NFC West preview: How Seahawks stack up against division rivals

Examining the Seahawks’ competition in the hard-fought NFC West as they enter the 2022 NFL season.

SEATTLES — Editor’s Note: This story is part of the Seahawks Season Preview Series of KING 5.

In the past few NFL seasons, there hasn’t been a division in football that’s been as competitive across the board as the NFC West.

The Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl in February, while the San Francisco 49ers have appeared in two of the last three NFC Championship ganes. And the Arizona Cardinals made significant progress in 2021 despite losing in the wild card round.

The Seahawks are entering a new era where former team captains Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner have moved to other teams this offseason.

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Let’s take a look at how each of the Seahawks’ three fellow NFC West players is shaping up for the 2022 season and how Seattle is doing.

Arizona Cardinals

  • Record 2021: 11-6 (lost in Wild Card Game vs. Rams)
  • 2022 Matchups vs. Seahawks: Week 6 at Lumen Field (Oct. 16), Week 9 at State Farm Stadium (Nov. 6)

Offense: Kyler Murray ended all of his offseason drama by signing a new $230.5 million extension with Arizona, though it came with an interesting clause that was eventually removed. Murray is one of the NFL’s fastest quarterbacks along with Lamar Jackson and should be a big challenge for a new Seahawks linebacking corps with several fresh faces.

James Conner was called to his second career Pro Bowl in 2021 after piling up 752 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground for Arizona, and is returning in 2022 for his second year in the desert. The Cardinals also signed Darrel Williams to a one-year deal. Williams made a solid contribution for the Kansas City Chiefs, including 144 carries for 558 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2021.

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Three-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins will be the No. 1 target for Arizona offense despite serving a six-game suspension earlier in the season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown was acquired in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens, and the former first-round draft pick will get a lion’s share of the targets while Hopkins is off the team. Hopkins will be back with the team for the Cardinals’ second duel with the Seahawks in Week 9, but he will end his punishment when the teams meet for the first time on Oct. 16 in Seattle. Tight end Zach Ertz also expects to catch quite a few balls after trailing just behind Mark Andrews in goals in Weeks 7-18 last season (Ertz joined Arizona’s roster before Week 7).

Arizona has one of the most experienced offensive lines in the NFL, but also has several players with long injury histories. Expect Seattle’s young generation of pass rushers to have some of their most prolific games against the Cardinals in 2022. Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranks Arizona’s offensive line 25th out of 32 teams.

Defense: JJ Watt is the most notable name on the Arizona defensive line, and he’s still making the occasional impressive play even as he enters his 12th NFL season at the age of 33. Chandler Jones, the franchise’s all-time leader in career sacks, left for the Las Vegas Raiders on a free-hand basis. Rashard Lawrence struggled with injuries in 2021 but should make progress in his third NFL season.

Arizona has two quality inside linebackers in Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, both of whom were drafted in the first round. Markus Golden also returns, offering an experienced lead as well as a strong pass-rushing ability after amassing 11 sacks in 2021.

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In secondary, Byron Murphy Jr. and Marco Wilson should be the starting cornerbacks, with Jalen Thompson and Budda Baker covering the two safety points. Wilson held his own after being pushed into a starting role as a rookie in 2021, although his numbers dwindled towards the end of the season when opposing offenses targeted him early and often. Budda Baker made his fourth Pro Bowl of 2021, but PFF ranks Arizona’s secondary 27th of 32 units in the NFL.

Los Angeles Rams

  • Record 2021: 12-5 (Super Bowl won vs. Cincinnati Bengals)
  • 2022 Matchups vs. Seahawks: Week 13 at SoFi Stadium (December 4), Week 18 at Lumen Field (January 8)

Offense: Matthew Stafford returns to center after delivering Los Angeles a Super Bowl championship at his home stadium in February. Stafford led the NFL in regular-season interceptions (17) but also had his best completion percentage since 2015 and most touchdown passes since 2011 in his first season with the Rams Seahawks belong.

Running back Cam Akers is expected to return in full force after suffering an Achilles tendon injury in 2021, although he had to sit out the early part of training camp with a soft tissue problem. The Rams are reportedly placing a greater emphasis on the running game in 2022. So expect plenty of Akers touches against Seattle. Darrell Henderson had 148 carries for 688 yards and 5 touchdowns in Akers’ absence and should be there to spell it again this year, though he too hobbled in training camp.

