There has been a recurring theme in the NFC West. The Seattle Seahawks are going to be a problem.
Pete Carroll’s crew has turned into the New England Patriots of the West. The Seahawks have made the playoffs five straight seasons, with two Super Bowl runs during that span.
Not many are doubting that the Seahawks will be a winning team once again in 2017, but could their Super Bowl window be closing?
Seattle’s offense has taken a hit since Marshawn Lynch left town, and the offensive line continues to struggle to protect star quarterback Russell Wilson.
The defense is still stacked but a year older, and it faltered down the stretch a year ago without Earl Thomas.
Luckily for the Seahawks, they will get another crack at getting a second Super Bowl title this decade thanks to a weak NFC West.
Seattle will take the NFC West crown again and probably with ease. Expect the Seattle defense to return to its dominant form with a healthy Thomas back to rejoin Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor in the secondary.
Wilson has plenty of weapons with Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham, but can the offensive line give Wilson time to operate? Will Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy boost the running game?
The offensive line and running back issues might not be a problem to win the division but could hinder Seattle when the playoffs roll around.
2. Palmer must carry Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals quickly went from one of the top four teams in the NFL in 2015 to a team with plenty of holes — except for David Johnson.
Johnson, arguably the best back in the league, will put up gaudy statistics every week, but he can’t do it all. There’s not much left in the tank for future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, who’s listed as the No. 1 wideout. Wide receivers Jaron Brown and John Brown need to contribute at a high level for Arizona to regain that potent offense.
But the Cardinals will go as far as 37-year-old Carson Palmer takes them. Maybe Palmer has another standout season, but history has shown the Cardinals are vulnerable if he gets hurt, and that has happened often.
Arizona continues to do a poor job of addressing its backup quarterback situation. Good luck trying to win with Drew Stanton or Blaine Gabbert if it comes to that.
Same goes for the defense; the Cardinals need to keep Tyrann Mathieu healthy to have a chance at success.
3. Rams offense looks improved
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff looked impressive during the preseason after a disastrous rookie year.
The Rams’ front office surrounded the former No. 1 overall pick with better weapons.
Sammy Watkins, who recently came to L.A. in a trade from Buffalo, will stretch the field and rookie Cooper Kupp could be Goff’s security blanket to move the chains.
But the best addition for Goff might be the arrival of coach Sean McVay from the Washington Redskins. McVay, known as the quarterback whisperer, did wonders with Kirk Cousins, and it appears he’s doing the same with Goff.
If running back Todd Gurley returns to his rookie form, the Rams could be a sneaky team and possibly hover around .500.
The offense looks bright, but the same can’t be said about the defense. Los Angeles’ best player, Aaron Donald, didn’t show up to training camp because of a holdout and could miss the season opener.
4. 49ers still rebuilding
It’s been a forgetful two years for San Francisco 49ers fans since Jim Harbaugh left the Bay Area. The 49ers fired two head coaches, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, during a 7-25 span.
But a third time might be the charm for San Francisco with Kyle Shanahan taking over as coach. Shanahan is coming off a Super Bowl run as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons and was a big reason why Matt Ryan won the MVP award.
Shanahan will boost the playbook, but he doesn’t have the right players yet to display it on the field. For now, Shanahan will have to rely on the trio of Brian Hoyer, Carlos Hyde and Pierre Garcon.
The bright spot for the 49ers could be the rise of the front seven. Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner could create havoc with the additions of rookies Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas.
If NaVorro Bowman is back to being a Pro Bowl linebacker, good luck trying to run on the Niners.
San Francisco’s stock is rising, but they’re still a year or two away from sniffing the playoffs.
Contact Gilbert Manzano at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @GManzano24 on Twitter.