NFC West Q&A: What will be the biggest surprise in the division in 2017?

Seahawks' D remains a brotherhood (1:11)

Cliff Avril shares how Seattle's storied defense has managed to stay intact. (1:11)

The NFC West has had its ebbs and flows over the past few seasons, but one thing that has stayed consistent is going through the Seattle Seahawks to win the division title. The Seahawks have won the division three of the past four seasons and four of the past seven.

Will they stay on top, challenged by the Arizona Cardinals? Will the Los Angeles Rams or San Francisco 49ers, who had a combined six wins last season, rise up?

Today's question: What will be the biggest surprise in the division in 2017?

Josh Weinfuss, Arizona Cardinals reporter: Tough question. With all that has been reported about the fractions in the Seahawks' locker room, I don’t know if they’ll be able to put on a unified enough front during the season to mask their issues, which will lead to an unraveling of sorts for the defending NFC West champs. They won’t totally implode, largely because of the leadership at the top, with coach Pete Carroll, and the talent base. But that can take them only so far. I don’t see Seattle being the dominant force it has been in the past and, after everything that has gotten out about the infighting, early losses could fracture the team to the point of no return. That would lead to a lost season and Seattle missing the playoffs, which then would leave room for the Cardinals to reclaim the NFC West title.

Alden Gonzalez, Los Angeles Rams reporter: That the Rams’ offense will actually be respectable. Yes, that in itself qualifies as a major surprise. The Rams’ offense has finished last in yards over each of the past two seasons and gained only 4,203 yards from scrimmage in 2017, the NFL’s lowest total in a five-year stretch. On the surface, there isn’t much reason to believe in for a drastic turnaround, because Jared Goff is still young and the Rams still don’t have an elite, go-to receiver. But look a little closer. Rookie coach Sean McVay is a master playcaller who helped elevate Kirk Cousins and the Redskins these past two seasons. He added two accomplished assistants -- offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson -- to tutor Goff. And he added a couple of sure-handed and precise route runners in Robert Woods (through free agency) and Cooper Kupp (through the draft) to serve as security blankets that Rams quarterbacks simply did not have before. All that -- and a new left tackle in Andrew Whitworth, who remains one of the game’s best, even at 35 --- should help get running back Todd Gurley back to his big-play production from 2015, which could help make the Rams a middle-of-the-pack team offensively. If that becomes the case -- and their defense is as good as many expect -- they could snap their 10-year streak of losing records.

Nick Wagoner, San Francisco 49ers reporter: The West becomes known as the worst division in the NFC. It started trending this way last season, when Seattle won the division with 10 victories and did so comfortably, three games clear of second-place Arizona. What some might have viewed as an aberration looks more like the NFC West's new reality. Like most things in the NFL, divisional toughness is cyclical, and it's time for the West's downturn after a run of dominance. Consider that from 2012 to 2015, the West had multiple playoff representatives in every season and had nine teams in that span with campaigns of 10 or more victories. The fast, physical nature of the teams in the division made for weekly street fights. Now, the Seahawks still look like the favorites, but they're not as dominant as they once were. The Cardinals appear to be hanging on for one final run. And the Rams and 49ers are in rebuilding mode. Meanwhile, the other NFC divisions seem to be in an uptick, with legitimate contenders almost across the board. Assuming the rebuilds in San Francisco and/or Los Angeles go as planned, it won't be long before the West rises again, as Seattle and Arizona are too good at talent evaluation and acquisition to be down long. For now, though, the West isn't best anymore.