Back in January, the San Francisco 49ers dismantled the Seattle Seahawks 41-21 in the NFC Wild Card round, and the biggest storyline in the NFC West during the 2023 regular season will be whether Seattle did enough over the offseason to close the gap on the reigning division champions.
If Geno Smith can build on his Comeback Player of The Year campaign from last year into this season, then there's a chance that the Seahawks can make a real charge at the 49ers and their elite roster for the division crown.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals appear to be entering varying degrees of rebuilding, with the former potentially being in denial of how far away its roster is from being able to compete, just two years removed from a Super Bowl championship.
What NFL Insiders are Saying
"From my vantage point, this is a two team race. It really looks like the 49ers and Seahawks should battle it out. They're the two most complete teams." - NFC East Personnel Director
Offseason Move That Will Shape the Race: Javon Hargrave, DE, San Francisco 49ers
Hargave was one of the most dominant defensive ends across the entire NFL last season, and lands in one of the deepest defensive lines in football. Playing alongside Arik Armstead, should create even more opportunities for Hargrave, who produced a 90.8 pass-rush grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
San Francisco 49ers (11-6)
The 49ers boast one of the most talented rosters across the entire league, but also face one of the most uncertain quarterback situations, as well.
Purdy ascended out of (Mr.) irrelevancy to lead the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game during a charmed rookie season that saw the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft pass for 1,374 yards with 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions with a perfect 5-0 record as a starter. San Francisco has no shortage of dynamic talent with Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Christian McCaffrey, and George Kittle forming one of the most prolific cores in the league, but the question remains whether Purdy is the long-term solution to maximize all of those playmakers.
Defensively, DeMeco Ryans' departure to become the Houston Texans' head coach looms large, but general manager John Lynch has built a juggernaut full of premier players at all three levels. Javon Hargrave's arrival following an 11-sack, 57-pressure campaign makes one of the game's most disruptive front-seven units even more impactful.
San Francisco is such a deep roster that even if Purdy is pedestrian, this is the team to beat in the West.
Seattle Seahawks (10-7)
Over the past two offseasons, the Seahawks have planted the seeds of a potential dynasty in waiting in the great NFC West.
General manager John Schneider has parlayed a war chest of draft picks into a bevy of talent, including dynamic running back Kenneth Walker, wide receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba, physically imposing and hyper-competitive cornerback Devon Witherspoon, to name a few, forming a core that's ready to make a playoff run.
Quarterback Geno Smith led Seattle to a Wild Card berth in 2022, and after Smith-Njigba's arrival, has one of the most dynamic receiving corps in the NFL at his disposal, with a difference-making running back alongside him in the backfield.
Seattle is improved along both lines of scrimmage, with this team's ceiling being about as high as Smith is capable of leading them. The 2023 campaign appears to simultaneously be an opportunity for the Seahawks to make a lengthy playoff run, as well as an audition for Smith's future in the Emerald City.
Los Angeles Rams (6-11)
Suffice to say, general manager Les Snead and the Rams are paying the piper for that Super Bowl LVI victory.
Beyond injuries wreaking havoc in 2022, things have so quickly devolved in Los Angeles that rumors persisted this offseason that quarterback Matthew Stafford was available via trade. Stafford returns, and the Rams are counting on Cam Akers to make another major step in his development after rushing for a career-high 786 yards and seven scores last season. But, will Stafford, Akers, Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson be enough firepower to withstand some of the swarming defenses within this division alone?
Speaking of defense, the Rams need Aaron Donald to stay healthy for this group to have any chance at being effective, and the loss of All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey could prove significant when lining up across from the dynamic receiving corps in Seattle and San Francisco. It might be a tall order to expect the Rams to climb into the division race this fall.
Arizona Cardinals (2-15)
It doesn't feel out of the realm of possibility that Jonathan Gannon follows in the footsteps of Nathanial Hackett as a one-and-done head coach. His interactions with players after being hired didn't exactly inspire the fanbase.
Gannon's late-game schematic collapse in the Super Bowl against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs notwithstanding, this is one of the least talented rosters in football, led by a first-time head coach who might have slacked on his Big Game preparation to interview for the Cardinals' job.
There are now real question marks when it comes to Kyler Murray's future, not to mention who emerges from the Hollywood Brown, Rondale Moore, Greg Dortch trio and seizes the role of top receiver. Defensively, linebacker Kyzir White follows Gannon from Philadelphia, bringing some much-needed scheme familiarity, and Budda Baker remains a steady veteran presence. However, the Cardinals' defense is very much a work in progress.
If Murray doesn't have a career-year, look for Arizona to emerge as the leaders of the Caleb Williams sweepstakes.
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