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The Lookaround: Looking at the NFC West now that the division is decided

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

On Thursday Night, the Seattle Seahawks clinched the NFC West division, eliminating the Arizona Cardinals from postseason contention, days or weeks after the same fate arrived at the feet of the LA Rams and San Francisco 49ers. The Seahawks were the first team in the NFL this season to win their division, and while I would like to say that’s because of how good they are, it has just as much to do with how bad the other three teams turned out to be.

What a strange last two years it has been.

In 2012, the 49ers won the division and fell just shy of winning the Super Bowl, while Seattle nearly made the NFC Championship.

In 2013, the Seahawks won the division and the Super Bowl, while San Francisco made the NFC Championship and Arizona finished 10-6.

In 2014, Seattle returned to the Super Bowl, while the Cardinals went 11-5 and made the playoffs.

In 2015, Arizona won the division and made the NFC Championship, while the Seahawks went 10-6 and went to the second round of the playoffs. All the while, the Rams remained average, but accumulated talent, were rarely terrible, and gave hell to their NFC West opponents on a regular basis.

And now there’s ... whatever this is. This right here though, this is The Lookaround:

The San Francisco 49ers are 1-12 and nearly locked into the number two overall pick in the draft next year. There’s little hope at this point for them to catch the 0-13 Cleveland Browns for the top selection, but it’s not a completely lost cause; while it’s unlikely that the Browns will win a game, it would also be surprising if San Francisco won any of their remaining games against the Falcons, Rams, and Seahawks. Their best shot is against LA in Week 16, but that game is on the road and the 49ers appear to have quit.

Last week against the New York Jets they squandered a 14-0 lead, as well as being up 17-6 midway through the fourth quarter, only to end up losing in OT. So what’s next?

The good news for San Francisco is that they’ll have a very high pick in the draft next year, giving them an opportunity to begin to reload a pretty depleted roster after picking defensive end DeForest Buckner seventh overall in 2016. Someone like Myles Garrett, Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, Jabrill Peppers, a quarterback of their choice (it’s difficult to say if any are worthy of being drafted this high), or someone else who I’m overlooking for no good reason or will emerge at a later date, could give the 49ers additional hope for the future. But there probably isn’t a single player in this world that would make them contenders in 2017.

San Francisco looks exceptionally awful at this point. They need help all over the field. They very well could be firing general manager Trent Baalke in the next few weeks and/or head coach Chip Kelly after only one season. They have no quarterback worth holding onto and a lot less defensive talent than they seemed to have as recently as 2014. This is Seattle’s Week 17 opponent, and it seems like by then, they’ll try to reserve any important players for next season should any concerns or bumps arise between now and then.

The Arizona Cardinals are 5-7-1, having officially been eliminated from postseason contention following maybe the most disappointing season in franchise history. Going into the year, the Cardinals were ranked as NFC West favorites by at least 60% of the preseason predictions I scanned, and to win the Super Bowl by at least 25%. Instead, Arizona started 1-3, were 3-4-1 at the midway point, and will be playing their last three games of the season for pride only.

The biggest dilemma facing the Cards moving forward is that of quarterback Carson Palmer. Turning 37 in a couple weeks, Palmer has his lowest YPA (6.8) since his final season with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010. His followup campaign to the MVP-caliber performance of a year ago (104.6 rating, 8.7 Y/A, 35 TD) is a sobering reminder that this season is pretty much what Palmer has been for the majority of his career and 2015 is the outlier. He’s an exceptional QB, but definitely not one that Arizona should be counting on for 2018, and maybe not even 2017.

Instead, the Cardinals must turn to a quarterback early in the 2017 draft (I had been saying they should draft a QB in the first round even in 2015, and definitely in 2016) if not trying to make a deal for Jimmy Garoppolo.

But there must also be concerns around the age and future of Larry Fitzgerald (33 years old, 9.8 yards per catch), the lack of any other receivers (Michael Floyd was just released and picked up by the Patriots, John Brown has serious health concerns), the ability for Tyrann Mathieu to stay healthy, and the fact that the defense has given up between 20 and 38 points in each of their last six games.

For the last few years the Cardinals have been a “chic” team, a stylish team, but as of right now, they’re simply just a bad team. I wrote something earlier in the year about how I’d be concerned with Arizona’s future if I was a fan of theirs ... I just didn’t expect the walls to start crumbling this soon.

The LA Rams dropped to 4-10 following their loss to Seattle on Thursday. In terms of point differential, it looks like this will be the Rams worst season since 2011, when Steve Spagnuolo was still the head coach. On Thursday, John Fassel got his first game as a head coach following the firing of Jeff Fisher on Monday.

It obviously didn’t go so well.

Despite a few opportunities for LA to take a lead early, they didn’t take advantage because they are a bad football team. Maybe Seattle also had lapses, but their lapses weren’t as bad as the Rams’ because that’s how dysfunctional and abysmal they are. The good news for Los Angeles is that they’re getting a fresh start at head coach beginning in January and potentially also at general manager if Les Snead gets let go.

They also have plenty of talented players like Aaron Donald, Alec Ogletree, Trumaine Johnson, Mark Barron, Todd Gurley, Kenny Britt, Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn, and potential building blocks like Jared Goff, Tavon Austin, Lamarcus Joyner, and so on. It’s a much better roster than San Francisco and if the right coaching staff was in place, might be able to compete with the Cardinals on a full season basis.

The biggest problem for the Rams now is that despite their horrible season, they won’t be picking near the top of the first round. Currently slated to pick fifth or sixth, and potentially headed for the top four, LA traded it’s 2017 first rounder (and third rounder) to the Tennessee Titans in the Jared Goff trade. The Niners play the Rams next week, with the best case scenario being a San Francisco win that drops them in draft order without helping LA at all and instead improving the pick for the Titans.

The Rams play the Cardinals in Week 17, hopefully adding another win for Arizona.