for them entering the 2021 season, they were competitive last year but missed the playoffs. From a season-to-season motivational perspective this is a plus. A young team that is inexperienced at winning, like Arizona, often has a letdown the year after they first crack the playoff field following years of inept play. The Cardinals missing the postseason last year adds fuel to their motivational tanks for the coming season.
Okay, the Cardinals are going to be good, maybe great, this coming season.
They also could end up finishing the season in the cellar of the NFC West.
The Seattle Seahawks, who will in all likelihood work out their current negotiations with quarterback Russell Wilson, are again a threat to win it all. Two years ago, when the San Francisco 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl, the Seahawks missed by inches of winning the NFC West over the 49ers. Last year, they won the West but lost their opening playoff game to the Rams.
Which brings us to San Francisco.
They went from winning the NFC and leading into the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LIV, a game eventually won by the Kansas City Chiefs, to dropping to the cellar last year in their division. The 49ers difficulties were not only attached to the problems Super Bowl losers historically have the following season, but more injuries than any team has experienced in recent memory.
There is no reason not to think that the 49ers will be back in contention next season. Often, a Super Bowl loser, who then has a down year, will follow that off campaign with a solid season. That is what happened to the Rams, who lost the Super Bowl three years ago, were out of the postseason in 2019, and advanced to the Divisional Round last season.
Who has the most to lose though no fault of their own by the apparent strength of the NFC West next year?
The AFC South.
Because by the luck of the draw, it is their year to play the NFC West in 2021.
That’s right, the division home to the Houston Texans also gets saddled with four opponents that the Texans have little chance to compete against.
From a year-to-year flow, the Texans drop while the NFC West gets a lot better.