A look at the NFC West heading into the 2016 NFL season, with teams listed in predicted order of finish.
COACH: Pete Carroll
7th season (60-36, .625)
LAST SEASON: 10-6, 2nd place
PLAYOFFS: beat Minnesota, 10-9; lost to Carolina, 34-21.
OUTLOOK: The Seahawks remain an elite team with the core of their Super Bowl championship group mostly intact. There is one notable exception, though: tailback Marshawn Lynch, who retired after last season. The Seahawks are counting on 2013 second-round tailback Christine Michael to pick up the slack, and Michael had a promising preseason. Quarterback Russell Wilson remains the dominant player on offense, and he has developed into a sensational player. He’s willing to run, but he’s more interested in getting the ball downfield in the passing game, with Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin his primary targets. The defense has lost a couple key players through free agency, but the Seahawks still have Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. This is still a very good team that will be in contention for the division and the Super Bowl.
COACH: Bruce Arians
4th season (34-14, .708)
LAST SEASON: 13-3, 1st place
PLAYOFFS: beat Green Bay, 26-20; lost to Carolina, 49-15.
OUTLOOK: There’s plenty of Super Bowl talk in Arizona, and the outspoken Arians doesn’t mind a bit. He’s uber-confident in his team and his quarterback, Carson Palmer, despite Palmer’s mediocre performance in last year’s playoffs. Palmer had four touchdown passes and six interceptions in two playoff games, and he imploded in the NFC Championship Game against the Panthers. His confidence seems intact, but you can’t ignore what happened last year, or the fact he has only one playoff win. Larry Fitzgerald remains a vibrant receiver at age 33, and tailback David Johnson was terrific last year as a rookie. The defense is outstanding on the back end with cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Tyrann Mathieu, and Calais Campbell is a terrific defensive end. But this group isn’t yet in a class with the Seahawks.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
COACH: Jeff Fisher
5th season (27-36-1, .430)
LAST SEASON: 7-9, 3rd place
OUTLOOK: Football is back in Los Angeles for the first time in more than 20 years, and while Rams fans there are ecstatic to have their team back, they may have to be patient before they see a consistently successful team. Jared Goff was the centerpiece addition in the off-season, but the No. 1 overall draft pick will start the season with a clipboard, as Fisher opts for the more experienced Case Keenum, the former Texans backup. Todd Gurley had a terrific rookie season once the tailback returned from a knee injury, and receiver Tavon Austin has re-upped on a long-term deal. Aaron Donald is the start of the defense, and Robert Quinn is an excellent pass rusher.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
COACH: Chip Kelly
LAST SEASON: 5-11, 4th place
OUTLOOK: Kelly gets his second coaching opportunity after being fired by the Eagles with one game left in the 2015 season. He inherits a weak team with plenty of limitations at quarterback. Blaine Gabbert starts over Colin Kaepernick, who still hasn’t recaptured the form that helped him get to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. Torrey Smith leads a so-so receiver group, and Carlos Hyde is the top running threat. Kelly’s up-tempo offense may not result in immediate production. The defense has been hurt by the recent retirements of Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and Justin Smith, leaving Navorro Bowman as the best player on that side. The 49ers drafted former Oregon star DeForest Buckner to improve the defensive line.