NFC West rankings: Can 49ers overtake Rams to win division?


The Los Angeles Rams are not as good as they were when they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in their home stadium on the final Sunday of the season.

But they still have the best defensive lineman, the best defensive back, the best quarterback and the best offensive player in the NFC West.

Therefore, despite some legitimate concerns on both sides of the ball, it is no surprise the Rams remain the consensus favorite at this stage of the offseason to repeat as division champions.

Here’s an early ranking of the four teams in the division:

Los Angeles Rams

Key additions: LB Bobby Wagner (Seahawks), WR Allen Robinson (Bears), CB Troy Hill (Browns)

Key subtractions: DE Von Miller (Bills), LT Andrew Whitworth (retired), WR Robert Woods (Titans), CB Darious Williams (Jaguars), RG Austin Corbett (Panthers), DT Sebastian Joseph-Day (Chargers)

Top rookies: G Logan Bruss, Wisconsin (third round), DB Decobie Durant, South Carolina State (fourth round), RB Kyren Williams, Notre Dame (fifth round)

The Rams must replace two starters on the offensive line, an edge rusher and a starting cornerback from a team that went 12-5 in the regular season a year ago.

But, obviously, coach Sean McVay’s team finds itself in good position to make a run at a repeat championship.

The Rams’ nucleus is about as good as it gets with dominant defensive lineman Aaron Donald, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who led the NFL last season in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

The Rams filled one hole at inside linebacker with the signing of Wagner, a 10-year NFL veteran whom the Seahawks released in the offseason. If Wagner can still cover at a high level, that will solve one of the few issues the Rams had a year ago.

San Francisco 49ers

Key additions: CB Charvarius Ward (Chiefs), DE Kerry Hyder (Seahawks), WR Ray-Ray McCloud (Steelers)

Key subtractions: LG Laken Tomlinson (Jets), DT D.J. Jones (Broncos), RB Raheem Mostert (Dolphins), NB K’Waun Williams (Broncos), DE Arden Key (Jaguars)

Top rookies: DE Drake Jackson, USC (second round), RB Ty Davis-Price, LSU (third round), WR Danny Gray, SMU (third round)

The 49ers stumbled through the first half of the season before getting hot and entering the playoffs as a wild-card team with a 10-7 record. Then, the 49ers won on the road at Dallas and Green Bay before squandering a fourth-quarter lead and losing to the Rams in the NFC Championship Game.

Ward was the big free-agent expenditure. The 49ers expect such players as guard Aaron Banks and defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw to step in as starters to compensate for the losses of Tomlinson and Banks.

Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch said they believe Trey Lance is ready to take over as the 49ers’ starting quarterback. But Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the roster after the team was unsuccessful in finding a trade partner after he underwent shoulder surgery in March.

How the organization manages what could be another uncomfortable quarterback situation — and, specifically, how Lance performs after getting his opportunity as the starter — will determine whether the 49ers can keep up or surpass the Rams this season.

There's still offseason work ahead of the 49ers to satisfy wide receiver Deebo Samuel with a new contract.

The 49ers should be vastly improved on special teams with the additions of McCloud, Oren Burks and George Odum.

Arizona Cardinals

Key additions: WR Marquise Brown (Ravens)

Key subtractions: DE Chandler Jones (Raiders), LB Jordan Hicks (Vikings), WR Christian Kirk (Jaguars)

Top rookies: TE Trey McBride, Colorado State (second round), DE Cameron Thomas, San Diego State (third round), DE Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati (third round)

The Cardinals staggered into the postseason after losing four of five games and finishing in second place in the NFC West with an 11-6 record.

Then, the Rams blew out the Arizona, 34-11, in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

It is easy to envision the Cardinals picking up this season where they left off and falling behind in the standings. It has already been a tumultuous offseason with Kyler Murray and his agent expressing discontent with the organization.

Murray is skipping the team’s voluntary offseason workouts, and that’s never a good thing for the starting quarterback and leader.

To make matters worse, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins will serve a six-game suspension to open the season for violating the league’s police on performance-enhancing substances.

Seattle Seahawks

Key additions: QB Drew Lock (Broncos), TE Noah Fant (Broncos), DT Shelby Harris (Broncos), DE Uchenna Nwosu (Chargers)

Key subtractions: QB Russell Wilson (Denver), LB Bobby Wagner (Rams), TE Gerald Everett (Chargers), CB D.J. Reed (Jets)

Top rookies: T Charles Cross, Mississippi State (first round), Edge Boye Mafe, Minnesota (second round), RB Kenneth Walker, Michigan State (second round), T Abraham Lucas, Washington State (third round), DB Coby Bryant, Cincinnati (fourth round)

The Seahawks finished last in the division with a 7-10 record, and the full rebuild has started. Seattle is likely to take a step back this season, which could enable them to move forward in the future.

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The organization is waiting until the 2023 offseason to add their long-term quarterback to replace Wilson from what appears to be a much-stronger quarterback draft class awaits next year.

Currently, Lock and Geno Smith are the quarterbacks atop the depth chart, and coach Pete Carroll recently stated he does not envision the Seahawks trading for a quarterback for this season.

The Seahawks took measures in the draft to rebuild their offensive line and defensive backfield.

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