The Seattle Seahawks had a scheduled bye week, extending their undefeated record for at least another week. Their NFC West rivals all played, however, and continued their emergence as the best division in the NFL.
Take the Arizona Cardinals, who are fresh off a 38-10 keelhauling of the Dallas Cowboys. Their 4-2 record is tied for second in the division with the Los Angeles Rams, and it appears they have nowhere to go but up. This team is scoring 27 points per game, which is somehow just above average so far this year. Quarterback Kyler Murray is improving on his Rookie of the Year campaign with a significant improvement on his quarterback rating, boasting 1500 passing yards in addition to 370 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. It helps to have better weapons, as newly-acquired DeAndre Hopkins has led the receiving effort at a 1600-yard pace in addition to two touchdowns. Kenyan Drake had a breakout game against the Cowboys to boost his season total to 478 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The offense is great.
The Cardinals’ defense has allowed 112 points so far, the second least in the NFL. This is somehow trending positively for them, holding their last two opponents to 10 points each, but the schedule ahead is far more daunting than anything they have faced so far. Having the Seahawks and Bills make up three of the next four games isn’t a particularly fun hill to climb. They’re solidly middle of the pack for now but with tremendous upside that should keep them on everybody’s watch list.
The Rams are also 4-2, but as with the Cardinals it isn’t a particularly good 4-2. They’ve swept clean the NFC East teams, who have a combined record of 5-18-1, and have lost close games to the Bills and 49ers. Despite my insistence that quarterback Jared Goff simply isn’t that good, he’s playing the best football of his young career, and by a decent margin. He’s below Kyler and Russ in the division, but he’s no slouch at just under 1600 passing yards. His receiving threats are balanced, with four players holding over 200 yards so far. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods lead the way with 374 and 329 yards respectively. What makes the Rams unique is their backfield versatility, featuring a trio of running backs that could each perform any given week. Second-year Darrell Henderson looks to be the lead with 350 yards and four total touchdowns, but veteran Malcolm Brown and rookie Cam Akers have both looked good so far.
What’s more, their defense has allowed 114 points to this point in the season, good for fifth in the NFL. The big names are performing, like Aaron Donald (who leads the team with 7.5 sacks) and Jalen Ramsey (who has been better across the board as compared to last year). Most of this can be credited to the quality of opponents in the NFC East, as their highest points allowed came in their two losses to their only playoff-caliber opponents. Meanwhile, their schedule down the stretch consists of the 5-1 Bears, a 4-2 Buccaneers who just came off a dismantling of the Packers last week and five more intra-division games.
The San Francisco 49ers bring up the rear in the division at a very respectable 3-3. It almost doesn’t feel worth it to look at their performance, given their remarkable ability to be competitive every year. Two of their wins were absolute trouncings of the two bottom-tier teams in New York, while the third was an ever-important 24-16 win over the Rams. Two of their losses were one-possession games to the Cardinals and Eagles, but the big head-scratcher was the 43-17 stomp by the rebuilding Miami Dolphins.
That loss can likely be written off as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was fresh off an injury and had to be pulled early on after going 7/17 with 77 yards and two interceptions. In his return the next week, he would go 23/33 with 268 yards and three touchdowns, his second-best game of the year. In fact, that absolute mess against Miami only offset his statistics to look on par with his 13-3 2019 season, which I would say means he has generally looked better.
This team has been ravaged by injuries. The San Fransisco defense lost Richard Sherman and Nick Bosa to the injured reserve list, along with Dee Ford and Ezekiel Ansah. They’ve managed to make do though, allowing just 130 points, which puts them at 10th in the NFL. Their offense, despite fighting injuries of their own, seems to be firing on all cylinders. Raheem Mostert and Jerick McKinnon lead the backfield with 500 rushing yards and 250 receiving yards between the two, but Jeff Wilson and Jamycal Hasty could both see increased play over the next few weeks.
George Kittle has unsurprisingly led the receiving effort with 380 yards and two touchdowns, while the remaining yards are spread between Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne. Despite all odds, this team seems hellbent on succeeding. As the trend continues, their schedule is equally unforgiving going forward. The Seahawks, Packers and Saints are looming ahead in the next four weeks, but this team could definitely still surprise people and win games.
The NFC West looks like the best division in the NFC and maybe in football (the AFC North would also have a strong argument). The Seahawks look like an elite team in the NFL but haven’t gotten through any of their six divisional games, which might be more important this year than they ever have to win.