(CBS San Francisco)- The NFC West has been consistently one of, if not the most, difficult divisions in football over the last several seasons. The San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams appeared in the two Super Bowls prior to last season. The Seattle Seahawks have Russell Wilson, the league's preeminent escape artist and one of the best deep ball throwers in the league. And, in the last two years, the Arizona Cardinals have made their presence felt behind the play of Kyler Murray.
Heading into 2021, the division looks once again to be an all out war for the playoffs, with each of the four teams capable of making life miserable for opponents both in and outside the division.
"I think it's the strongest division in all of football, any of these four teams to do major damage throughout the rest of the league," said CBS San Francisco sports anchor Vern Glenn. "All four general managers have reached the Super Bowl, with their current teams, three of them as general managers one as director of player personnel, so these guys know how to do this, they know how to build teams."
The Seahawks won the division last season, but were bounced from the playoffs in the Wild Card Round by the Rams. Seattle snagged one of the Rams tight ends, bringing Gerald Everett to town in free agency and attempted to address their offensive line issues by adding Gabe Jackson in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders. But, the big key, as Glenn notes, is that Wilson is back, which will always put Seattle in contention.
"They're always going to be a threat for as long as Russell Wilson is back there," said Glenn. "But you got to be able to stop people and they've got edge rushers. They've got a decent defense in order to do damage. They're almost unbeatable at home, just for the noise alone in there I mean you can't even hear you talk in there."
Meanwhile the Rams didn't rest on their laurels after making it to the Divisional Round. Instead, they went out and made a blockbuster trade to bring in quarterback Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions who appears, on paper, to be a clear upgrade over Jared Goff. With Defensive Player Of The Year Aaron Donald and corner Jalen Ramsey leading the defense, Sean McVay has another formidable group.
The Cardinals were just outside the playoff picture looking in after dropping their last two games to the Niners and Rams to finish 8-8. Entering Year 3 of the Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray era, Glenn says this will be a make or break season.
"The pressure is going to be the on the Cardinals to do something," said Glenn. "Yes, it can be a dangerous team, but this is going to be, this would be five years now without going to the playoffs. It has to end now, or heads are gonna roll."
Last but not least, the team in Glenn's backyard, the 49ers. Injuries derailed last year's campaign leaving San Fran 6-10 and looking to make improvements heading into 2021. They may have made the biggest swing of any team trading up in the draft to take Trey Lance out of North Dakota State. Extremely talented, the question about Lance was how ready he would be after starting just 17 games in college.
The answer, after preseason, is that he looks pretty ready throwing for 276 yards and three touchdowns and adding another score on the ground. But, his debut will have to wait after he suffered a chipped bone in this thumb is likely to hold him out Week 1. The offense gets a shot in the arm with the addition of Lance but the defense gets an even bigger one with Nick Bosa and Dee Ford coming back after missing time last season. The defense and Shanahan's ability to scheme is why Glenn is picking the 49ers to rebound and go last to first in the division.
"I think Kyle Shanahan is a better coach. I think they have a better defense, I think they have, certainly a better pass rush I think they have a better offensive line I think they have been they're better at running back, possibly even better at receiver. Health is going to be the underlying thing for the balance of this season," Glenn said.
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