SEATTLE — Editor's note: This story is part of KING 5's Seahawks season preview series.
Over the past few NFL seasons, there hasn't been a division in football featuring more across-the-board competitiveness than 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 strides in 2021, although they lost in the Wild Card Round.
Entering a new era with former team leaders Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner having moved on to other teams this offseason, the Seahawks will have an uphill climb to compete against their talented divisional rivals.
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Let's take a look at how each of the Seahawks' three peers in the NFC West is shaping up for the 2022 season and how Seattle matches up.
- 2021 record: 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, although it came with an interesting clause that eventually was removed. Murray is right up there with Lamar Jackson among the quickest quarterbacks in the NFL and should present a significant challenge for a new Seahawks linebacking corps featuring several fresh faces.
James Conner was named to his second career Pro Bowl in 2021 after racking up 752 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground for Arizona and returns for his second year in the desert in 2022. The Cardinals also added Darrel Williams on a one-year contract. Williams was a solid contributor for the Kansas City Chiefs, including getting 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 the Arizona offense, although he will begin the season serving a six-game suspension 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 choice will be getting a lion's share of targets while Hopkins is away from the team. Hopkins will be back with the team for the Cardinals' second matchup with the Seahawks in Week 9, but will be finishing up his punishment when the teams first face off in Seattle on Oct. 16. Tight end Zach Ertz also figures to catch quite a few balls after being only behind Mark Andrews in targets from Weeks 7-18 last season (Ertz joined Arizona's roster ahead of Week 7).
Arizona has one of the NFL's most-experienced offensive lines but also features several players with lengthy injury histories. Expect Seattle's young crop of pass-rushers to have some of their most productive outings against the Cardinals in 2022. Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranks the Arizona offensive line 25th out of 32 teams.
Defense: J.J. Watt is the most notable name from Arizona's defensive line and still delivers impact plays now and again even as he enters his 12th NFL season at the age of 33. Chandler Jones, the franchise's all-time leader in career sacks, departed for the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency. Rashard Lawrence battled injuries in 2021 but should make strides in his third NFL season.
Arizona features two high-potential inside linebackers in Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, both of whom were drafted in the first round. Markus Golden also returns and provides veteran leadership along with strong pass-rushing ability, having amassed 11 sacks in 2021.
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In the secondary, Byron Murphy Jr. and Marco Wilson should be the starting cornerbacks with Jalen Thompson and Budda Baker covering the two safety spots. Wilson held his own after being thrust into a starting role as a rookie in 2021, although his numbers tailed off near the end of the season as opposing offenses targeted him early and often. Budda Baker made his fourth Pro Bowl in 2021, but PFF ranks Arizona's secondary 27th out of 32 units in the NFL.
Los Angeles Rams
- 2021 record: 12-5 (won Super Bowl over Cincinnati Bengals)
- 2022 matchups vs. Seahawks: Week 13 at SoFi Stadium (Dec. 4), Week 18 at Lumen Field (Jan. 8)
Offense: Matthew Stafford returns under center after delivering Los Angeles a Super Bowl championship inside its home stadium back in February. Stafford did lead the NFL in interceptions in the regular season (17) but also posted his best completion percentage since 2015 and most touchdown passes since 2011 in his first season with the Rams. LA will be among the toughest matchups for the Seahawks' secondary in 2022.
Running back Cam Akers is expected back at full strength after an Achilles injury in 2021, although he has sat out through the early part of training camp with a soft-tissue issue. The Rams reportedly are placing a larger emphasis on the running game in 2022, so expect plenty of Akers touches against Seattle. Darrell Henderson got 148 carries for 688 yards and 5 touchdowns in Akers' absence and should be there to spell him once again this year, although he too has been hobbled in training camp.
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After Robert Woods was traded this offseason, the Rams brought in Allen Robinson to start alongside elite pass-catcher Cooper Kupp at wide receiver. Kupp became one of the NFL's two-best wideouts last season, and his elite speed and route-running will be balanced out by Robinson's strong catch radius. Van Jefferson and Ben Skowronek also return from LA's Super Bowl-winning 2021 offense. Tyler Higbee also returns at tight end after tying a career-high with 5 touchdown catches last season.
LA's offensive line did lose a strong left tackle in Andrew Whitworth to retirement, but PFF still ranks the Rams' offensive line 11th among all units. Stafford also gets the ball out of his hand 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 after some retirement rumors this offseason, and remains arguably the most feared player in the NFL on the defensive line. He and A'Shawn Robinson should give the Seahawks' young offensive line one of their best 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 is among the best in the league.
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Jalen Ramsey will be back after an All-Pro season in 2021 and will be joined at cornerback by Troy Hill, who was reacquired in a trade this offseason with the Cleveland Browns after beginning his career in LA. Former University of Washington safety Taylor Rapp returns after finishing last season on injured reserve, and slots in as a starting safety along with Nick Scott, who made several impacts plays on the Rams' run to the title.
San Francisco 49ers
- 2021 record: 10-7 (lost NFC Championship Game to Rams)
- 2022 matchups vs. Seahawks: Week 2 at Levi's Stadium (Sept. 18), Week 15 at Lumen Field (Dec. 15)
Offense: The Trey Lance era has begun in the Bay Area, and the former No. 3 overall draft pick is all set to be the 49ers' starting quarterback in Week 1. After seeing limited action, Lance's arm talent and athleticism in preseason games and training camp have San Francisco fans manifesting another deep playoff run. Accuracy is the main concern for Lance, but his dual-threat ability could open up a whole new section of coach Kyle Shanahan's playbook.
Elijah Mitchell should get the majority of the carries at running back for the 49ers, although Deebo Samuel seemed to emerge as both the team's best ball-carrier and wide receiver by the season's end. Jeff Wilson Jr. also has been explosive in spots, although he has dealt with injuries in recent years. Rookie Ty Davis-Price also could factor into the game plan at times after being a third-round draft choice in May.
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Samuel once again should be expected to dominate with the ball in his hands and should see another high usage rate after inking a new contract in the offseason. Brandon Aiyuk has been one of the most-talked-about players across training camps, and the former first-round pick could make some big plays with Lance and his cannon of an arm running the offense. Tight end George Kittle is among the league's best when healthy and will once again be a very difficult matchup for any defense with his speed and strength. Jauan Jennings made some huge plays in the playoffs last season and will see increased targets in 2022.
Trent Williams returns to the 49ers as the NFL's best-left tackle and Aaron Banks has continuously gotten better at left guard since he was selected in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Mike McGlinchey's recent injury does throw a wrench into the right tackle position, but this should still be a decent unit that protects and run blocks in the top half of the NFL's best offensive lines.
Defense: Nick Bosa is one of the league's best edge rushers and will give the Seahawks' young tackles all kinds of trouble in the two matchups between these teams. Javon Kinlaw is the biggest wild-card in the middle of the 49ers' defensive line, but if he plays up to his potential, this will be one of, if not the best unit in the NFL.
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Fred Warner will be looking at a bounce-back season after placing himself among the NFL's best linebackers during the 2020 season. Dre Greenlaw is also an elite tackler and will be a menace for the Seahawks running game.
This secondary has been the weakest part of the 49ers' defense for several years now, but Jimmie Ward has shown flashes of being an elite safety. Talanoa Hufanga is in line for significant playing time after being a reserve over his first season and has a habit of forcing turnovers at a high clip.