NFL: 2022 NFC West Preview

Written by Jake Bowtell & Jack Johnston (@thejbse on Twitter)

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ARIZONA CARDINALS (Jake)

Last season

The Cardinals got off to a scorching start in 2021, with 7 consecutive wins leaving them as one of the NFL’s hottest teams. Thereafter, things soured significantly as the team collapsed to a 4-6 record through the final 10 games, before being ruthlessly dispatched by the Rams in the first week of playoffs.

NFL

Team Ins & Outs

The Cardinals saw the departure of WR Christian Kirk to the Jaguars during the off-season, as well as DE Chandler Jones to the Raiders. Arizona added signings of their own, in LB Nick Vigil and OL Will Hernandez, while using their 1st Rd draft pick to trade for Kyler Murray’s former Oklahoma Sooners teammate, WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Speaking of Murray, the Cardinals did big business with their QB this off-season, signing Kyler to a 5 year $230M deal that included $160M guaranteed.

NFL

The Big Question

Can Cardinals Coach Kliff Kingsbury (apologies for the gratuitous alliteration) figure out these second half of the season slumps that have plagued his teams dating back to his days coaching at Texas Tech? Between the contract clause circus with Kyler and the team, DeAndre Hopkins’ PED suspension and Hollywood Brown’s criminal speeding arrest, this team needs to find some consistency of performance on the field, or else the whole Kingsbury Kingdom might just collapse out there in the deserts of Arizona. It’s not an easy start to the season either, with the Chiefs, Raiders and Rams on the schedule.

AZS

LA RAMS (Jack)

Last season

Winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate result so it wouldn’t be unfair to say the Rams had a perfect season. A 3 game losing streak in November left their record at 12-5, but otherwise the Rams were dominant. Their strategy of acquiring known commodities like Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham Jr and LB Von Miller in exchange for draft capital paid off on the biggest stage of all, defeating the upstart Bengals to claim the Lombardi trophy.

NFL

Team Ins & Outs

However, just as big-name talent can walk in the door, it can also walk out. The Rams farewell LB Von Miller and WR Odell Beckham Jr after just one season for at So-Fi, while, WR Robert Woods and CB Darious Williams also depart. The Rams stuck to what they know in attempting to fill those voids, hitting the free agency market to acquire former Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner and Bears WR Allen Robinson. What juice these guys have left in the tank remains to be seen, but so far Les Snead and Sean McVay have compiled a pretty impeccable record evaluating the experienced talent they bring into the squad.

RW

The Big Question

While last season’s team-building strategy bore the sweetest fruit of all for LA, the question now is what future ramifications that strategy could have on the team? Of course, with a Super Bowl already in the cabinet, there isn’t much to complain about. But this is an ambitious group of coaches and players, and the Rams will be eager to show that 2021 wasn’t one big swing, that they can repeat with a different coaching staff, a different roster and a quarterback with, reportedly, lingering elbow pain from the playoffs. If they had a ton of cap room or a load of picks to fall back on, you might not be worried about this franchise. But what you see is what you get, these guys have to deliver.

CNN

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (Jake)

Last season

The 49ers got off to a rocky start in 2021, owning a 3-5 record as they welcomed the LA Rams in Week 10. San Francisco dunked on the Rams 30-10 in that match, and the result kick-started a run of 7 wins in 9 games as Kyle Shanahan’s team emerged from the ashes to make a deep run in the playoffs, including road victories over the Cowboys and Packers. The season came to an end with a bitter 20-17 defeat at the hands of those pesky Rams in the NFC Championship Game.

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Team Ins & Outs

With no 1st Rd pick in 2022 due to the move up to select Trey Lance last season, the 49ers weren’t splashy Draft contributors, though they did attempt to stack more talent on defense with the 2nd Rd selection of USC LB Drake Jackson. They nabbed the signing of CB Charvarius Ward, formerly of the Chiefs, while last year’s starting Centre, Alex Mack, departed via retirement. The biggest move of the San Fran off-season came when the team agreed to terms on a 3-year $71.5M extension with dynamic offensive weapon Deebo Samuel.

PFF

The Big Question

Does Kyle Shanahan finally have his man at QB? The 49ers gave up a King’s ransom of 1st Rd draft capital to acquire North Dakota State University’s Trey Lance last season, a toolsy, raw talent forecasted to have Josh Allen type potential. We saw glimpses of that ceiling in sporadic relief appearances last season, the young QB starting a couple of games and displaying the canon arm and elusive play-making ability he was drafted for. He was also extremely inconsistent with his decision-making and execution, but that’s not exactly unexpected from a rookie QB who played just 19 games of college football. It’s a nervous wait for 49ers fans to see if their coaching staff can mould that potential into performance in 2022. What impact the presence of Jimmy Garoppalo has on the 2nd year rookie remains to be seen.

NFL

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (Jack)

Last season

The Seahawks were a shadow of their former selves last season. With the worst defense in the league and an offense that was just barely kept afloat by a struggling Russell Wilson, Seattle suffered the only losing season of the Danger-Russ era. A tough NFC West Division meant that they faced torrid competition routinely, but even outside of their own neighbourhood of opponents they were poor. In fact, you could argue a 7-10 record was extremely flattering on the Seahawks.

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Team Ins & Outs

It’s a new era without Russell Wilson, who left during the off-season for Denver. The Seahawks are going to look new, and significantly weakened, on offense as Geno Smith takes the reins. TE Noah Fant might end up being the more significant player to come to Seattle out of the Wilson trade, as QB Drew Lock failed to win the starting job. Long-time LB Bobby Wagner jaunts off to Divisional rivals the Rams, while RB Chris Carson was forced into an early retirement. In the Draft the Seahawks saw about strengthening their offensive line, taking OT Charles Cross 9th overall. Ironic, given that a lack of protection was rumoured to be one of the sore-points that led to Russell Wilson’s departure.

ESPN

The Big Question

How will the Seahawks establish themselves in the league without Wilson? With the obvious lack of talent at the QB position, Seattle now faces the challenge of establishing a new identity in the NFL and getting back towards competing in this Division. How much quickly can that process be undertaken? Will it be this season or are they now years away from being a contending football team again? Might they have to wait for Pete Carroll to leave the organisation before they can truly move forward and redefine who and what they are? There are undoubtedly more questions than answers as things stand for the Seahawks in 2022.

FOX

Jack’s Prediction:

1. Rams

2. 49ers

3. Cardinals

4. Seahawks

Jake’s Prediction:
1. 49ers

2. Rams

3. Cardinals

4. Seahawks

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