2024 NFC West race: Can anyone challenge the 49ers? How the Rams and Seahawks could put up a fight

The NFC West’s four teams possess a wide range of outcomes in 2024. It’s been a parity-filled division since 2015, with each of its four teams — the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams (both thrice), the Seattle Seahawks (twice) and the Arizona Cardinals (once) — locking down the top spot in that time.

The 49ers won their second division crown in a row in 2023 with a 12-5 record and were able to rest their stars in their regular season finale against the Los Angeles Rams, who went 10-7. The Seahawks were one spot behind them with a 9-8 record in the final season of the Peta Carroll era (2010-2023), and the rebuilding Cardinals brought up the rear with a 4-13 record in their first season under coach Jonathan Gannon. 

San Francisco’s offense hummed along to 28.9 points per game on the strength of 2023 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Christian McCaffrey, the best running back in football, and Pro Bowl quarterback Brock Purdy, who set a new NFL single-season record for passing yards per attempt (9.6) (among quarterbacks with a minimum of 350 pass attempts) and led the league in passer rating (113.0) in 2023. 

Los Angeles will likely remain the 49ers’ top challenger after bolstering its offensive line, secondary and defensive front in the offseason. Seattle has the right pieces on offense, but it will remain to be seen if new coach Mike Macdonald can make a turnaround big enough on that side of the ball to get it done. Arizona should be much improved with a full season of a healthy Kyler Murray at quarterback and the addition of generational wide receiver prospect Marvin Harrison Jr. (fourth overall pick in 2024 NFL Draft out of Ohio State), but it doesn’t quite have what it needs defensively to slow down the rest of the division just yet. 

Here is how the 49ers, Rams, and Seahawks could end up as the NFC West champions.

San Francisco 49ers

player headshot

Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense reached another level with a full season of CMC around in 2023. McCaffrey led the NFL in rushing yards (1,459) and scrimmage yards (2,023) while co-leading the league in touchdowns (21) along with Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl running back Raheem Mostert. 

Running the ball (14 touchdowns) or receiving the ball (seven touchdowns), he was a threat to score. His presence opened up the passing game for Purdy, who became the fifth quarterback all-time to throw for 30 or more touchdowns (31) and 4,000 (4,280) in 2023.

30 pass TD and 4,000 pass yards in first season as full-time starter 

NFL History

* Full-time starter = started at least 50% of team games

Pretty much every key offensive player for the 49ers led the NFL in some notable metric last season from Purdy and McCaffrey to Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle. 

NFL leaders/co-leaders this season on 49ers

Brock Purdy

Pass yards/attempt (9.6) and passer rating (113.0)

Christian McCaffrey

Rush yards (1,459) and scrimmage TD (21)

Deebo Samuel 

YAC/rec among WR (8.8)

Brandon Aiyuk

Percentage of catches to go for a first down or a TD (81.3%)

George Kittle

Yards/catch among TE (15.7)

Defensively, the 49ers were just as good, ranking third in the NFL in scoring defense (17.5 points per game). Many of the key players who led to that figure — 2022 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa, All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Javon Hargrave — remain in place. San Francisco also added another potent edge rusher in Leonard Floyd on a two-year, $20 million contract, a player who registered a career-high 10.5 sacks with the Buffalo Bills in 2023. 

San Francisco has what it needs to not only win the NFC West again but also the NFC as a whole. 

Los Angeles Rams

player headshot

It appears Sean McVay has a cloning laboratory for high-level receiver play in the same way the Green Bay Packers have one for high-level quarterback play. 

With 2021 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp missing five games because of injury last season, rookie fifth-round pick Puka Nacua put together the greatest rookie receiving season in NFL history: his 105 catches and 1,486 receiving yards were both the most ever by a rookie. When Nacua, Kupp, second-year running back Kyren Williams (1,144 rushing yards, third-most in the NFL, in 12 games played) and quarterback Matthew Stafford all played, Los Angeles averaged nearly 30 points per game (28.5), and Stafford threw 18 touchdowns to only three interceptions. Oh, and the Rams were victorious in six of those eight games. Their yards per play in those was 6.8, which would rank as the third-highest by any team in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). Pretty, pretty good.

Rams with big 4 on offense all playing (2024 season)

  • W-L: 6-2
  • PPG: 28.5
  • YPG: 398.9
  • Stafford TD-INT: 18-3

>> Big 4: Matthew Stafford, Kyren Williams, Cooper Kupp  and Puka Nacua 

Defensively, they are overcoming the retirement of three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald through their 2024 draft class. General manager Les Snead used his first two draft picks in April on two All-ACC defensive players out of Florida State: edge rusher Jared Verse (19th overall pick ) and defensive tackle Braden Fiske (39th overall pick, second round). The Rams also poured a solid of amount of resources into their secondary through free agency, signing former Bills All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White (one year, $4.25 million), former Washington Commanders safety Kamren Curl (two years, $9 million) and former Rams and Jaguars cornerback Darious Williams (three years, $22.5 million).

Provided everyone on the offense can stay healthy, the defense should be competent enough for Los Angeles to make the 49ers sweat.

Seattle Seahawks

player headshot

For years, the Seahawks were known for their defense led by Pete Carroll and the Legion of Boom. Now, all of the aforementioned people associated with the Seahawks’ defensive glory years during the 2010s are gone following the departure of linebacker Bobby Wagner to the Commanders in free agency and the team parting ways with Carroll. 

Seattle long had the oldest head coach in the NFL, but now it has the league’s youngest after hiring Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald (age 36) to lead its squad. His 2023 Ravens unit became the first in NFL history to lead or co-lead the league in scoring defense (16.5 points per game allowed), sacks (60) and takeaways (31, tied for first with the New York Giants). Now he is tasked with rebuilding a Seahawks defense that ranked 25th in scoring defense two years in a row, including a 23.6 points per game average in 2023 (23.6 points per game).

Seattle was 30th in total defense (371.4 total yards per game), and much of that damage came on the ground where it ranked 31st in rushing yards per game allowed (138.4), ahead of only the Cardinals (143.2 rushing yards per game allowed). That’s why they spent the 16th overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft on Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy II. The second-team All-American was solid against the run, and his 17% quarterback pressure was the highest for any defensive tackle in college football last season. 

Offensively, the Seahawks have the weapons to contend. Wide receiver DK Metcalf earned his second career Pro Bowl selection in 2023 with another 1,000-yard receiving season (1,114) while ranking in percentage of catches that went for either a first down or a touchdown (78.8%) and fourth in yards per catch (16.9). The steady Tyler Lockett remains, 2023 first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba enters his second NFL season, and Kenneth Walker is ever elusive (his 76 tackles avoided were the third-most in the NFL last season). 

If Seattle can do a better job protecting quarterback Geno Smith — its 40.2% quarterback pressure rate allowed was the eighth-worst in NFL — and play a stronger brand of defense across the board, the Seahawks could be a threat in the NFC West in 2024. 

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top