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NFC West is strongest in NFL, but should be even better next year

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

People have talked. Everyone from casual fans to daily analysts have noticed that the NFC West is very good. Historically good, based on win percentages at different points this season.

Even after a nuclear meteorite blew a chunk out of the hull of the San Francisco 49ers and lit them on fire, the NFC West remains the best division in the NFL through 10 games apiece.

All four teams have a positive point differential; the only division in the league to do so. What’s more, is each team can make a convincing argument that they should be stronger in 2021, which begs a couple of questions. First: can you do that? If every team improves, yet plays each other twice (six divisional games total), is there a ceiling for greatness? Second: where does that leave the Seattle Seahawks as they stare down the barrel of this ridiculous quartet they’re stuck with until California finally secedes into its own nation?

Let’s start with this year and the argument for improvement. The San Francisco 49ers are the easiest. The argument is as follows:

  • No team in the history of organized sport has suffered as many injuries as the Niners (entirely anecdotal, no evidence provided). However, c’mon man. This was not a year we’d wish on our....worst rivals?
  • One would reasonably assume that next year the odds of this many top-level athletes missing the season is near zero, and the team from the Super Bowl two years prior would be at minimum a .500 level team

The Arizona Cardinals are pretty straightforward as well:

  • Kyler Murray has shown improvement from years one to two, and looks capable of making more of his much needed improvement. Another year to connect with DeAndre Hopkins
  • Chandler Jones hit the IR in mid-October. He’s easily one of their best three or four defensive players
  • Eighth overall pick Isaiah Simmons did not play 30% of his team’s snaps until Week 9. Now that he has, he looks like the pick was earned.
  • The Cardinals are 6-4 with the league’s eighth toughest schedule, playing well and beating good teams. Plenty of reason to believe they’ll be as good next year, maybe more so.

For the Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams, the story is a slightly different.

The Rams have not been that hurt; they’ve not been losing weird games. In fact, they’ve beaten five very terrible teams, the banged-up Seahawks, and new Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We could say something about rookie running backs and potential growth, or that Taylor Rapp might make them better next year, and other soft arguments but the strength of their defense has surprised almost everybody, and they will still have Sean McVay and Aaron Donald. They’ve proven that a massive regression is unlikely, and if they ever get a real quarterback might make a significant step forward. At the very least, they will be a good team.

Finally, without sounding too much like a homer, Seattle is hopefully turning the corner and becoming the team we thought they could be this year. Injuries and just the most incomprehensible weirdness on defense let to altogether too much stress for 2020. Russell Wilson, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and some-RB-at-least-better-than-DeeJay-Dallas, behind this offensive line, will contend for greatness again. This defense, if they return the necessary core, should keep them looking like the team that currently hopes to finish this season out at 12-4 or 13-3.

The Seahawks are a very good team, and hope to finish their divisional record at least 3-3. The New England Patriots hit the playoffs on a decade of mostly 5-1 divisional records.

With the way these four teams are built, it’s an impossibility to expect that any one is going to run the table. An 11-5 Seattle team last season went 3-3 in the West. That’s basically going to stay the target until something catastrophic befalls one of the four. Not like San Francisco this year, more like a team finally moving to the next quarterback and drafting the equivalent of Mitchell Trubisky. So yes, I see the most likely scenario being all teams improve or maintain, which keeps the average of splitting the division as the target. Last season’s Super Bowl 49ers did go 5-1 against the NFC West, but the Cardinals were not the team they are now, and still played them to within three points, as did the Rams.

For the Seahawks in particular, it’s certainly nice to have the better quarterback in each contest. It seems like they’ll match up best against Arizona, worst against L.A., and I don’t trust San Francisco one bit no matter what they do.

Keep all this in mind as the Niners continue fade down the stretch a bit, the NFC West could very easily have THREE 10-win teams. Ridiculous. If San Fran returns to form next season, this thing could be nasty for a couple more years.