The defending Super Bowl champions, the Los Angeles Rams, will look to defend their NFC West title against the team that beat them twice in the regular season last year and almost won in the NFC Championship Game as well, the San Francisco 49ers. These two titans will likely duke it out for the entirety of the season once again, and will, in all likelihood, be Super Bowl contenders as well.
Then, there’s the Arizona Cardinals. This team took the world by storm at the start of the season, before tailing off in the second half, and ultimately falling in the Wild-Card Round without putting up much of a fight. After a tumultuous offseason that saw their top receiver (DeAndre Hopkins) get suspended six games, their new wide receiver gets arrested for speeding, their quarterback squabble over a contract extension, and squabble again over his coach’s lack of play-calling ingenuity, it’s only logical to expect a slow start to the season. Then, after Call of Duty comes out in October, Murray gets consumed and it’ll all be downhill for Arizona. They’ll still be better than Seattle though. That’s a given.
Surprise Alternate Outcome
Much like the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021, the Cardinals rally around their adversity. They start the season blazing hot once again, and avoid any contact between Murray and ‘Modern Warfare 2' after the release date. Brown’s inefficiencies that plagued him in Baltimore disappear entirely as he reaffirms himself as a bonafide star wide receiver in the NFL, totally negating the loss of Christian Kirk and filling Hopkins’ role until he returns. Zach Ertz had a quiet bounce-back performance after moving to the desert. He remains one of the best red zone targets in the league and James Conner is able to handle a feature-back workload without Chase Edmonds in the picture. As long as head coach Kliff Kingsbury doesn’t mess everything up, a division title could be a realistic, if not unlikely, future for the Cardinals.
Meanwhile, the Rams struggle to adapt to Matt Stafford’s elbow injury. Turns out that the “unusual” problem that he and McVay tried to downplay actually has serious implications on Stafford’s ability to throw. In an effort to ensure his career isn’t ruined, the Rams leave Stafford on the sideline for most of the season. Backup John Wolford does his best to prove he’s a capable backup, but even with Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson, Wolford can’t deliver more than a touchdown drive or two per game. The Rams’ offense, now led by running back Cam Akers, coming off an ACL tear in 2021, can’t recover even with McVay at the helm. They try to lean more and more heavily on Kupp, and even re-sign Odell Beckham Jr., hoping his return could spark something in the offense, but alas, without Stafford, the team is just a worse version of those disappointing 2019 and 2020 squads that failed to reach expectations. They’ll still finish with a solid record, but won’t win the division.
Trey Lance turns out not to be the guy in San Francisco. He consistently questions himself and that leads to way more sacks than any mobile quarterback behind Trent Williams should feasibly take. Every time we think head coach Kyle Shanahan will look over his shoulder and give the nod to Jimmy Garoppolo, Lance fires a 75-yard missile to Brandon Aiyuk, re-igniting the flame that Shanahan has. Garoppolo is never able to take full control of the starting job again despite the team performing better when he’s on the field. George Kittle’s groin injury snowballs into a series of health problems for the star tight end, and Deebo Samuel refuses to line up in the backfield to help a run game that proves inefficient outside of Elijah Mitchell. The 49ers are much flashier in 2022, but lose more often than they did in 2021.
No matter what happens with the Rams, Cardinals, and 49ers, the Seahawks are going to finish last in this division. They have the worst quarterback room, arguably the worst offensive line, and arguably the worst defense. I don’t care how great Drew Lock becomes in his first season in the Pacific Northwest, he still has to wrestle the starting job away from Geno Smith. That could take months. So, even if Lock somehow turns his career around Josh Allen-style, it could still be a long time before he earns the starting gig. The team could be 0-6 by then. They won’t be catching anyone in this division any time soon.