Race Is on for Division Title, No. 1 Draft Pick

Seattle Seahawks

Smith had a big 2022 replacing Russell Wilson as the starting quarterback in Seattle, throw for 4,282 yards and 30 touchdowns.

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Key additions: C Evan Brown, LB Devin Bush, RB Zach Charbonnet, OLB Derick Hall, DL Dre’Mont Jones, S Julian Love, DT Jarran Reed, WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, LB Bobby Wagner, CB Devon Witherspoon

Key subtractions: DT Poona Ford, S Ryan Neal, RB Rashaad Penny, DT Al Woods

Where they stand: After surprising many with a productive Geno Smith–led offense, the Seahawks prioritized the defense this offseason by adding playmakers in all three phases. Seattle started by splurging in free agency with the addition of Jones, who’s coming off a breakout season in Denver with 6.5 sacks. They also returned familiar faces in Reed and Wagner to help improve a run defense that allowed 150.2 rushing yards per game in 2022. Wagner, who will turn 33 on June 27, was named a second-team All-Pro during his lone season with the Rams. But what truly made the Seahawks winners this offseason was spending first-round picks on Witherspoon and Smith-Njigba, possibly the two best prospects in the draft at their respective positions. Seattle followed by drafting Charbonnet to give the team a strong backfield with Kenneth Walker III, who rushed for 1,050 yards in his rookie season. The Seahawks also added pass-rushing depth with the selection of Hall, who will likely compete with Darrell Taylor for the No. 2 edge-rusher role behind Uchenna Nwosu.

Projected win total: 8.5

Odds to win the NFC West: +247

Final grade: B+

If Smith delivers again, the Seahawks could have one of the best offenses in the NFL with the additions of Smith-Njigba and Charbonnet. Some might argue that Seattle didn’t need another running back, but coach Pete Carroll prefers a run-heavy approach, and this might pay off in December and January when time of possession is critical to seal victories. Smith-Njigba, a smooth route runner, could be a friendly target in the intermediate game to complement downfield threats DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. But the Seahawks probably needed to do more to improve their poor run game. Jones will help as a pass rusher but struggled against the run last year.

San Francisco 49ers

Key additions: S Ji’Ayir Brown, QB Sam Darnold, DE Clelin Ferrell, OL Jon Feliciano, DT Javon Hargrave, TE Cameron Latu, K Jake Moody

Key subtractions: DE Samson Ebukam, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, RT Mike McGlinchey, CB Emmanuel Moseley, DE Charles Omenihu, DB Jimmie Ward

Where they stand: The 49ers lost a handful of starters who contributed to their impressive four-year run of advancing to three NFC championship games and a Super Bowl. But with plenty of depth across the roster and the splash signing of Hargrave, San Francisco should once again be one of the top teams in the NFL despite the key departures. The defensive front of Hargrave, Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead will likely give opposing offenses plenty of fits throughout the 2023 season. Hargrave had 11 sacks and 16 quarterback hits for the Eagles last season. Darnold is in the mix to compete with Trey Lance for the starting quarterback job while Brock Purdy recovers from the arm injury that hindered him against the Eagles in the conference title game. San Francisco also made some noise in the draft by selecting Moody in the third round to potentially replace veteran kicker Robbie Gould. The 49ers lost a few key pass rushers in free agency, but perhaps they can jump-start the career of Ferrell, the No. 4 pick of the Raiders in the ’19 draft.

Projected win total: 11.5

Odds to win the NFC West: -169

Final grade: B

The 49ers are stacked at various positions, but there’s uncertainty on the offensive line with a new right tackle in Colton McKivitz, who has started five total games in the past three seasons. Also, the offense might struggle early in the season with Darnold, who was inconsistent with the Jets and Panthers, or Lance, the unproven 2021 No. 3 pick with four career starts. For most teams, these two areas of concern would derail a season. But the 49ers tend to make it work with what they have offensively, judging from what they have done the past four seasons under coach Kyle Shanahan. It also helps to have a talented group of skill players, such as Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel. 

Arizona Cardinals

Key additions: OL Hjalte Froholdt, OL Paris Johnson Jr., OLB BJ Ojulari, LB Kyzir White, CB Garrett Williams, WR Michael Wilson

Key subtractions: DL Zach Allen, WR Chosen Anderson, OL Cody Ford, WR A.J. Green, CB Byron Murphy Jr.

Where they stand: The Cardinals were in bad shape to begin the offseason and might have gotten worse as the league calendar gets closer to training camp in late July. Arizona allowed two of its best players, Allen and Murphy, to find new homes and didn’t appear interested in adding outside help, possibly to maintain cap-space flexibility for next offseason. The Cardinals, however, added an outside free agent in Froholdt, who might be in the mix for the starting center job. Arizona’s best offseason acquisition was selecting Johnson with the No. 6 pick in the draft, but now the team has a logjam at tackle with D.J. Humphries and Kelvin Beachum. The Cardinals are also crowded at wide receiver after drafting Wilson in the third round and deciding to keep DeAndre Hopkins—at least for now. Ojulari, a second-round pick, should help on the defensive front, but this might be the team’s biggest area of concern. Also, this roster might take another hit if the Cardinals honor Budda Baker’s request to be traded.

Projected win total: 4.5

Odds to win the NFC West: +2425

Final grade: D+

The Cardinals avoided a failing grade by acquiring a 2024 first-round pick from the Texans in the draft-day trade that sent them from No. 3 to No. 12. (They later traded up with the Lions to draft Johnson at No. 6.) It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Cardinals have two top-five picks in a loaded draft class for quarterbacks next year. The potential move could net them a bounty of picks if they decide to trade and stay committed to quarterback Kyler Murray, who won’t be available for the start of this season because of a torn ACL he sustained in December. With the way first-year GM Monti Ossenfort operated this offseason, the Cardinals might have already turned the page to next season.

Los Angeles Rams

Key additions: OL Steve Avila, QB Stetson Bennett, TE Hunter Long, DT Kobie Turner, OLB Byron Young

Key subtractions: OG David Edwards, OLB Leonard Floyd, DT Greg Gaines, K Matt Gay, CB Troy Hill, QB Baker Mayfield, CB Jalen Ramsey, S Taylor Rapp, WR Allen Robinson, DT A’Shawn Robinson, S Nick Scott, ILB Bobby Wagner

Where they stand: After glancing at the Rams’ current depth chart, it’s hard to believe this team was a Super Bowl champion 15 months ago. The Rams said goodbye to nearly every notable defensive player from last year’s roster, giving Aaron Donald possibly the worst supporting cast in the NFL. Donald will be surrounded by inexperienced players, but the Rams addressed the defensive line during Day 2 of the NFL draft, adding Young and Turner. Avila, who can play guard and center, should help an offensive line that mightily struggled and was decimated by injuries last season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford might have better protection this season, but he’ll likely be looking in Cooper Kupp’s direction often after the team traded Robinson to the Steelers. The Rams seem headed toward another losing season, but they will at least have Sean McVay on the sidelines. He contemplated a coaching hiatus days after the 2022 season.

Projected win total: 6.5

Odds to win the NFC West: +639

Final grade: D-

Outside of creating cap space for next season, the Rams didn’t do much for this year’s team. McVay will likely use the underdog role to motivate his inexperienced roster, and they’ll probably win a few games with Stafford, Kupp and Donald still there. Perhaps the rookie class will show enough flashes throughout the season to become building blocks for the future. But expect the Rams to endure back-to-back losing seasons after winning the Super Bowl, as they might find themselves in the race for Williams and Maye by Halloween. 

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