All 32 teams have reported for the start of training camp for the 2021 season, which means a brand new season is right around the corner! Last time, we took a look at the NFC North, which had some hot seats initially, but now it seems like cooler heads have prevailed over in Green Bay? Luckily, for Packers fans, Aaron Rodgers has agreed to return to the frozen tundra, perhaps for this so-called “Last Dance”. While the NFC North starts to shape up, we take a look at the west coast and the highly competitive NFC West, where there has been a ton of changes. Let’s take a look at one of my favorite and most competitive divisions in all of football!
Arizona Cardinals: GM Steve Keim and Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury
I’ve never been to Arizona myself but, from what my brother-in-law and his girlfriend have told me before, I know that it is just flat out hot in the Grand Canyon state. For the Cardinals, not only is it hot in general where they play, but the pressure to field a consistent winner is heating up the temperature exponentially for a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs in five years. I believe that streak is going to extend to six years because the other three teams in their division just have better rosters altogether. GM Steve Keim has been the man in charge since 2013 and, up to this point, hasn’t produced results that warrant a safe seat. In those eight years, they’ve only had one playoff win yet, in 2021, the hot seat seems to be on head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury may not have shown that he’s truly the guy yet, but he did inherit a below-average team and is now entering his third year with QB Kyler Murray. The offense will be exciting to watch as always, but the eyes will primarily be on the defense. They are now dealing with a disgruntled Chandler Jones, who has formally requested a trade. It would have been fun to watch Jones and new defensive end J.J. Watt work together, but it doesn’t seem likely at the moment. Also gone is All-Pro CB Patrick Peterson, who signed a deal with the Minnesota Vikings, which means they have to now rely on players like Byron Murphy and Malcolm Butler to man the secondary along with Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker. I just don’t think the defense will be able to hold up for 17 regular-season games.
Seat Temperature: Very hot. It doesn’t seem like there is any level of concern in Arizona, as GM Steve Keim doesn’t seem like he’s too worried about his position within the organization. Kingsbury seems to be taking the biggest criticism for his coaching decisions and, while it is warranted, the pressure should be more on Keim, who has failed to build a competitive roster to compete in one of the best divisions in the NFL. I’ll eat crow if the Cardinals make the playoffs this year, but I simply don’t see it.
Los Angeles Rams: GM Les Snead and Head Coach Sean McVay
The Rams made one of the biggest splashes of the offseason when they traded away their former number one overall pick, QB Jared Goff, in exchange for long-time Detroit Lions QB, Matthew Stafford. Even with a Super Bowl appearance back in the 2018-2019 season, it was clear that the front office felt that Goff was holding their offense back, which is why they traded him away. This is a Super Bowl-or-bust scenario for the Rams, who have mortgaged their future for a title that they’ve only won once, back when they were the St. Louis Rams. Their window is wide open at this point with future HOF DT Aaron Donald and one of the best cornerbacks in the league, Jalen Ramsey. They did lose their defensive coordinator (and now head coach), Brandon Staley, to the Chargers, but hired Raheem Morris to run the defense. They also did lose safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill to the Browns, so expect a little drop off in the play of their secondary. My only concern is that, if the injury bug hits them on defense, the overall play of their unit could dip because their depth is a bit thin. We already saw the brutal injury to RB Cam Akers on offense, and he will be out for the season now due to his Achilles. I’ll be curious to see what the front office does in terms of adding better depth to the RB position, and I’m interested to see if Coach McVay trusts new starter Darrell Henderson with carrying the load to control time of possession. That being said, as per ProFootballRumors, the Rams do have faith in their four (maybe five) man RB group, and they currently are not looking for upgrades (even if they do need them). We’ll see if things change in the coming days.
Seat Temperature: Warm. No, I don’t think both Snead and McVay will be fired after this year but they certainly will have a lot to answer if their SB aspirations fall short. The Bucs aren’t going anywhere and Green Bay just got Rodgers back for a potential last run, so do the Rams have enough to top those two teams? We’ll find out when the games are played, but they better buckle in if plans go haywire.
