Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN: NFC West so good, it could feature four playoff teams

Rohan Chakravarthi
Aug 22, 2021 at 11:20 AM--

How good is the NFC West expected to be this season? Oddsmakers are having a tough time predicting whether it will be the San Francisco 49ers or Los Angeles Rams that will win the division. The rosters for each are loaded with talent. Then you have the Seattle Seahawks, who always seem to be in contention thanks to quarterback Russell Wilson and head coach Pete Carroll.

"And the Cardinals, don't forget, were 6-3 and a strong playoff contender last season following DeAndre Hopkins' ludicrous game-winning Hail Mary catch against the Bills," wrote ESPN's Dan Graziano. "I doubt many people are picking them to win this division, but it wouldn't be the most stunning upset in league history if they did."

Graziano took on the task of ranking the NFL divisions. The NFC West came out on top, and it wasn't particularly close. The Rams swapped out Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford, a clear upgrade that makes them the narrow favorite to win the division crown in Graziano's eyes. However, just one season separates the 49ers from the Super Bowl, and the team will, hopefully, be healthier this year, so you can't count them out.

Could the NFC playoffs actually feature all four NFC West teams? It would be tough but isn't out of the realm of possibilities. You can certainly make a case for the Rams, 49ers, and Seahawks making it to the postseason. And as Graziano wrote, the Cardinals racking up a solid number of victories wouldn't be a huge shocker.

The Rams, 49ers, and Seahawks rank Nos. 7, 8, and 9, respectively, when it comes to ESPN's NFL Football Power Index entering the 2021 season.

"There are only nine teams with an FPI rating over 2.0, and the NFC West has three of them," wrote Graziano. "The new postseason format, which adds an additional wild-card team per conference, makes it possible for a division to send all four of its teams to the playoffs. As long as they don't beat up one another too badly and they make hay in their non-divisional matchups, the NFC West quartet could become the first to pull off that feat."

Of course, the one obstacle standing in the way of this feat is each other, as every NFC West team faces its counterparts twice, accounting for six games of the new 17-game schedule.

When looking at FPI, the NFC West has a rating of 7.3, which is almost double that of the AFC West, whose teams collectively have the second highest rating, further explaining just how good the division could shape up to be.

Remember, the top teams in each division get the top four seeds, so the non-division winners would all be wildcards. This would generate much intrigue, because the NFC West teams wouldn't face each other, but rather the other division winners if the NFC West division winner ends up being the first seed.

Get ready for a lot of hype surrounding the NFC West division matchups this season.

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