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NFC West splits into 2 distinct classes as Seahawks, Rams vie for playoffs while Cardinals, 49ers carve bottom

A Field Gulls back and forth about the latest division pecking order after 2017 week 5

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Field Gulls staff got to talking this morning in the Field Gulls boardroom about the best and worst teams in the NFC West, and noticed how clearly each battle was already defined by two-team dynamics.

Right now the Los Angeles Rams are tied with the Seattle Seahawks at the top of the table, with the Seahawks holding the tiebreaker edge after its road win at the Coliseum on Sunday. Meanwhile the Arizona Cardinals lurk just a game behind the leaders, but with two bare overtime wins and a desperate stench, appear much closer to the San Francisco 49ers who are 0-5, but winless with fight!

Apart from a three-touchdown third quarter against the Tennessee Titans in week 3, Seattle has allowed just five touchdowns in five games this in 2017. Despite two wins, Arizona has a scoring differential of minus-44, worst in the league beside the 1-4 Chicago Bears (-46) and the 0-5 Cleveland Browns (-47)—and the horrific Indianapolis Colts, who are also 2-3 but with a minus-62 differential. That’s almost as impressive as the 3-2 Jacksonville Jaguars leading the league in scoring margin at plus-56. For what it’s worth the L.A. Rams are second in the whole NFC with plus-31.

Seattle is not obligated to make an injury report during its bye week but 13 of the 53 roster members were listed on the injury report before week 5, and that doesn’t count Chris Carson, Dewey McDonald or George Fant (all out for the year), or DeShawn Shead, Dion Jordan or Malik McDowell (all with uncertain timetables for return). Cliff Avril may never play again, while Quinton Jefferson got hurt on his first day at practice back with the club. The Rams had only three players listed with injury before the game, and one of those ailments was an Sammy Watkins’s “illness”.

Illness sounds more like something out of Dostoyevsky, for sure. But L.A. does not have Earl Thomas, Mookie’s right, and Earl Thomas is allll Pushkin.

The Rams had been led by their offense all season—entering the Seahawks game with the sixth-best DVOA on that side of the ball and best passing efficiency—while the defense was getting along on reputation and the presumption that Wade Phillips could further maximize a unit that was middle of the pack by Football Outsiders figures in 2016. The Seattle offensive line is a cure for any defense, as L.A. rose two spots from 13th to 11th in DVOA against, but meanwhile the offense tumbled to 13th when the Legion of Boom shut down Jared Goff.

Los Angeles upgraded its blocking by picking up John Sullivan and Andrew Whitworth in the spring, but at 32 Sullivan is the second-oldest starting center behind the Carolina PanthersRyan Kalil—and Whitworth, easily the oldest starting left tackle at 35, is so old he was on the second-ever SEC team to win a BCS title game with LSU in 2003. It wasn’t till three years after that the SEC embarked on its run of seven straight—and now the BCS has already been out of existence 2013.

As for the 49ers and Cardinals, I don’t put anything past a Bruce Arians losing streak once the wheels get rolling, but at least for now only one of those coaches’s futures depends on expectations in 2017.