2021 NFC West Preview

September 6, 2021

Getty Images/Abbie Parr

For the overall 2021 NFL Preview click here, and see the links below for the rest of the divisional previews.

AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West

NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West

Overview | Playoffs | Awards

Seahawks 14-3

This has been such a crazy offseason for quarterbacks that we’ve completely forgotten about the Russell Wilson saga.

Russ is apparently playing nice with the team for which he’s entering his 10th season, and he’ll do so working with a new offensive coordinator described as a “mastermind.” Shane Waldron will need to be that and more to work around an unimpressive offensive line (although, the Seahawks did get better there overall with the trade for Gabe Jackson). As usual, the offense will be good as long as Seattle lets Russ cook.

It’s far less rosy on defense, however. Bobby Wagner is the last defender from the Legion of Boom days and Shaquill Griffin departed in free agency, leaving more questions than answers in the secondary (aside from Jamal Adams, now the highest-paid safety in the NFL) and along the D-line. Though far from elite, this unit should be good enough to support Wilson and, somewhat surprisingly, win the best division in the league.

Rams 12-5

Since the trade that brought Matthew Stafford to Tinseltown, many have installed the Los Angeles Rams as a Super Bowl contender in the NFC.

Not so fast.

Sean McVay endured an abnormally large staff turnover in the offseason, and the deal for Stafford looks a lot like a desperation play that has comparisons to Jon Gruden and Rich Gannon, but probably won’t lead to the same Super Bowl results. Stafford will be fun to watch, and I expect him to be a clear upgrade over Jared Goff, but I suspect there’s a reason he never won in Detroit (you know, besides the Lions organization being a train wreck for the better part of a century) — and the Rams are about to find out firsthand.

The top-ranked defense of 2020 returns reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and uber-talented Jalen Ramsey, but not their coordinator nor roughly half their starters. Talent will probably keep this unit in the top 10 — and it will have to be if this is going to be a playoff team coming out of a ridiculously good division.

I think this is a good team nobody wants to face in the playoffs, but not quite the Super Bowl contender people make them out to be — especially with more Draft Day amenities than actual draft picks these days.

49ers 11-6

To quote the late Jim Fassel, San Francisco has shoved its chips to the middle of the table.

The Niners made an aggressive trade up to No. 3 to take Trey Lance (which may or may not turn out for Kyle Shanahan eerily similar to his dad’s RGIII experience) and create a QB controversy between the rookie and incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo, who is generally more handsome than he is healthy. The Shanahan offense is perpetually great at running the ball, but a difference-maker under center could take San Fran to dynastic heights.

Of course, that’s because the defense, riddled with injuries in 2020, is getting Nick Bosa back to shore up a strong defensive front and figures to look more like the borderline dominant 2019 unit. Demeco Ryans takes over for Robert Saleh as the coordinator, which makes me uneasy because he’s only six years removed from his playing career, but Mike Vrabel had a similar rapid rise a few years ago, so I’m curious to see how that Niners D navigates that crucial change.

The uncertainty at quarterback and a huge travel schedule disadvantage will be obstacles that keep San Francisco from winning what is, again, the best division in football.

Cardinals 8-9

I’ve literally met only two Arizona Cardinals fans so I’ll keep this one brief.

The Cardinals will always be a last-place team as long as Steve Keim is in the front office and Kliff Kingsbury is head coach. Behold:

It’s nice that the Cards landed J.J. Watt for a defense ranked just outside the top 10 in 2020. Kyler Murray is a future star, and he’ll have a bevy of weapons at his disposal (even if essentially swapping out Larry Fitzgerald for A.J. Green is probably a downgrade). But this division is way too good, and Arizona’s leadership is way too mediocre to finish anywhere but the NFC West basement.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on WTOP.com.

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