I followed that up with an article that went through Seattle’s schedule and laid out a possible path to double-digit wins.
Today, I’m going to take things a step further and propose that the Seahawks could win the NFC West title in 2022.
Is this a bridge too far? Perhaps. But I don’t think so.
Everyone is equal right now - zero wins and zero losses.
Plus, the other three teams in the NFC West have issues that could ultimately prove to be much worse than the Seahawks’ decision(s) to overhaul their roster and roll with Geno Smith at quarterback.
Today, we’re going to dive into why I think each of our division rivals could falter.
And we’ll start with a team that can’t seem to get out of their own way despite having a pretty good quarterback and a solid roster.
I could point to Kliff Kingsbury’s career trend of starting hot and then falling off a proverbial cliff during the back half of each season as the main reason the Cardinals don’t scare anyone.
I could underscore that point by reminding everyone that the Cardinals started the 2021 season with 7 straight wins then squandered that by dropping 4 of their final 5 games before getting shellacked by the Rams in the wildcard round, 34-11.
I could also bring up 2020, when they started the season with a 5-2 mark and then flipped that by ending the season with 2 wins in their final 7 games.
But instead I’ll focus on the fact that their best player, DeAndre Hopkins, is serving a 6-game suspension to start the season. That means that the Cardinals most fearsome weapon will be watching the game from his couch when the Cardinals travel to Seattle in Week 6. It also means that Hopkins may not be in “football shape” when the rematch occurs 3 weeks later.
Even if Hopkins is 100% come Week 9, our secondary should be up to the task against him. And, if not, it’s just one game.
The Cardinals’ other games while Hopkins is sidelined are vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, at the Las Vegas Raiders, vs. the Los Angeles Rams, at the Carolina Panthers, and vs. the Philadelphia Eagles from Weeks 1 through 5.
How will they fare?
I would guess that they’ll be no better than 3-2 heading to Seattle in Week 6 (and no better than .500 when they head home).
Their schedule arguably gets harder from there.
After we beat them on October 16th, the Cardinals have a short week to prepare for the Saints (at home) on Thursday Night Football. They then travel north to take on the Minnesota Vikings, have the rematch with us (in AZ), a rematch with the Rams (in L.A.), and a home game against the Niners. After another home game vs. the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 12, the Cardinals get their bye.
If they are above .500 at this point, I will be somewhat impressed.
Arizona ends their season with a pair of home games – against the New England Patriots (Week 14) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 16) – and a trio of road games – at the Denver Broncos (Week 15), at the Atlanta Falcons (Week 17), and at San Francisco (Week 18).
The Falcons game might be a gimme, but the other four games could easily end with the Cardinals on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
Especially given their coach’s track record in late-season games.
Like the rest of the division, the Niners have 6 games against the NFC West, 4 games against the AFC West, and 4 games against the NFC South.
Their other 3 games are against:
Given that the 49ers were one play away last year from potentially returning to the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons, it’s easy to assume that they’re a playoff caliber team again in 2022.
Not so fast.
From the East Bay Times on August 27th: The 49ers’ offensive line issues are too big to ignore.
The 49ers’ offensive line turned in a pernicious preseason performance. And while there is reason to believe the five-man unit will improve, there should be serious concerns about its play heading into the Sept. 11 season opener at Chicago.
The good news is that 49ers left tackle Trent Williams is the best in the game — at his position and perhaps at all positions. He had a nearly flawless season in 2021, and he’ll need to do the same in 2022. There’s no reason to believe he won’t come close.
But he can’t play all five positions on the line at once.
The 49ers have serious questions at the four other offensive line positions.
I am not going to cannibalize the entire article, but here’s a summary:
- LG handed starting role despite not playing a single snap last season.
- C is a 30-year-old journeyman with only 16 games of experience (and only has 3 career starts on the O-line).
- RG is a rookie.
- RT is coming off a torn quad and it’s questionable if he’ll be able to return to his old form.
And then there’s the fact that Trey Lance is their starting quarterback and the front office and coaching staff don’t seem entirely convinced that he’s up to the challenge.
