The NFL season is nearly underway as the first game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys will kickoff Thursday, Sept. 9 on Thursday Night Football.
As things pertain to the NFC West, all four teams have legitimate reasons to be encouraged with the complexity of their team heading into the 2021 season. It's regarded by many as the league's best division, which will require a long, hard-fought trek to win the NFC West.
Here's our 2021 NFC West season prediction:
1. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams won 10 games last season under Jared Goff. Meanwhile, they've improved at the position that matters most, acquiring quarterback Matthew Stafford this offseason.
Pairing Stafford with coach Sean McVay is a match made in heaven. McVay wants to utilize every ounce of his offensive scheme and Stafford's superior arm talent will allow the Rams to do just that.
In addition to having Stafford operate the offense, the Rams still return All-Pro defenders, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. Los Angeles registered the No. 1 defensive unit last season and they'll run out a similar look in 2021 with newly added defensive coordinator Raheem Morris calling the plays.
The Rams are no stranger to taking a big swing, and they've proven they're all in by mortgaging their future to get Stafford this offseason. The Rams' depth is still a concern given how top-heavy the roster currently sits. However, assuming a clean bill of health, the Rams are destined to do big things in 2021.
Record prediction: 12-5
2. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. They possess high-caliber players on both offense and defense, while being led by coach Kyle Shanahan.
Similar to the Rams, San Francisco also went all in to get a quarterback this offseason. Shanahan and general manager John Lynch paid a high price, trading three first-round picks to obtain the No. 3 selection of the 2021 NFL Draft in which they wound up taking quarterback Trey Lance.
The 49ers will presumably start the season with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. But that doesn't mean Lance won't see time in a limited role or eventually become the starter down the road. Lance has shown immense promise during the preseason, exhibiting the ability to deliver adequate throws from the pocket, while also threatening teams with his capability to run.
Under first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, San Fransico will run out a formidable unit that includes the likes of Nick Bosa, Fred Warner and Arik Armstead. After ranking near the top of the league under former defensive coordinator Robert Saleh in years prior, the 49ers will look to do the same under a new play-caller.
Record prediction: 11-6
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3. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks won the NFC West last season after posting a 12-4 campaign. While the Rams and 49ers added new quarterbacks this offseason, Seattle still contains the best passer in the NFC West with quarterback Russell Wilson under center.
The Seahawks' weakest link in recent years has been the offensive line. The front five protecting Wilson still isn't labeled as a top unit, but they did add right guard Gabe Jackson via trade and reached a new deal with left tackle Duane Brown, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. That of which will stabilize two spots along the offensive line.
Defensively, the Seahawks saw frequent ups and downs last season. Additionally, they lost Pro-Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright to the Raiders. Linebacker Bobby Wagner and safety Jamal Adams will still keep offenses honest, but they'll need to prove they can play consistent defense in order to have a big year in addition to what Wilson will do on offense.
As long as Wilson is under center for the Seahawks, they'll likely be in just about any game this season. The one factor to monitor closely will hinge on their ability to win the close contests. Seattle's divisional matchups have by in large came down to one score in recent years.
Record prediction: 10-7
4. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals front office has held up their end of the bargain this offseason, adding key pieces to the team to improve a roster that went 8-8 a season ago. Arizona compiled star power, signing defensive end J.J. Watt and wide receiver A.J. Green in free agency, and traded for center Rodney Hudson.
Now it's time for the coaching staff and players to put it all together on the field. Coach Kliff Kingsbury has posted just 13 wins over two seasons. Certainly, he inherited a team in the middle of a rebuild, but his clock is ticking. If Kingsbury doesn't lead the Cardinals to the playoffs in 2021, would the team give him a fourth year to prove himself? Probably not. The time is ticking under his watch.
Arizona has drafted highly-touted defensive players under Kingsbury thus far. From 2020 when they selected linebacker Isaiah Simmons, to 2021 when they took linebacker Zaven Collins, the defense is on track to show improvements this season.
The Cardinals' front office has done a lot to put the team in a position to succeed. However, the way things currently stack up, the roster and coaching staff appear to still be below the threshold it’s going to take in order to knock off the other three teams in the NFC West.
Record prediction: 8-9
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Nick Cothrel is the Publisher of Ram Digest. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel.