Today's question: Who will win the division, and how many teams from the division will make the playoffs?
Josh Weinfuss, Arizona Cardinals: Seattle will win the division. And, I think we can count St. Louis and San Francisco out of the playoff picture, leaving just the Cardinals. Even though I predicted 9-7 for Arizona this season, there might be some early growing pains under new defensive coordinator James Bettcher, especially as a new front seven adapts. The Rams could make a playoff run if their defense is what everyone thinks it’ll be, but I have serious questions about Nick Foles at quarterback. Here’s the thing about this division: It’s like the Southeastern Conference in college football. All these good teams just beat each other up week after week. I won’t be surprised if two NFC West teams make the postseason with a third knocking on the door. But I predict only the division winner, the Seahawks, will make it.
Nick Wagoner, St. Louis Rams: Things can change in a hurry in the NFL, and I don’t like the idea of sticking with the status quo, but it’s hard to envision any of these teams overtaking Seattle in the NFC West. The Seahawks are still a young team with many players in their prime and, barring injury, they should come out on top again. Where I will offer some change is with this: For the first time since 2011, the NFC West will have only one team in the postseason. San Francisco looks poised for a downturn, and while the Cardinals still boast a lot of talent, I expect the defense to take a step back without Todd Bowles and some key pieces lost in the offseason. Many once again consider the Rams a sleeper, but they don’t look like they’ve done enough offensively to take the next step, particularly with so many questions on the line.
Paul Gutierrez, San Francisco 49ers: The Seahawks, who are ripe for a Super Bowl hangover courtesy of the disheartening loss, injuries and a tough early schedule, could start slow, but they are still the class of the division. The Rams may have improved the most of the other teams, while the Cardinals and 49ers seemingly got worse, so that’s not saying much. Let’s go with Seattle winning the division and the Rams, Cardinals and Niners cannibalizing each other so only one NFC West team goes to the playoffs for the first time since 2011, when the Niners won the division.
Terry Blount, Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks remain the class of the division, and the conference, unless the offensive line completely craters. Not likely, even with the changes up front. The trade for tight end Jimmy Graham may have been the best offseason move in the NFL. Graham will bring a new dimension to an offense that already excels with Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson. Adding rookie Tyler Lockett to return kicks and punts, a major weakness a year ago, will give the offense better field position to use those assets. Cornerback Byron Maxwell is the only starter not returning on the league’s most dominant defense. But injuries coming off last season could be an early issue in the secondary, including shoulder surgery for free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Tharold Simon. Cornerback Richard Sherman (torn elbow ligament) and strong safety Kam Chancellor (torn MCL) look ready to go. But nickelback Jeremy Lane is probably out until October with arm and knee surgery. If the injuries heal quickly and the Seahawks find the depth they need from younger players, there’s no reason this team can’t be the first in the salary-cap era to reach three consecutive Super Bowls. If Carson Palmer stays healthy, the Cardinals should join the Seahawks in the playoffs once again.