San Francisco 49ers: GM John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan
Despite being the defending NFC Champions, the San Francisco 49ers went through a rough time in the 2020-2021 season and stumbled to a 6-10 season. The 49ers were ravaged with injuries, losing players like TE George Kittle, DE Nick Bosa, DE Solomon Thomas, CB Richard Sherman, and even their starting QB, Jimmy Garoppolo. Like the Rams, even with a SB appearance, it seems like the organization is ready to cut ties with their incumbent starter for a potentially better upgrade at the position. There were lots of rumors regarding which direction the front office would go in terms of grabbing their QB of the future. Eventually, the route they chose was trading multiple draft picks for the number three overall pick in the 2021 draft and ultimately picking North Dakota QB Trey Lance as the future of the organization. That being said, he’ll probably be the second-string QB behind Garoppolo, who is looking to make up for a lost 2020 season. Even if they turn to the rookie Lance, the 49ers bring a powerhouse defense, especially in the front seven (Bosa, DE Arik Armstead, second-year DT Javon Kinlaw, All-Pro LB Fred Warner, and underrated LB Dre Greenlaw. If Lance can execute the Shanahan playbook properly, this team has the potential to rise from the bottom of the division to the very top, thus making this division an absolute gauntlet.
Seat Temperature: Warm. This team finds itself in a similar position to the Rams, where the GM and coach shouldn’t be worried about their jobs. They did, however, trade away future assets and are putting pressure on a guy to prove that they made the right choice. I don’t think this is SB-or-bust for them in the 2021-2022 season, but it will have to pay off with a SB win to justify the price they paid. If it doesn’t, heads will roll very quickly.
Seattle Seahawks: GM John Schneider and Head Coach Pete Carroll
Although I’ve personally never been to Arizona, I have visited the city of Seattle before, and I would highly recommend taking a trip out there. There are lots of awesome sights to see, great food to try, and the city is also buzzing now that an expansion hockey team (the Seattle Kraken) will be making their debut this season. Seattle is also home to the Seahawks franchise and the 12th man that has been stuck in limbo the past few seasons. Long gone are the days of the Legion of Boom, which was one of the most intimidating secondaries in the league, and now they have to deal with an average unit manning the back end. Although GM John Schneider struck gold with guys like QB Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 draft, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and safety Earl Thomas, the Seahawks only have one Super Bowl to show for it. The front office has done a pretty remarkable job finding talent in the later rounds of the draft, but has whiffed when it comes to picking players in the first round (besides Thomas and OT Russell Okung). These consistent misses DO affect the overall success of a team, especially when the team hasn’t made the NFC Conference Championship game since the 2014-2015 season. Pete Carroll has been a home run hire for this organization, and his coaching style and energy certainly have helped this team be highly competitive for his entire tenure essentially. All of these nice accolades don’t mean a thing, though, if they don’t capitalize on this window that still remains open as long as Russell Wilson remains their starting QB.
Seat Temperature: Warm. I believe that GM Schneider and HC Carroll have to be feeling the pressure of yet another early disappointing exit in last year’s playoffs. This division is going to be most competitive in all of football and, even though they finished 12-4, I can see a slight regression coming since they lost some notable players in free agency. They could still challenge for a playoff spot, heck even a division title, but I firmly believe that the Rams and 49ers (even with their questions at QB) at full health are still better than the Seahawks. They absolutely need players like DE L.J. Collier, LB Jordyn Brooks, and RB Rashad Penny to step up and prove that they’re worth the first-round investment for this team to get past their recent woes in the playoffs. Pink slips won’t be handed just yet, but they can be lurking around the corner.
That covers the NFC West and, next time, I’ll be back with the NFC South to view some cooler seats in a normally warm division!
- Cover Picture: https://www.downtownrams.com/single-post/2019/09/08/nfl-preview-nfc-west/
- Arizona Cardinals GM and HC Picture: https://clutchpoints.com/cardinals-news-steve-keim-discusses-how-kliff-kingsbury-is-adapting-to-nfl-head-coaching-role/
- Los Angeles Rams GM and HC Picture: https://www.espn.com/blog/st-louis-rams/post/_/id/37657/the-5-ways-rams-gm-les-snead-saved-his-job
- San Francisco 49ers GM and HC Picture: https://www.revengeofthebirds.com/2017/9/29/16382826/kyle-shanahan-and-john-lynch-look-to-bring-stability-back-to-the-san-francisco-49ers
- Seattle Seahawks GM and HC Picture: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sports/nfl/sdut-seattle-seahawks-carroll-schneider-2014jan29-story.html
Edited By: Rupayan “Abs” Samanta.