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San Francisco may be spinning the Niners’ Super Bowl loss as a lifesaver, but it may be the basis for the team itself blowing a chance to make a return trip to a championship game.
The 49ers are in full Super Bowl-or-bust mode, and going about it all wrong. Blowing a 10-point, fourth quarter lead can’t be reversed the following season, even if Kyle Shanahan’s offense is arguably more talented by adding former Washington stars Trent Williams and Jordan Reed. But top receiver Deebo Samuel enters the season banged up, so expect Jimmy Garoppolo — who may be auditioning to remain in San Fran beyond 2020 — to lean on his tight ends and the run game.
The 49ers defense should still be dominant thanks to the first-round selection of Javon Kinlaw to replace DeForest Buckner, but the corners not named Richard Sherman are young and/or shaky, so a drop off for 2019’s top pass defense seems inevitable, even with the great pass rush. I don’t see a full blown Super Bowl hangover, but a slight regression from last year that leads to a Week 17 showdown with the Seahawks in Santa Clara with the division title on the line.
Seattle went to consecutive Super Bowls with Russell Wilson shouldering the offensive load and a strong defense led by the Legion of Boom. Now, the Seahawks secondary could be the best it has been since the dismantling of that great defense.
Jamal Adams was added in a blockbuster deal, and Quinton Dunbar was traded to Washington state from Washington, D.C. for pennies on the dollar to play opposite Shaquil Griffin. If the defensive line can still get after the passer without Jadeveon Clowney, the defense should still be effective, even if it isn’t as dominant as it was during the Legion of Boom era.
Seattle added Greg Olsen — who is now old enough to have played with two generations of Metcalfs — to solidify an already-talented tight end group, which should help offset the lack of star power at wide receiver. Wilson was my early-season pick for MVP last year, and barring injury, he’ll likely continue to play at that level.
However, for many of the same reasons ESPN’s Bill Barnwell laid out here after the Adams trade, I don’t see Seattle making the deep playoff run they’re hoping for — but the Seahawks are certainly good enough to push San Fran for division supremacy, and maybe even hold off the Cardinals.
Arizona is ready to take the league by storm — and recent history implies they just might.
If recent trends in Madden ratings are any indication, reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray is in for a huge sophomore season, especially if he can quickly get on the same page with DeAndre Hopkins, a surprise acquisition in the offseason. Christian Kirk and the timeless Larry Fitzgerald should help make this one of the better receiving corps in the league, and the run game should be strong with Kenyan Drake and the ever-present threat of Murray.
The Cardinals were dead last in total defense in 2019 but added former Bills breakout Jordan Phillips to the defensive line, which already boasts the league’s most underrated pass rusher (Chandler Jones). First-round pick Isaiah Simmons could transform the defense in a variety of roles, especially the sagging linebacking unit. Even if this unit ranks toward the middle of the pack, that’s enough to help the Cards take a meaningful step forward.
Arizona’s season comes down to whether Murray can replicate the same massive Year 2 leaps Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson had the last two seasons. If he can — and coach Kliff Kingsbury isn’t an impediment — this could be a surprise contender.
If you’ve been watching Hard Knocks — or the NFL at all in the last few years — you’re well aware of how energetic Sean McVay is.
Well, apparently he’s found a new level.
He’ll need it. Coming off his first non-playoff season as a head coach, McVay’s Rams changed all three coordinators to try and keep up in a stacked NFC West. L.A. will break in a shiny, new stadium and new uniforms that inspire more memes than anything, but Jared Goff is still wearing said uniform; his 2019 regression after getting a big contract was one of the key reasons the Rams were home for the holidays.
The oft-injured Todd Gurley was dealt to Atlanta, leaving the run game to rely on youngsters Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson to pan out right away behind a Rams offensive line that is questionable, at best, in the interior.
The defense basically got a mulligan on bringing back Michael Brockers to play alongside Aaron Donald, but L.A. has a bunch of questions at linebacker and the secondary is hoping Jalen Ramsey will be more focused on returning to his All-Pro form than getting a lucrative contract.
McVay is a terrific coach with a team way too talented to be a last place team — but the crime of playing in an insanely talented division will prove too difficult to overcome.
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