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Last year, we saw a shift in the NFC West when Matthew Stafford was traded from the Detroit Lions to the Los Angeles Rams. With the additions of Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller, they became Super Bowl Champions. This year, a few more teams look different and could shake up the division.
In Arizona, Kyler Murray and company are looking to show that they are a serious contender and can finish a season strong. In San Francisco, no more Jimmy Garoppolo but the future,Trey Lance is looking to prove that the 49ers made the right decision. Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner are no longer in Seattle but there are so many players that have a chance to prove their worth and maybe restart their career.
All four teams are full of players that want to make a statement, whether proving that they are contenders, that they belong in the NFL or that the year before wasn’t a fluke.
Record In 2021: 11-6
Key Player: Linebacker – Isaiah Simmons
Player To Watch: Wide Receiver – Marquise Brown
Last year, Arizona started the season 7-0 and looked like early Super Bowl favorites but injuries and inconsistent play had them finish the regular season at 4-6. This year, they haven’t only lost Pro Bowl defensive end Chandler Jones, but DeAndre Hopkins will be suspended for the first six games of the regular season (violating the league’s performance-enhancement drug policy).
Murray finally got his big payday and now the pressure might wear on him even more than last year. Without his No.1 receiver for the first six games, A.J. Green and Brown have to step up and shoulder the load. Brown is finally in an offense that will showcase his talent, and if he and Murray can rekindle that chemistry they once had in college together, then they might not miss a beat.
On defense, can J.J. Watt stay healthy for at least 75% of the season? If Simmons can take the next step and become the face of the defense, the Cardinals might have a chance to regain their dominance. Add the stellar play of Budda Baker and they have the opportunity to compete with anyone. Prediction: 10-7
Los Angeles Rams
Record In 2021: 12-5
Key Player: Tackle – Joe Noteboom
Player To Watch: Wide Receiver – Allen Robinson
The Los Angeles Rams are transitioning from chasing a Super Bowl to now being the hunted. Whether they’re still hungry for another ring or satisfied with the one will determine how far they will go.
You rarely hear that the reigning Super Bowl Championship team gets better the next season but that might be the case, at least on defense. They lost future Hall of Famer linebacker Von Miller to free agency (Buffalo Bills) but they added six-time All-Pro Bobby Wagner. The talent is the least of what they will get from Wagner. His leadership and experience will bolster this defense.
Now having possibly a top three player at their position at every level of the defense, which includes Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, this defense might be the strength of the team.
Offensively, the Rams lost wide receivers Odell Beckham and Robert Woods but gained Allen Robinson. They get a healthy Cam Akers back at running back, which should balance out the passing game. However, the biggest lost was offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth retiring. Left tackle Joe Noteboom takes over at that spot and it will be vital for him to play well and keep Stafford clean and not rushing. Prediction: 12-5
San Francisco 49ers
Record In 2021: 10-7
Key Player: Quarterback – Trey Lance
Player To Watch: Defensive Tackle – Javon Kinlaw
It’s rare that you see a quarterback that took a team to the NFC Championship who is fairly young get replaced for a second year player.
Trey Lance takes over as the quarterback for the 49ers and has all the confidence from his teammates and coaching staff. Although he’s not expected to shoulder all the weight of the offense, he definitely has the talent to do so.
Wide receiver Deebo Samuels will help bring along Lance by being a jack of all trades. Lance won’t have to do too much to be successful, especially with Samuels being able to take a quick screen, quick slant or HB sweep or dive 50-plus yards for a touchdown.
The defense looks to be fully healthy again, anchored by Pro Bowl defensive end Nick Bosa and linebacker Fred Warner. There’s one player that the 49ers are hoping bounces back from injury and plays to his potential: Javon Kinlaw. Kinlaw only played four games last year because of injury. If he becomes a factor up front, this defense can return to form as the best defense in the NFL. Prediction: 11-6
Record In 2021: 7-10
Key Player: Quarterback – Geno Smith/ Drew Lock
Player To Watch: Linebacker – Jordyn Brooks
Let’s be real, the Seahawks had one of the worst offseasons a team could have. They lost Wilson, Wagner and Chris Carson, who retired due to a neck injury. Arguably, their three best players have to be replaced by others who aren’t even close to their level.
They still have talent on the team but making a playoff run isn’t really attainable. Their receiving core is still intact with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett but you now have Geno Smith and Drew Lock battling to be the No.1 quarterback. At the running back position, Rashaad Penny, Kenneth Walker III and Homer Travis all have talent but are they able to shoulder the load?
Defensively, they still have Jamal Adams at safety as their leader but it gets kind of thin after him. Jordyn Brooks is looking to make a name for himself by being able to quarterback the team from the linebacker position. With not a lot of experience defensively, it just seems like this is a rebuild season. Prediction: 5-12