The Seahawks are four days from opening their regular season against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Looking past Week 1, how will the Seahawks fare against their division rivals this year?
The Seahawks have been somewhat fortunate to play in the NFC West in recent years. There was a time when the San Francisco 49ers had a fierce rivalry with Seattle largely because of their nearly-equally talented rosters. Those days are gone, and while San Francisco appears to be headed in the right direction, the Arizona Cardinals pose the biggest threat to another division crown for the Seahawks this season.
I predicted the outcome of all sixteen regular season games when the Seahawks schedule was released back in April, and I stand by those predictions. I see a 12-4 record and possible top seed in the NFC for Seattle this year, and I’m far from the only joker predicting big things for Seattle online. The lowest power ranking I’ve seen the Seahawks at heading into the 2017 season is fifth.
The NFC West has two rebuilding teams, a dominant team in Seattle, and a dangerous team looking to prove its disappointing 2016 was a fluke.
I’m most worried about the Cardinals than any other NFC West team. Head coach Bruce Arians is looking for revenge on the entire league for his team’s disappointing 7-8-1 season in 2016. Quarterback Carson Palmer has looked good in Preseason and Training Camp, and even with a few free agent defections like Calais Campbell, their defense is still deep and talented. Toss in David Johnson at running back and you have a dangerous team with something to prove this year. Both Cardinals games should be fun this season.
The second season in Los Angeles for the Rams should go at least slightly better than the first. After drafting former Cal quarterback Jared Goff first overall last year and rushing him to the lineup, LA took steps to help their young QB. They brought in Sean McVay as head coach, the quarterback whisperer who made a useful passer out of Kirk Cousins, and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. They also signed Andrew Whitworth to protect Goff’s blindside. Goff appeared to wilt under pass pressure last year, but with running back Todd Gurley potentially bouncing back, and veterans like Watkins and Whitworth to help guide him, look for Goff to surprise people in 2017.
Then there’s the defense. The Rams could quietly become one of the top defensive units in the league this year. They brought in defensive wizard Wade Philips to plan and lead a defense that features defensive end Robert Quinn, linebacker Alec Ogletree, and cornerback Trumaine Johnson. Philips has gotten more from less in his stellar career as a defensive coordinator. Add in Aaron Donald returning from his holdout soon, and you have trouble.
San Francisco 49ers
Once a laughingstock, the 49ers had an excellent draft this year and appear to be trending up. They still don’t have a quarterback, but with the offensive mind of Kyle Shanahan, the architect of one of the greatest offenses in NFL history in Atlanta last season, don’t be surprised in the Niners surprise on offense. Shanahan has worked with quarterback Brian Hoyer and new receiver Pierre Garcon before with some success.
San Francisco added big bodies on both sides of the ball, and if several players on rookie deals play well for this defense, the 49ers could rise again. It seems unlikely that a team led by Hoyer will challenge the Seahawks this season, but the rivalry could be brewing anew, especially in a year or two.
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I still think the Seahawks will win the division
The Seahawks are still the best team in the division and they should win it again. The Cardinals appear to be their only true threat at this point, but the two rebuilding teams could be on their way up sooner than we think.
Still, Russell Wilson is among the best quarterbacks in the league. Even with left tackle George Fant tearing his ACL, the offensive line should be improved with the new players John Schneider and Pete Carroll brought in combined with more development from the younger players. They have dynamic offensive playmakers in Tyler Lockett, Jimmy Graham, Doug Baldwin, Thomas Rawls, and Eddie Lacy. And their already-loaded defense got even better with the Sheldon Richardson trade.
Are you excited?! Can the Seahawks return to the Super Bowl this year? The circus begins again this Sunday at 1:25.