STACY ROST

Rost on Seahawks: Making the case for each team to win NFC West

Sep 5, 2023, 10:08 AM

Seattle Seahawks 49ers...

A view at the line of scrimmage during a Seattle Seahawks-49ers game on Dec. 15, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Seahawks begin the 2023 season on Sunday against an NFC West rival, the Los Angeles Rams.

Seahawks place WR Dareke Young on IR; Witherspoon update

How likely is it that either team wins the division this year? What about the defending NFC West champs, the San Francisco 49ers? Or even the Arizona Cardinals?

Let’s make the case for and against each NFC West team winning the division in 2023.

San Francisco 49ers

The case for the crown

Winners of the West last year, the 49ers aren’t just a favorite to win the division again but also to to win this year’s Super Bowl, with odds (+900) worse than only Kansas City (+650) and Philadelphia (+750).

Why? Well, they won the West last year for a reason.

The 49ers finished top five in total offense and defense. Defensively they were tops in the league, holding opponents to just over 300 yards per game. The offense meanwhile averaged 365.6 yards per game (fifth) and 26.5 points (sixth). They finished first in the league in turnover differential (plus-13) and point differential (plus-173).

That defense recently added Javon Hargrave, who is fresh off a Super Bowl trip as a centerpiece of Philadelphia’s 70-sack season. The 49ers lost a few defensive starters and their defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans, who is now head coach of the Texans. In his place, San Francisco has hired Steve Wilks, who as interim head coach for the Panthers last year helped Carolina finish second in the NFC South.

The short version: the 49ers were one of the best teams last season and may have been in a Super Bowl were it not for the fact that they simply ran out of quarterbacks.

The case against

The 49ers’ Achilles heel has been health and stability at quarterback. The trade-up in the 2021 NFL Draft for Trey Lance was a mistake in hindsight; the chapter came to a close with Lance being dealt for a fourth-round pick last month. But the move also made sense: the 49ers have been a true franchise quarterback away from a near-perfect team for years, and they saw their chance to find that rare talent with the low-floor, high-ceiling Lance.

That’s not to say this year’s starter, Brock Purdy, makes up the case against the 49ers. He played well in the final third of the season. But on a team with relatively few question marks, his ability to shine through a full season is one of them.

There are some general concerns that may only be short-term. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa is holding out during contract negotiations (the team has made it clear they intend to keep him, so this may soon be resolved). Meanwhile, they’ve got a messy situation on special teams. Longtime kicker Robbie Gould moved on in 2023, and in his place the team drafted Michigan’s Jake Moody, who’s in danger of missing the start of the season with a strained right quad.

Seattle Seahawks

The case for the crown

The 49ers are a favorite in Vegas but Seattle is quickly emerging as a surprise pick for NFL analysts. Because a team that shocked most of the NFL world with a playoff appearance and a top-10 scoring offense in 2022 may be even better in a 2023 season that sees a weakened NFC.

The Seahawks’ biggest strength last season was their passing offense. Geno Smith was the only quarterback in the conference to throw 30 or more touchdowns, and Seattle added to his arsenal by drafting first-round receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. The Ohio State product impressed through training camp and the preseason, and he has a chance to make a real impact once he returns from surgery to repair a small fracture in his wrist.

Not that he has to impress too much, because Seattle also boasts one of the league’s better receiver duos in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, both of whom surpassed 1,000 yards last year.

A strong 2022 rookie class also gave Seattle two starting tackles, 1,000-yard running back Kenneth Walker III, and Pro Bowl cornerback Riq Woolen, who tied for first league-wide in interceptions. The latter two were finalists for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, respectively.

In addition to Smith-Njigba, the 2023 class brings No. 5 overall pick Devon Witherspoon, a cornerback who rounds out a secondary that, on paper, looks like one of the better groups in the NFL.

The case against

Seattle’s defense failed to complement the success of its offense more often than not. While players like Woolen, Uchenna Nwosu and Quandre Diggs may have had solid seasons, the unit as a whole struggled mightily, particularly against the run. They finished 30th against opposing offenses there. They were also 25th in scoring, and while they ranked seventh in total sacks, they were too inconsistent in applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Fans and team alike may have Super Bowl hopes, but this team isn’t getting there without some improvement on that side of the ball.

The hope is that health and a series of offseason acquisitions can help. A complete facelift for the defensive line saw the Hawks add Dre Jones, Mario Edwards Jr. and Jarran Reed. They also had a reunion with linebacker Bobby Wagner, who last year was one of the Rams’ better defenders against the run last season (this, outside of being a future Hall of Fame linebacker).

A quick glance at the other two teams…

Los Angeles Rams

Case for the crown

The Rams won a Super Bowl two years ago and have been one of the league’s best teams since head coach Sean McVay took over in 2017. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is healthy and defensive tackle Aaron Donald continues to forgo retirement.

The case against

The Rams were a total failure in 2022, going 5-12 after their dominant Super Bowl season. They didn’t have an especially promising offseason and parted ways with several veterans this past spring, something general manager Les Snead addressed in an interview with the LA Times by saying, “We’re probably going to have to, let’s call it, not press the gas as much and pay a little bit of the debt that we’ve accumulated.”

Finally, this offense goes as wide receiver Cooper Kupp goes, and right now Kupp is going to … Minnesota, to see a specialist for a lingering hamstring issue. The injury has him in danger of missing Week 1.

Arizona Cardinals

The case for the crown

The Cardinals are in the NFC West, which, when you think about it, is the most important step to trying to win the division.

The case against

The Cards feel like a team building for their future. They traded away former first-round pick Isaiah Simmons and DeAndre Hopkins. Meanwhile, quarterback Kyler Murray could miss quite a bit of time as he works his way back from a torn ACL.

They’re looking at not just one of the worst rosters in the league, but also to plenty of 2024 draft capital. The temptation to look ahead and find their future answers may be too strong for any real push in 2023.

More on the Seattle Seahawks

Huard: Why Seattle Seahawks’ ‘home run’ Geno Smith deal is now a ‘grand slam’
Video: Can Bobo be Seahawks No. 3 WR if JSN misses Week 1?
Rost: Seahawks strengths and weaknesses on offense, defense
K.J. Wright: Why Jamal Adams can make Seahawks a Super Bowl contender
ESPN’s Orlovsky: Where do Geno and Seattle Seahawks fit in NFC picture?

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