Just like last season, the NFC West is set to be one of the strongest divisions in the NFL. With last year’s Super Bowl winners, a team that both appeared in last year’s NFC Championship Game and represented the NFC in Super Bowl 54, as well as a team with a budding superstar quarterback and plenty of weapons, the NFC West has three teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.
The Los Angeles Rams are loaded with talent from top to bottom, even after losing Von Miller, Robert Woods, and possibly Odell Beckham Jr. in the offseason. Matthew Stafford will look to lead the Rams to another NFC West title and defend Los Angeles’ Super Bowl status in the postseason. The San Francisco 49ers are immensely talented as well, but seem to be transitioning to Trey Lance at quarterback. The Arizona Cardinals have started hot then faded for two straight seasons, but last year’s team was far better than the year before. Can Kyler Murray take an even bigger jump in Year Three?
The only team I haven’t mentioned yet is the Seattle Seahawks: an NFC West powerhouse for nearly a decade. But without Russell Wilson, I just can’t see the Seahawks competing with the top three teams in this division.
Who will win the NFC West in 2022-23? How many teams will the division send to the playoffs? Read on for my predictions, and if you’d like to debate or discuss any predictions, join the conversation with @SakSports on Twitter.
1. Los Angeles Rams (12-5)
The Los Angeles Rams put together the best all-around roster in the NFL and fittingly won the Super Bowl over the Cincinnati Bengals last season. Trading for Matthew Stafford proved to be the final piece to the puzzle, with the former Detroit Lions quarterback orchestrating an immensely talented array of players. Pro Bowlers and All-Pro’s line up all over the defensive side of the ball. Los Angeles won Super Bowl 56 for a reason: from top to bottom, the Rams had very good football players.
Los Angeles returns the majority of their core from last year’s 12-5, championship-winning season. Stafford is still the quarterback, with breakout best-receiver-in-the-game candidate Cooper Kupp, speedy running back Cam Akers, reliable receiver Van Jefferson and tight end Tyler Higbee. Many fans and players alike consider defensive tackle Aaron Donald the best player on the game, and he’s back to wreak havoc alongside Leonard Floyd, Bobby Wagner, and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
But the Rams did lose a few pieces: some that may not have been with the team long, but absolutely helped them in their Super Bowl run. Injured wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is currently a free agent, and while he could technically return, Los Angeles seems to have attempted to fill the void with the pickup of former Chicago Bears receiver Allen Robinson. Multi-talented linebacker Von Miller was a midseason pickup for the the Rams last season that absolutely propelled the defense. But Miller left for Buffalo, hence the addition of former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.
The Rams will still be a very good team next season: firmly in the Top 3 NFC Contenders (alongside the Packers and Buccaneers, as well as the Cowboys and Cardinals if you want to expand the list to five.) Do the losses of Beckham Jr. and Miller lower Los Angeles’ ceiling? For the time being, yes, but there’s nothing stopping this Rams team from figuring out how to adapt and potentially be even more dominant this season.
I have the Rams finishing 12-5 for the second season in a row. As long as Los Angeles makes the playoffs, they’ll remain a threat to win the Super Bowl once again.
2. Arizona Cardinals (10-7)
For two straight seasons, the Arizona Cardinals have started hot and cooled off by winter. Last season, hot meant a 7-0 start, which was then fumbled to an 11-6 finish. There were certainly catalysts to Arizona’s fall-off: Kyler Murray missed a couple starts and wide receiver Deandre Hopkins missed the final stretch of the season, but the Cardinals can’t blame their 4-6 record in the season’s final ten games entirely on injures.
Hopkins will remain out for the first six games of the season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. But maybe this can force Murray, in his third NFL season, to rely on other targets. Arizona went out and got wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown from the Baltimore Ravens, and he’ll certainly see a lot of targets in the Cardinals first six games. Christian Kirk skipped town for a massive deal with Jacksonville, making A.J. Green the #2 receiver on the depth chart right now. Former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz also found a natural connection with Murray last season, and the Cardinals drafted Colorado State tight end Trey McBride with their highest pick in the 2022 NFL Draft (23rd pick in the second round.)
After wheeling and dealing via trades this year and last, Arizona was a bit starved in the draft. But third round picks Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders, defensive ends out of San Deigo State and Cincinnati, could potentially bolster the Cardinals pass-rush. Linebacker Haason Reddick was another departure, so the defense will need all the help it can get to stay afloat.