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After Robert Woods was traded this offseason, the Rams brought in Allen Robinson to start at wide receiver alongside elite passcatcher Cooper Kupp. Kupp became one of the top two wideouts in the NFL last season, and his elite speed and distance running are offset by Robinson’s strong catch radius. Van Jefferson and Ben Skowronek are also returning from LA’s 2021 Super Bowl winners. Tyler Higbee also returns on the tight end after hitting a career-high 5 touchdown catches last season.

The LA offensive line lost a strong left tackle in Andrew Whitworth, who retired, but PFF still ranks the Rams offensive line 11th among all units. Stafford is also handling the ball at one of the fastest rates in the NFL, so don’t expect many sacks for the Seahawks defensive line against the Rams.

defense: Aaron Donald returns to the Rams this offseason after some rumors of his retirement and remains arguably the most feared player in the NFL on the defensive line. He and A’Shawn Robinson would offer the Seahawks’ young offensive line one of their biggest challenges of the season.

Wagner returns to Southern California, where he grew up, after a decade in Seattle with the Seahawks. ESPN ranks the Rams’ linebacking corps as the fifth-best unit in the NFL, and with Leonard Floyd also back for LA, this front seven ranks among the best in the league.

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Jalen Ramsey will be back after an All-Pro season in 2021, joined at cornerback by Troy Hill, who was recaptured in a trade with the Cleveland Browns this offseason after starting his career in LA. Former University of Washington safety Taylor Rapp is returning after finishing last season on injured reserve, playing as starting safety alongside Nick Scott, who scored multiple impact plays on the Rams’ run to the title.

San Francisco 49ers

  • Record 2021: 10-7 (Lost NFC Championship Game vs. Rams)
  • 2022 Matchups vs. Seahawks: Week 2 at Levi’s Stadium (Sep 18), Week 15 at Lumen Field (Dec 15)

offense: The Trey Lance era has begun in the Bay Area, and the former No. 3 draft pick will be the 49ers’ starting quarterback in Week 1. Camp San Francisco fans are recording another deep playoff run. Accuracy is Lance’s primary concern, but his dual threat ability could open up a whole new chapter in coach Kyle Shanahan’s playbook.

Elijah Mitchell would go on to get the majority of carries at running back for the 49ers, although Deebo Samuel seemed to emerge as both the team’s top ball carrier and top wide receiver by the end of the season. Jeff Wilson Jr. has also been explosive in spots, despite struggling with injuries in recent years. Rookie Ty Davis-Price could also enter the game at times after being a third-round draft pick in May.

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Expect Samuel to once again dominate with the ball in his hands and record another high usage rate after signing a new deal in the off-season. Brandon Aiyuk was one of the most talked about players at training camps and the former first-round pick could make some big plays with Lance and his cannon of an offense controlling arm. Tight end George Kittle is among the best in the league when healthy and will again make a very difficult matchup for any defense with his speed and strength. Jauan Jennings made some big plays in the playoffs last season and will see increased goals in 2022.

Trent Williams returns to the 49ers as the NFL’s best left tackle, and Aaron Banks has steadily improved as a left guard since his pick in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Mike McGlinchey’s recent injury throws a wrench in proper tackle position, but this should still be a decent unit that protects and blocks the top half of the NFL’s best offensive lines.

defense: Nick Bosa is one of the best edge rushers in the league and will cause plenty of trouble for the Seahawks’ young tackles in the two matchups between those teams. Javon Kinlaw is the biggest wildcard in the middle of the 49ers’ defensive line, but if he fulfills his potential this will be one of, if not the, best units in the NFL.

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Fred Warner will be looking to a bounce back season after placing among the NFL’s top linebackers in the 2020 season. Dre Greenlaw is also an elite tackler and will pose a threat to the Seahawks’ ongoing game.

This secondary has been the weakest part of the 49ers’ defense for a number of years, but Jimmie Ward has shown he’s an elite safety. Talanoa Hufanga is facing significant playing time after being a reserve in his debut season and has a habit of forcing high-clip turnovers. NFC West preview: How Seahawks stack up against division rivals

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