We previewed the NFC West on our latest "Around The League Podcast." Some big-picture thoughts are below. We've already previewed the AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, NFC East, NFC North and NFC South.
Seahawks unanimous pick to take division crown
Last year, my choice of Seattle as division champ looked bold. (And incorrect.) This year, the Seahawks are the chalk choice. All four Around The League writers picked Pete Carroll's crew to win the division, with Dan Hanzus taking the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl and Marc Sessler picking them to win the NFC.
It's amazing that the loss of Percy Harvin hasn't dimmed our projections, but this is a complete team. Russell Wilson is only going to get better; he can make Golden Tate into a star. The Seahawks have the best running back group in the NFL. The pass rush is very deep, and the secondary is littered with Pro Bowl players.
Carroll and general manager John Schneider have built to this moment for four years. It's their time.
Small decline projected for 49ers
All four of us had San Francisco in the playoffs as a wild-card team. But three of us had the 49ers falling to 10-6, a decent drop after they lost just seven games in the last two seasons combined.
A decline would be surprising in one sense because the team gets a full season of Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. But it makes sense when you consider Kaepernick's wide receiver crew and the general malaise of the 49ers' defense down the stretch last season.
The 49ers are smarter than most teams. They think differently and aren't afraid to say so. They also have a coach who finds motivation in the smallest of slights. Perhaps all the Seahawks hype will fire them up.
Tough spot for rising Rams team
Sessler chose St. Louis as a wild-card team at 9-7. I thought that would be a more trendy pick heading into this season, but playing in the NFC West makes it difficult. The Rams lost only one game in the division last season, but that's very unlikely to happen again. They also have to face the NFC South, meaning the two best divisions in football face off in the regular season. (Sorry, NFC North.)
It's also worth wondering if expectations for the Rams' offensive talent is too high. It's a very young group that will have to improve a great deal just to be average.
Cardinals aren't talent poor
Arizona has a brand new coach, general manager and coordinators, and yet this doesn't feel like a rebuilding team. Carson Palmer is better than he's given credit for and certainly is a "win-now" option rather than a long-term plan. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts help form a talented wide receiver group. On defense, Arizona boasts Pro Bowl talent like Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and soon-to-be suspended Daryl Washington.
Like the Rams, the Cardinals have an uphill battle because of their schedule. This figures to be a dangerous team. Throw them in the AFC South, and they'd have a better chance as a surprise playoff team.