Diabolical division: NFC West looks loaded for another year

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The NFC West has been a devilishly difficult division for most of the past decade and it just seems to be getting harder.

Arizona Cardinals, who are one of the biggest winners of the early signing period for a free agent after adding a star receiver DeAndre Hopkins to a West that is already full of playmakers. “data-reactid =” 33 “> Last season’s NFL winning division will be stacked again this fall with four franchises determined to win now. Three teams that set winning records in 2019 will be joined by what resembles a vastly improved version of the Arizona Cardinals, which are one of the biggest winners of the early free agent signing period after adding star receiver DeAndre Hopkins to a West already packed with playmakers.

Los Angeles Rams made that Super Bowl trip less than 14 months ago, but a moderately low season and questionable salary cut management suggest they could go to the basement division despite a star-studded selection under innovative coach Sean McVay. “data-reactid =” 34 “> This ruthless division has spawned five of the NFC’s past eight Super Bowl representatives, including the last two. The Los Angeles Rams made that Super Bowl trip less than 14 months ago, but one lackluster low season and questionable salary limit management suggest she may be heading to the basement division despite a star-studded selection under innovative coach Sean McVay.

The AFC West had a CRAZY Offseason

The NFC West has been hyper-competitive since 2012 and now looks even more brutal.

Seattle Seahawks said coach Pete Carroll last month. “There is no doubt about it. And I don’t think anyone wants to play (the NFC West). It will make us better.” “Data-reactid =” 36 “>” It’s a very tough division again, “Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said last month,” There’s no question about it. And I don’t think anyone wants to play (the NFC West). It will make us better. “

San Francisco 49ers, the four NFC West teams combined for 38 wins in the regular season last year, most of them in the league. The West was the only division of the NFL with three winning teams and it would have had three playoff teams in the seven-team postseason format that comes into effect next season. “Data-reactid =” 37 “> Led by the 13- NFC champion San Francisco 49ers won, the four NFC West teams combined last year for 38 wins in the regular season, most in the league. The West was the only one division of the NFL with three winning teams, and it would have had three playoff teams under the seven-team postseason format that comes into effect next season.

This fall, all four teams in one division could theoretically make it to the playoffs. As a division that is set to achieve unlikely performance, the NFC West certainly appears to have the best chance based on the recent work of these four teams and their prospects for the year ahead.

But it would be easier if the Rams, Seahawks, Niners and Cardinals didn’t have to compete six times a year.

The NFC West has had six wild-card playoff teams and seven conference finalists in the past eight seasons alone, but it’s nowhere near dominated by anyone. All four teams have won the division in the past five years, and the Rams are the only recurring champions in that half-decade.

The most consistent winners are the Seahawks, who have won at least nine games in the past eight seasons and have missed the playoffs only once during that period. Carroll’s remarkable consistency is even more impressive with the tumult of free choice, but the Seahawks have kept many important pieces in place from their 11-5 season – and they are still in the running to put rusher Jadeveon Clowney into free choice. to hold.

Defending NFC champion Niners is still a powerhouse despite losing defensive equipment DeForest Buckner, a cornerstone of their Super Bowl defense during coach Kyle Shanahan’s eagerly anticipated breakthrough season. They were given a first-round pick for Buckner and they retained Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward.

San Francisco’s nine-profit improvement last season came as no surprise to its three NFC West competitors, who saw McVay orchestrate an improvement of seven wins from the Rams in 2017.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals went 5-10-1 last year, but they are a popular choice to greatly improve this year after swapping Hopkins and adding extra talent in a prolific free agent signing period.

“It is absolutely motivational, there is no doubt about it,” Kingsbury said of the Niners Gulf. “To see what Kyle has built there and to remain consistent with his culture and who he wanted to be, while hanging on to it through some serious quarterback injuries. Being in their division, playing and seeing what they have is absolutely motivating for our organization. “

If the cards can improve their defenses, they will be able to make the jump, in part because they have one of the most valuable salary limit management tools in the league: a solid quarterback with a rookie contract.

Kyler Murray passed 3,722 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, and the overall No. 1 pick has a lot of room for improvement. He will be in the attack of Kingsbury in his second season and will get the ball to Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and Kenyan Drake.

So where are the Rams, who missed the playoffs despite going 9-7 last year?

Major changes are underway in LA, despite the Rams’ three consecutive winning seasons under McVay. The now 34-year-old prodigy fired much of his staff after missing the postseason and hired untested career assistant Brandon Staley to lead his defense.

The job is even more difficult because Los Angeles’s biggest off-season addition may be his new logo and uniforms. The Rams have only lost Todd Gurley, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, leading tackler Cory Littleton, edge rusher Dante Fowler and elite nickel back Nickell Robey-Coleman in the past two weeks.

But they still have Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and one of the NFL’s best receiver collections for Jared Goff with McVay pulling the offensive. It’s too early to write off the Rams – but in the NFC West, good isn’t good enough.

“This has always been a difficult division since I’ve been here, so it’s no surprise,” Goff said recently. “We know that our toughest regular season challenges are in the NFC West.”

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AP Sports Writer Tim Booth of Seattle contributed to this report.

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