For years, the Seattle Seahawks have been the San Francisco 49ers' biggest threat in the NFC west.
It has never mattered what season it is, from the Jim Harbaugh era to the Kyle Shanahan era. Seattle is constantly a nuisance to the 49ers whenever they are relevant. This is why the rivalry between the two teams is so good, and was rekindled last season.
However, the NFC West is not a two-team race. All four teams are capable at a run at the playoffs in 2020. The 49ers are still the favorite in the division and the NFC overall. But before the Niners can scout out the conference, they need to maintain focus on the teams who can hurt them in the division.
Seattle is clearly a team that proves to be a hindrance to the 49ers, but I would not list them as the 49ers' biggest threat in the division in 2020.
So who is?
The answer is the Arizona Cardinals. Yes, you read that right. The team that went 5-10-1 in 2019 are the 49ers' biggest threat next season over the Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams.
Let me reiterate by saying that all four teams in the NFC West are dangerous. Any victory against the 49ers' three divisional rivals is going to be well earned. But the victory that will prove most impressive will be against the Cardinals because of how they improved this offseason.
The Cardinals gave the 49ers fits in both matchups last season with the offense being the focal point. Arizona has an adequate offense that is poised to be significantly improved in Year 2 under head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Not to mention the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, Kyler Murray, is sure to make a leap in his sophomore season. Murray's ability to escape the pocket and deliver the football with insane accuracy on the run is difficult to contain for any defense. That offense was able to punch the vaunted Niners defense in the mouth twice last season.
Now imagine that offense with DeAndre Hopkins, a top-three wide receiver. The Cardinals have a wide-receiver group so deep, it is sure to push the 49ers' secondary to its limits.
Don't forget about Arizona's defense, which bottled up the ground game of the 49ers in their second matchup. The Cardinals have a solid defense and should not be taken lightly. Once again, it will be Year 2 of the implementation of their system, so they should be improved. They also added top draft prospect Isaiah Simmons, which will create the most-coveted matchup between him and George Kittle.
The Cardinals just know which buttons to push when it comes to the 49ers. And as much as the Seahawks have been the team to hurt the 49ers, they really are not an overall threatening team. Their defense is average at best, which the 49ers have exposed when at or near full strength.
Just look at how the 49ers dismantled the Seahawks Defense in Week 17 with their offense intact as opposed to Week 10. It was a night-and-day difference, despite almost emerging victorious in Week 10.
Seattle always will be a threat to the 49ers because of Russell Wilson. He clearly was the difference between a blowout loss in Week 17 and a near comeback win. Even then, to defeat the 49ers there needs to be a top-to-bottom great quality of talent, which is why I am not even mentioning the Rams.
The Cardinals have that top-to-bottom quality of talent.
It wouldn't even shock me if they are in playoff contention in the last quarter of the season, especially if Murray takes an enormous jump. That wouldn't be far fetched to expect, considering all of the shining moments he had last season.
The NFC west will be a handful for the 49ers once again. But it is the Cardinals that will be the biggest hurdle in 2020, not the Seahawks.