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How the Seahawks stack up in the NFC West: Cards could be a Cinderella story

The Cardinals are entering their second season with 2019 No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray. (Getty)

You’re not going to like this, but there’s something you should know – the Seahawks don’t have the best roster in the NFC West.

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Some might think that’s obvious, considering that one of Seattle’s division foes, the San Francisco 49ers, fell just short of a Super Bowl win last season. Others may think it unfair, given the Seahawks’ clear advantage at quarterback and middle linebacker, and the stability of their front office. But the NFC West might just be the best division in football.

Beyond that, the division will have some of the best stories of the season. One team will enter the year with a target on its back and the drive (and talent) to surge to the top. Another will look to re-establish an offensive identity that captivated fans just two years ago. And a third features a quarterback-wide receiver tandem that could bring the league a Cinderella story.

Then there are the Seahawks – one of the winningest teams of the past decade, but also one that hasn’t appeared in the NFC Championship since the 2014 season.

So, when my Tom, Jake and Stacy co-host Tom Wassell asked whether the Seahawks are still the top dog in the NFC West, my answer was no – at least not on paper. And that’s an important distinction, since a closer look at this division reveals a fascinating battle for the crown in 2020.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at how the Seahawks stack up against each of their foes in the NFC West, which is shaping up to be perhaps the toughest division in the NFL.

Let’s kick off this preview with everything a Seahawks fan needs to know about the Arizona Cardinals. The Seahawks may have the upper hand here, but the Cardinals could put together a Cinderella season thanks to a huge new addition in free agency, development from their young quarterback, and a smart investment on defense.

A quick look at the Cardinals

Head coach: Kliff Kingsbury
Offensive coordinator: Kingsbury calls plays, but Tom Clements was hired as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach in January 2019.
Defensive coordinator: Vance Joseph
Quarterback: Kyler Murray
2019 record: 5-10-1 (Fourth in NFC West)

The breakdown

The Cardinals made one of the earliest – and biggest – splashes in free agency when they acquired three-time All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans in a trade that left Houston fans scratching their heads. Texans coach and general manager Bill O’Brien, who got a second-round pick and running back David Johnson in exchange for the star receiver, received a wave of criticism. Meanwhile in Arizona, an offensive-minded head coach and a promising young quarterback received a huge weapon.

Kyler Murray may not get in as much work in as he’d like with Hopkins during the abbreviated offseason, but even then, Hopkins is sure to be a potent part of the Cardinals’ 2020 campaign.

Then there’s Murray himself, the 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick who showed promise as a rookie last year. Murray finished with 3,722 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, but it was his ability to create something out of nothing that drew praise.

There are areas in which he can improve. According to Pro Football Focus, no quarterback was charged at fault for more of his own sacks than Murray. Also concerning is that eight of Murray’s 12 interceptions and his two worst performances of the year came after Week 10. But he also set franchise records for wins, passing yards and touchdowns by a rookie and was the only quarterback to post a rating of 100 or more against San Francisco’s No. 1-ranked passing offense.

If there’s one thing standing in the way of the Cardinals’ path to the top of the NFC West, it will be a lack of improvement on defense. The Seahawks struggled with their pass rush last year, but the Cardinals really, really struggled on defense. They allowed the most yards (6,432) in the NFL, third-most yards per play (6.0, tied with Seattle), and the second-most touchdowns (38) of any team. Thought they saw strong performances from outside linebacker Chandler Jones and safety Budda Baker, both of whom were voted to the Pro Bowl, it wasn’t enough to fill the holes throughout the rest of the defense.

It’s no surprise then that the Cardinals loaded up on defenders this offseason, and their success (along with continued development from Murray and a big year from Hopkins) will be key for Arizona. General manager Steve Keim added defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, and linebackers Devon Kennard and De’Vondre Campbell in free agency. Arizona used four of its six draft picks on defensive players, too, including inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons, the Butkus Award-winning Clemson star whom the Cardinals selected eighth overall.

In late March on Tom, Jake and Stacy, we interviewed each of ESPN’s NFC West beat reporters. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was interesting that none of the three reporters believed the respective team they cover would end up in last place in the division. The Cardinals might’ve been there in 2019, but if they see big improvements on defense they could easily improve from that spot. A jump from worst-to-first would certainly cement them as the NFL’s 2020 Cinderella story.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Stacy Rost on Twitter.

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