Plus, the 49ers retained Jimmy Garoppolo which is going to make things super awkward when Lance inevitably struggles. Especially given the fact that Jimmy G received $9M in playing time incentives as part of his reworked contract.
There’s also this nugget from an ESPN+ article that says, in part, “Don’t be surprised if (the 9ers) miss the playoffs”:
Kyle Shanahan’s record as 49ers head coach is 39-42 (43-44 counting playoffs), and the team has failed to reach seven wins in three of his five seasons. So it wouldn’t be the first time people overrated the 49ers in the preseason.
Summary: Under Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers are BOOM or BUST and the safer bet this year is on BUST.
Oh, and Shanahan is 2-8 against the Hawks (2017-2021). Seattle has a chance to push him to double digit losses by season’s end – and wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?
The Los Angeles Rams
Given their first-place finish in 2022, the Rams’ schedule is fairly brutal.
Week 1: Buffalo Bills.
Yes, the game against the Bills is at home, but the Bills are one of the Super Bowl favorites (the favorite according to most sites I’ve looked at), and are basically the toughest matchup a team could have to start the season.
The Atlanta Falcons travel to L.A. in Week 2 to gift the Rams a W, but then the Rams have back-to-back divisional road games against the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers in Weeks 3 and 4, followed by a home game against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5.
Could the defending Super Bowl Champions end that gauntlet at 5-0? Sure. But I think they have roughly the same odds of finishing it with a record of 1-4.
The middle of their schedule has rematches with the 49ers (Week 8) and Cardinals (Week 10), with a road game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sandwiched in between. NFC South matchups, vs. Carolina (Week 6) and at New Orleans (Week 11), bookend that stretch, which also includes their bye (Week 7).
Given that this is (potentially) the most favorable part of their schedule, I would expect the Rams to record 3 or 4 wins. Assuming, of course, that Matthew Stafford’s elbow issue doesn’t derail them – more on this in a minute.
The stretch run for the Rams will be interesting ... especially if the Seahawks don’t suck.
Week 12 has them on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs. They host Seattle Week 13 and the Las Vegas Raiders Week 14. Then they travel to the frozen tundra to face the Green Bay Packers in Week 15, fly home to face the Denver Broncos Week 16, stay home for a “road” game against the Los Angeles Chargers Week 17, then fly to Seattle for a rematch with the Seahawks Week 18.
Let that sink in for a minute.
If the Seahawks don’t suck, 6 of the Rams’ final 7 games are against us and the AFC West, which is presumed to be the “toughest division in football” this year. And the 7th game is against the Packers ... in Green Bay.
That stretch could be ridiculously fun to watch (if you dislike the Rams).
Even more so if Matthew Stafford is struggling.
For those that aren’t aware, Stafford has an undefined “issue” with the elbow on his throwing arm. Head Coach Sean McVay described the injury as “abnormal” for a quarterback and likened it to injuries that are often seen in pitchers. Stafford has been exceptionally vague, describing the injury simply as “soreness” and “something that is irritating at the moment”.
Stafford has been throwing in individual drills and 7-on-7 setups while skipping the full-team portions of the defending Super Bowl champions’ training camp practices at UC Irvine. Stafford had an unspecified injection in his elbow during the offseason, and he reported feeling ongoing pain in the joint last month after not doing any serious throwing in the Rams’ offseason program.
Both McVay and Stafford say that it won’t affect his availability during the season, but we know that it’s impacted his ability to participate in training camp and who’s to say it won’t impact his play in regular season games?
After all, there is a difference between being “available” and being “effective”.
And let’s not forget that Stafford led the league in interceptions last season (tied with Trevor Lawrence at 17 apiece). If his elbow isn’t right, he could sit alone atop the INT list this season.
It’s also worth noting that the new-look Seahawks will have 11 games under their belts before they face the Rams this season and the world will know if Stafford’s elbow is a liability by then.
And, who knows, if the football gods smile upon us, a division title could be on the line when the Rams and Seahawks face off in the regular season finale at Lumen Field.
Wouldn’t that be something?
Sadly, there is no Part Four to this series.
Even optimists have limits.