Way-too-early 2021 NFC West predictions after free agency

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The NFC West was one of the more competitive divisions in the NFL a year ago.It does not appear much has changed through the first week of the new league year.The 49ers, coming off their NFC title of 2019, fell to the bottom of the division in 2020 primarily due to an inexplicable wave of injuries.So far, the offseason is going a lot better for the 49ers, who finished with the best record of any NFL basement team from the 2020 season.The rest of the division does not appear to be going anywhere, either, as it's a solid bet that each of the teams will remain in contention for most of the year.Here’s what’s happening around the NFC West this offseason, along with a way-too-early-prediction for where each team will finish this upcoming season.

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2020 record: 6-10 (last place)
Key gains: C Alex Mack (UFA; Atlanta Falcons), Edge Samson Ebukam (UFA; Los Angeles Rams)
Key losses: WR Kendrick Bourne (UFA; New England Patriots), DL Solomon Thomas (UFA; Raiders)

What’s going on: The 49ers already have brought back some key players, including the big one -- left tackle Trent Williams. GM John Lynch has also made a lot of headway in keeping the nucleus together, as the 49ers also re-signed fullback Kyle Juszczyk, defensive lineman D.J. Jones, and defensive backs Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley and Jaquiski Tartt. The 49ers are set up nicely for the remainder of the offseason because there are no glaring needs that must be filled. Sure, they can upgrade and build depth at some positions, but many of the pieces are already in place.

Draft picks: Nine -- Nos. 12, 43, 102, 117, 155, 172, 181, 194, 230

Way too early prediction: 11-5 (first place)

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2020 record: 8-8 (third place)
Key gains: DL J.J. Watt (cut; Houston Texans), WR A.J. Green (UFA; Cincinnati Bengals)
Key losses: CB Patrick Peterson (UFA; Minnesota Vikings), RB Kenyan Drake (UFA; Raiders)

What’s going on: The Cardinals were set up nicely for the playoffs last season. Things were certainly looking up after DeAndre Hopkins hauled in the “Hail Murray” pass from quarterback Kyler Murray to beat the Buffalo Bills. But the Cardinals fell on their faces, losing five of their final seven to drop out of the playoff picture. If Watt has much left and can avoid injuries, he will provide the young, aggressive defense with a boost of playmaking and leadership. The Cardinals need to find a replacement for Peterson, a reliable cover man for many years. This is a huge season for Murray, who could be a 4,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher but needs to cut down on his giveaways.

Draft picks: Five -- Nos. 16, 49, 160, 243, 247

Way too early prediction: 10-6 (second place)

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2020 record: 10-6 (second place)
Key gains: QB Matthew Stafford (trade; Detroit Lions)
Key losses: QB Jared Goff (trade; Lions), DL Michael Brockers (trade; Lions), S John Johnson (UFA; Cleveland Browns), Edge Samson Ebukam (UFA; 49ers), CB Troy Hill (UFA; Browns)

What’s going on: When coach Sean McVay could not get over the hump with Goff, he lost patience. So riding to the rescue, supposedly, is Stafford. He’s an immensely talented thrower of the football. But his presence over a dozen years with the Lions never translated to winning. Detroit was 74-90-1 in games Stafford started. Stafford had three one-and-done playoff appearances while with the Lions. The Rams were strapped for cash this offseason, but they managed to hold onto edge rusher Leonard Floyd with a four-year, $64 million contract.

Draft picks: Six -- Nos. 57, 88, 103, 141, 209, 252

Way too early prediction: 9-7 (third place)

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2020 record: 12-4 (first place)
Key gains: G Gabe Jackson (trade; Raiders), CB Ahkello Witherspoon (UFA; 49ers)
Key losses: CB Shaquill Griffin (UFA, Jacksonville Jaguars), TE Jacob Hollister (UFA; Buffalo Bills), RB Carlos Hyde (UFA; Jaguars), WR David Moore (UFA; Carolina Panthers)

What’s going on: All the Russell Wilson talk this offseason cannot be good for the future of this organization. On the surface, Wilson is a great player. He’s one of the best in the NFL. But behind the scenes with the Seahawks, his act appears to have worn thin. However, he is not wrong with his complaint that the organization has not done enough to protect him. The Seahawks still must upgrade their offensive line. Pete Carroll has done a remarkable job during his 12-year run as head coach. The level of consistency he has achieved is remarkable. But it just seems as if time has run out and things in the Pacific Northwest are trending in a decidedly southward direction.

Draft picks: Three -- Nos. 56, 129, 250

Way too early prediction: 7-9 (last place)

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