Now that we’ve ranked the NFC West teams position by position, let’s rank the teams themselves from worst to best.
Where do the 49ers stack up?
Here’s my grading system: I ranked each NFC West team one through four based on 11 categories: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, safety, cornerback, special teams and head coach.
Then I added together the rankings in all 11 categories to get a composite score for each team. The team with the fewest points finished first, and the team with the most points finished last. Meaning if one team has 25 points and another has 28, the team with 25 is better.
Here are my NFC West rankings:
Note: I initially ranked the NFC West running backs before the Seahawks signed Carlos Hyde. So now, I bump the Seahawks up to No. 2 in the running-back rankings and knock the Cardinals down to No. 3. Sorry, Arizona.
4. The Rams: 33 points
First place: Cornerback
Last place: Quarterback, Running Back, Offensive Line, Linebacker, Special Teams
The Rams were the best team in this division just a year and a half ago. Let them serve as a cautionary reminder to whichever team finishes first in this poll.
The Rams gutted their roster just to re-sign Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald. Donald is a future Hall of Famer who’s worth the money the Rams pay him, but Goff and Gurley are miserable disappointments -- the Rams cut Gurley this offseason, even though he costs them $17.25 million in salary-cap space this upcoming season. They essentially paid him to go away. I’m sure they’d like to do the same to Goff, but they can’t. His contract is too expensive.
Despite the Rams’ salary-cap mistakes, they won nine games last season and nearly made the playoffs. They’re still a threat, because Sean McVay is a clever offensive coach and the defense still has fantastic cornerbacks and pass rushers. But they’re clearly the team with the most weaknesses in the NFC West.
3. The Cardinals: 30 points
First place: Wide Receiver, Special Teams
Last place: Tight End, Safety, Head Coach
Before I explain why I rank the Cardinals third, I want to tell you my colleague Jose Sanchez recently ranked the Cardinals second in the NFC West in a fascinating article for Sports Illustrated’s All49ers. He makes phenomenal points. I suggest you read his piece.
The Cardinals certainly do not have many weaknesses. They have quite a talented offense, plus a few talented defensive players: edge rusher Chandler Jones, cornerback Patrick Peterson and rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
Tight end isn’t a real issue for the Cardinals, because they use an Air Raid offense. Meaning they usually don’t use a tight end -- they feature four wide receivers at a time. And they have the best wide receivers in the NFC West.
The Cardinals’ big question is their coaching staff. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury hasn’t proven he can win consistently, even at the college level. Texas Tech fired him before the Cardinals made him their head coach. And defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has coached a defense that ranked higher than 22nd in the NFL just once in his career. Those two have lots to prove.
But the Cardinals still are a good, young team and a legitimate playoff contender with a quarterback, Kyler Murray, who could be an MVP candidate next season. They’re dangerous.
2. The Seahawks: 24 points
First place: Quarterback, Safety, Head Coach
Last place: Defensive Line
The clear-cut No. 2 team in the NFC West according to my rankings. They’re six points ahead of the Cardinals.
Russell Wilson might be the best quarterback in the NFL -- he’s every bit as good as Patrick Mahomes. Plus Pete Carroll is a great head coach. Yes, great. He’s similar to Jim Harbaugh, because their schemes are somewhat outdated, but their players play extremely hard for them and they win. And to be fair, although they’re similar, Carroll is much better than Harbaugh. Carroll is a borderline future Hall of Famer.
Meaning the Seahawks have an all-time head-coach-quarterback combo, which is why they’re so consistent.
When they’re at their best, they also have a dominant run game. Last season, it fell apart because the Seahawks’ top-two running backs were injured during the playoffs. But this offseason, the Seahawks signed Carlos Hyde, who will keep starter Chris Carson fresh and healthy. The Seahawks should have a much stronger run game next season.
The Seahaws’ one major weakness is their defensive line, but it’s incomplete. Trust me. They will sign another defensive lineman before the season starts -- Jadeveon Clowney, Michael Bennett, Markus Golden. Someone.
The Seahawks will be better in 2020 than they were in 2019.
1. The 49ers: 23 points
First place: Running back, Tight End, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebackers
Last place: Cornerback
The 49ers clearly have the most talented roster in the division -- five first-place finishes. And they have only one big weakness -- cornerback. But it’s not an easy weakness to exploit, because the pass rush is so good. That’s why the 49ers had the No. 1 ranked pass defense in the NFL last season.
Despite all the 49ers' obvious strengths, they still finish just one point ahead of the Seahawks, which is fair. Remember how close those two games between the 49ers and Seahawks were last season? The first one went to overtime and the Seahawks won -- that was in Santa Clara. The second went down to the wire, and the 49ers won it when Dre Greenlaw made the tackle of the century on fourth and goal at the 49ers’ one-inch line.
As evenly matched as two teams can be.
The 49ers can distance themselves from the Seahawks in two ways:
1. The young wide receivers can improve. The 49ers wide-receiver group currently ranks fourth in the NFC West, but easily could finish next season first or second if Brandon Aiyuk and Jalen Hurd emerge as weapons.
2. Jimmy Garoppolo can improve. He currently ranks No. 3 among NFC West quarterbacks behind Wilson and Murray -- whether you think that's fair or not. I expect those two to receive MVP votes next season. But if Garoppolo wins the MVP in his second full season as a starter just as Matt Ryan won the MVP in his second season working with Kyle Shanahan, then the 49ers will win the division and the Super Bowl.
Garoppolo will determine how far the 49ers go.