Weak division could aid in Arizona Cardinals’ re-emergence

With one obvious exception, residing in the NFC West should be a big help to the Arizona Cardinals having a bounce-back year

They might not admit it, but the Arizona Cardinals have to know there’s just one team to worry about in their division. At least for the time being, it’s a two-team race for the NFC West crown. On paper, the Cardinals should be able to breeze through at least 25% of their upcoming schedule. (Though division games are never as easy as they appear to be).

The team standing in the Cards’ way is none other than the Seattle Seahawks. Since 2012, Pete Carroll’s crew has been a model of consistency. Their head coach has led them to the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, including two Super Bowl appearances (winning one).

Unfortunately for Arizona, it doesn’t appear that the Seahawks will be going away any time soon. Their franchise did an about-face back in 2012 when they hit the Draft lottery. A third-round pick named Russell Wilson has been a godsend, stealing the starting quarterback job during his first training camp with the squad.

Seattle has also drafted exceptionally well on the defensive side of the ball. Players like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor and K.J. Wright have transformed the defense into a ferocious unit. Key free-agent signings like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril have been big-time contributors as well.

The San Francisco 49ers, on the other hand, have taken a nosedive the last couple of years. They won just seven games during the 2015-16 campaigns combined. It doesn’t figure to get much better for the Niners this season.

They do have a bright, new head coach named Kyle Shanahan. Their current options at quarterback, however, most likely won’t have opposing defensive coordinators losing any sleep at night.

Brian Hoyer, a former Cardinal, is slated to be the opening-day starter. Another ex-Card, Matt Barkley, will be his backup. Aside from the mediocrity of the passers, the rest of the 49ers roster isn’t real impressive either.

The Los Angeles Rams have not had a winning season since 2003. Like San Francisco, they too will be trotting out a new, young head coach. Sean McVay will attempt to make something out of what jettisoned coach Jeff Fisher left behind.

The Rams, like the Niners, also have a question mark at the quarterback spot. The number-one pick of last year’s draft, Jared Goff, struggled mightily as a rookie. He completed just 54.6% of his passes, tossing five touchdowns against seven interceptions in seven starts.

Todd Gurley is a talented young running back who is suffering from the lack of talent he plays with. The defense has playmakers, but until the offense improves, that matters very little.

If Arizona plays to their ability, there’s no reason they shouldn’t sweep both the 49ers and Rams. They should’ve swept the Seahawks last year, but former kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed what would’ve been a 24-yard, game-winning field goal. The Cardinals still finished 2016 with a more than respectable 4-1-1 division record.

The Cards should fare well in their division games this year. Whether they can get back to the playoffs will ultimately be determined by how they do versus their non-division opponents.

Let the games begin.