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Clayton: Seahawks-Rams matchup highlights special time for NFC West

The Seahawks, Rams and the rest of the NFC West appear in good long-term shape. (Getty)

Saturday’s NFC playoff game between the Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams illustrates what a special time it is for the NFC West.

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Although the Rams knocked the Arizona Cardinals out of the playoffs last week, the NFC West once again will have a team in the divisional round. The Rams went to the Super Bowl two years ago. The San Francisco 49ers went last year. We’ll see how far the Rams or Seahawks can advance.

What makes this a special time is the sustainability of the division. The NFC West is the only division in football that could have four head coaches stick around for a long time.

Pete Carroll signed a five-year extension. Kyle Shanahan signed a six-year extension last year. Sean McVay isn’t going anywhere. The only one who hasn’t gotten a second contract is Kliff Kingsbury, but you figure he’ll be around a long time. The reason is Kyler Murray. Murray looks like the next young star quarterback. He works well with Kingsbury so as long as Murray grows, the longer Kingsbury will be around.

Sure, it was disappointing the Cardinals didn’t make the playoffs, but the prediction I made was they were going to be the most improved team in football. That they were.

The 49ers’ disappointing 6-10 season was attributed to the team being the most injured in the NFL and all the problems with COVID-19. Their cap situation and long list of free agents will make it harder to bounce back next year, but the 49ers are well run with Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.

How good is this division? Each team is willing to go for it as far as talent acquisitions. The Cardinals traded for Deandre Hopkins and landed one of the best receivers in football. The Rams traded for Jalen Ramsey, arguably the league’s best coverage cornerback. The 49ers traded for left tackle Trent Williams, who was one of the best this season. The Seahawks traded for safety Jamal Adams, who set an NFL record for defensive backs with 9.5 sacks.

Six head coaches lost their jobs this past season. That type of change can work or be a curse. It forces defenses to go from 3-4 to 4-3 or vice versa, which makes it hard to build and sustain rosters. New head coaches mean more coordinator changes. That becomes a problem for teams that invest in quarterbacks taken high in the first round. Some have four offensive coordinators in four years. That makes it tough for a young quarterback.

What’s interesting about the NFC West is the high standards set for the quarterbacks. Jarred Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo haven been good enough to get their teams to the Super Bowl. Now, the expectations are so high, many are starting to wonder how much longer their franchises will stick with them. Garoppolo makes $27 million a year, but he’s missed 23 of 48 starts. Some think the 49ers might go a different direction in the offseason. Goff is making $33.5 million, but defenses have figured out ways to stop him if the Rams can’t generate a running game and can’t get to his play-action passes.

Goff will be watched closely Saturday. He is going to try to play even though he’s only 12 days removed from having thumb surgery. He’s looked decent throwing the football this week in practice and was able to get some passes that went 35 yards. But how well he can play with the thumb problem will be in question. The Rams like to have Goff take about 60 percent of his snaps from behind center. Because of the thumb, many of the snaps will end up being in shotgun. The thumb could limit his ability to get too tricky with RPOs and some of the pre-snap motion in the running game.

Rams Hall of Fame receiver Isaac Bruce said the Rams should consider trading for DeShaun Watson, but you know that won’t happen. But it’s not out of the question for the Rams to consider drafting a quarterback.

Nevertheless, it’s a good time to be following the NFC West.

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