State of the NFC West: Where do the 49ers divisional foes stand?

Nov 2, 2023, 7:00 AM

Matthew Stafford #9 of the Los Angeles Rams attempts a pass against the Seattle Seahawks during the...

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After a 5-0 start to the 2023 NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers find themselves at 5-3 entering their Week 9 Bye. Now second in the NFC West standings, the question remains: Who is the biggest divisional threat to the Red & Gold for the remainder of the year?

Right now, that’s the Seattle Seahawks, jumping their rivals in Week 8 with a record of 5-2. if they are to win against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, they would be a full game up on the 49ers. 

But the NFC West has always been a tough division, with entertaining clashes on a weekly basis. And while both the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams have had an up-and-down 2023, both franchises are still game to spoil the plans of their divisional foes. 

With that being said, below are Return of the Empire show hosts, Amil Fragoso and Nate Littlefield, thoughts on where the NFC West is currently, and what matchups stick out in the sound half of the regular season.

Arizona Cardinals

Record: 1-7

Remaining Schedule: At Browns, vs Falcons, At Texans, vs Rams, At Steelers, vs 49ers, At Bears, At Eagles, vs Seahawks

Last Game: L vs Ravens, 31-24

Nate: Like, what’s the point of having [quarterback] Kyler Murray play football this year, coming back from arguably the worst injury you can have in sports? I mean, maybe they’re trying to deal him? He’s still young, he’s talented, he’s shown talent, but they’re a disaster. There’s really not too much to say. They didn’t have a fire sale at the deadline, just got rid of their backup quarterback [Joshua Dobbs] who was their starter. But, I’m not scared of them if that’s the question. I’m not too worried about the Cardinals at all. They’ll probably have a high draft pick. I don’t know if they’re gonna keep [head coach Jonathan Gannon], clean house or what. But it seems like they’re doing it every few years.

Amil: I agree with Nate here, as the Arizona Cardinals have been a rudderless franchise for the last few years. Every time they believe that this is their year to make a playoff push, something catastrophic happens. Whether it’s Kyler Murray’s injury last season or front-office issues, the most dysfunctional team in the NFC West continues to be Arizona. 

Maybe Jonathan Gannon gets another year with the Cardinals, especially considering this is Year 1 with him at the helm. But this team has shown a propensity to go against the grain and make decisions that NFL experts wouldn’t. Case in point, sitting out the trade deadline for the most part. 

Until they make a run, or Murray gets cooking again under center, this franchise shouldn’t be much of a threat to the 49ers or any other NFC squad. 

Los Angeles Rams

Record: 3-5

Remaining Schedule: At Packers, vs Seahawks, At Cardinals, vs Browns, At Ravens, vs Commanders, vs Saints, At Giants, At 49ers 

Last Game: L at Cowboys, 43-20

Nate: I think they’re in huge trouble. They had a better start than everyone thought, but now it’s complete scramble mode. [QB Matthew] Stafford, I wouldn’t say is injury prone, but definitely has been injured before. The UCL sprain in his thumb, on his throwing hand, is not good. The guy has played injured a lot in the past. I mean, that team is not built to be a Super Bowl team. I think they could have been a wild-card team. Not without Safford, though, not without a Hall-of-Fame quarterback in Matthew Stafford. Obviously, great receivers, but I’m not worried about the Rams, they probably will play the Niners close when they play them again, just because that’s how it is. That’s how divisional games are. I hope not, but not worried about the Rams from a 49ers standpoint. If I’m a Rams fan, this is a bad season, a very bad season.

Amil: The Los Angeles Rams have overachieved this season, I agree with that. What I don’t agree with here is that they have had a bad season.

If not for the injury to Matthew Stafford, the Rams could be eyeing an NFC wild-card spot down the line. Additionally, their remaining strength of schedule is pretty light, with only Seattle, Baltimore, Cleveland and San Francisco as tough matchups. It would be entirely within the realm of possibilities for them to win nine games this season. 

But that’s moot right now with Stafford on the bench.

Diagnosed with a UCL sprain in his throwing thumb, the veteran QB could struggle the rest of the year when he returns. At age 35, the Super Bowl winner has had to battle through countless injuries over the years and struggles to do so. Las season was an example, playing most of the year with a back injury.

His fill-in (for now) is Brett Rypien, nothing to write home about.

Because of that, LA is probably not a threat to NFC Supremacy for the rest of the season. But, those divisional clashes are always tough with Sean McVay still on the sidelines.

Seattle Seahawks

Record: 5-2

Remaining Schedule: At Ravens, vs Commanders, At Rams, vs 49ers, At Cowboys, At 49ers, vs Eagles, At Titans, vs Steelers, At Cardinals 

Last Game: W vs Browns, 24-20

Nate: Well, this happens every year. I think the Seahawks are gonna be bad, every year recently at least. And here they are because they have a really good coach who knows what he’s doing, which sucks, and I hate, but they’re a real threat to the Niners now that they are essentially spiraling. At one point in the schedule, it’s going to be Seahawks, Eagles, Seahawks, we call that the Trio of the Dirty, Disgusting Birds. They’re a threat and it’s so frustrating.

They’re well run which I hate to admit it. They’re so well run, and the fact that they could turn Geno Smith around and keep him as good as he is. I know at the end of last season he was kind of trailing off a bit, but he seems to be right back on track. They also have great receivers, they have a solid run game. The defense has been rebuilt. They’re obviously not the Legion of Boom, but I as a Niners fan, again, I’m worried about the Seattle Seahawks.

Amil: And the 49ers should be worried about their rivals up north, as the Seahawks have slid into the top spot in the NFC West. If Seattle takes care of business against Baltimore (and that’s a tall task) they will have a one-game lead on San Francisco.

Pete Carroll continues to churn out well-run groups year after year, elevating average players to top-caliber weapons and performers. Of course, they also have talent everywhere, especially with the wideouts and cornerbacks. They also made a trade for Leonard Williams to show up the defensive trenches.

Seattle can make a real run if they stack games in the second half of this season. But like last year, that plan is contingent on Geno Smith.

Smith, 32, has regressed a bit from his Pro Bowl form a year ago, only throwing nine touchdown passes in seven games played. His air yards are down as well, with interceptions (6) projected to supersede 2022’s total. If Carroll can find a way to get Smith back to form, the Seahawks will make the 49ers work to reclaim the top spot in the division. 

This is why the squads’ two matchups in Weeks 12 and 14 are so crucial, maybe even dictating how both franchises operate after this season.

The 49ers are still the most likely team to win the NFC West, but unlike three weeks ago, they can’t afford to lose any more games against lesser opponents. The margin for error is dwindling with each passing week, and that’s because of Seattle.

Upcoming San Francisco 49ers Schedule

  • Sunday, November 12th @ Jacksonville Jaguars – 10:00 AM PST
  • Sunday, November 19th vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- 1:05 PM PST
  • Thursday, November 23rd @ Seattle Seahawks – 5:20 PM PST
  • Sunday, December 3rd @ Philadelphia Eagles – 1:25 PM PST
  • Sunday, December 10th vs. Seattle Seahawks – 1:05 PM PST

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