Overall, I like the Cardinals roster and their chances to compete this season. As mentioned earlier, I think they’re the 5th-best team in the NFC, and fittingly, I have them earning the 5th-seed in these predictions. In a best-case scenario, Murray comes out hot in the first six weeks, then receives Deandre Hopkins as a lethal reinforcement. Worst case, the Cardinals start slow, Hopkins return doesn’t make things better, Arizona has a losing record in the NFC West, and the team finishes with seven or eight wins and misses the playoffs.
But I think the Cardinals are good enough to keep pressure on the Rams in the division, and qualify for the postseason in one of the conference’s three wildcard spots.
3. San Francisco 49ers (9-8)
The San Francisco 49ers have made it to at least the NFC Championship Game in two of the past three seasons, and were once minutes away from beating Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55. Last season, San Francisco had to get hot to barely make the playoffs at 10-7 and 3rd in the NFC West, but once again, had the eventual Super Bowl champions (their division rival Rams) on the ropes in the second half of the NFC Championship Game.
And who was San Francisco’s quarterback in both those occasions? Jimmy Garoppolo. Sure, you could knock the former New England Patriots backup quarterback/Tom Brady understudy for not bringing those big games homes. But he still got the 49ers in near-position to win, and got them the chance to play in those games in the first place.
To say San Francisco’s decision to move up and draft North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance third overall in last year’s draft perplexed me is an understatement. And now, to name Lance the starter and essentially trying to push Garoppolo out of town (but ending up restructuring his contract) after Garoppolo showed much better command of the offense (completion % and passer rating) last season, I’m even more confused.
While Garoppolo will technically remain an option as he remains on the 49ers roster until the end of the 2022-23 season, it’s pretty clear San Francisco is handing the reigns to Trey Lance. This 9-8 prediction is largely based on Lance starting the majority of, if not all of. the 49ers games at quarterback this season.
But even with the decision, even in a tough NFC West, the 49ers will have a chance to make the playoffs again. San Francisco has more Pro Bowlers per capita than almost any other team in the NFL: fullback Kyle Juszczyk, uber-talented wide receiver Deebo Samuel, tight end George Kittle, tackle Trent Williams, guard Laken Tomlinson, center Alex Mack, and defensive end Nick Bosa all made the NFC Pro Bowl roster last season. Mack and Tomlinson won’t be back, but there’s still a ton of talent to be found on San Francisco’s roster.
Lance could succeed in Kyle Shanahan’s offense because honestly, who couldn’t? Having Samuel and Kittle as receiving options can be game-breaking at times. The 49ers defense, which was the biggest reason they got to Super Bowl 55, is still strong from defensive line (Bosa, Arik Armstead) to the secondary (Jimmie Ward- IR to start the season, Charvarius Ward.)
If Lance can improve on last season’s 57.7% completion rate, the 49ers could tack on another win or two and make the playoffs once again. I don’t consider the 49ers a non-threat, but in my predictions, I have San Francisco missing the postseason by one game with a 9-8 record.
4. Seattle Seahawks (3-14)
The Seattle Seahawks were a dominant force in the NFC for nearly a decade behind the quarterback play of Russell Wilson, the head coaching of Pete Carroll, and elite defense from “The Legion of Boom” But nowadays, Seattle’s smash mouth defense is gone, and this past offseason, the Seahawks officially ended the Russell Wilson era, shipping the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback to Denver.
What’s left is bits and pieces of a decent roster, Pete Carroll, and a place in an extremely tough NFC West division where the three other teams are all potential Super Bowl contenders.
Seattle acquired Drew Lock in the Wilson trade, among other pieces like tight end Noah Fant, but former New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith won the starting job in the preseason. Smith will have big-bodied number one wide receiver DK Metcalf to throw to, as well the speedy Tyler Lockett and aforementioned Fant.
But the Seahawks offensive line and overall defense may not be strong enough to keep the team afloat without Wilson. Jamal Adams leads a scrappy defense, but one that ranked 21st in points allowed last season. In a pass-happy NFC West, the Seahawks may have a hard time both containing their opponents and keeping up in shootouts.
The Seahawks record might not be quite this abysmal in 2022, as I think there’s a solid chance they don’t end up with even a share of the title of the worst record in the league, but there were only so many wins to hand out in these predictions, and Seattle didn’t give me a reason to give them a ton on paper. With the 11th-hardest schedule in the NFL, it shouldn’t be surprising that a rebuilding squad will have only a handful wins this season.
Seattle had a deep draft, and may surprise the NFL with a quicker turnaround than expected. But in this prediction, they tie for the worst record in the NFL this season.
2022-23 NFL Predictions
Header Photo Credits (L-R): AP Photo/Caean Couto, The Sporting News, Tom Pennington/Getty Images, Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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