When Around the NFL ranked all eight divisions from top to bottom, the NFC West was booted out of the top spot it held for years by the rugged AFC North. With the 49ers spiraling to earth last season, the West shapes up as a front-loaded operation with a pair of Super Bowl threats in the Cardinals and Seahawks.
Arizona came within a game of Super Bowl 50, while Seattle looked like the conference's best squad for stretches of 2015. There's no reason to believe either franchise will take a step back this year, with Arizona's Bruce Arians and Seattle's Pete Carroll serving as two of the NFL's best coaches.
The Rams, meanwhile, are a tease. Despite knocking off the Cardinals last season and beating the Seahawks in each of the past two years, Jeff Fisher has yet to post more than seven wins in any of his four campaigns with the team. A talented defense can't offset the lack of a franchise quarterback -- no matter what pretty words the Rams spin about Case Keenum. In San Francisco, the Niners might house the NFL's second-worst roster outside of Cleveland, but the presence of Chip Kelly at least makes them intriguing.
That swap sent guard Jonathan Cooper back to the Patriots, highlighting an offensive line that also waved farewell to guard Ted Larsen and tackles Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie. With only bookend Jared Veldheer and left guard Mike Iupati returning, the Cardinals will ponder help up front in the draft.
» Pay Honey Badger: Coach Bruce Arians has called Tyrann Mathieu his "happiest draft choice," while the versatile defensive back said of the Cardinals: "I think this is the perfect place for me. I wouldn't mind spending the rest of my life here." It's fair to wonder if he'll be the same after two knee operations, but the fast-healing Mathieu has evolved into a face of the franchise. The Cardinals won't let him get away.
» Add big uglies: The Cooper trade solved the need at pass rusher, but the Cardinals must deepen their front five to keep Palmer upright. It's possible Arizona selects multiple linemen in the draft.
What's changed?The Seahawks used free agency to re-sign a rash of their own players and add bodies along both lines.
» Sort out the O-line: As mentioned, the Seahawks have issues up front -- especially at left tackle. We expect the line to be a draft priority, even after Carroll pointed to third-year tackle Garry Gilliam, saying: "I think we're in good shape." Try telling that to NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah, who pegged Ohio State's Taylor Decker to Seattle in his latest mock draft.
Los Angeles Rams
What's changed? Minutes after publishing this post, the Rams engineered a massive trade for Tennessee's No. 1 overall pick in the draft. The deal changes everything we thought about this franchise.
Months of fluffy praise for quarterback Case Keenum amounted to nothing but noise. The Rams -- now entrenched in Los Angeles -- will take either North Dakota State's Carson Wentz or Cal's Jared Goff. Whichever passer they pick will join a team laced with a star running back in Todd Gurley and a rough-and-tumble defense. Los Angeles also created salary-cap room by releasing a fleet of well-known veterans in Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Nick Fairley.
San Francisco 49ers
For starters, coach Jim Tomsula was dumped in favor of Chip Kelly, who was dumped by an Eagles franchise now working overtime to erase any memory of the man.
» Finding a new franchise QB: The presence of Kaepernick shouldn't stop the Niners from thinking about drafting a passer if one of the top quarterbacks falls to No. 7. Why not? Expecting too much from the Kaepernick-Gabbert duo is a mistake.
» Chip's second chance: Kelly flamed out hard in Philly, but the Niners represent a new shot for the coach to prove that his high-speed offense can shine at the NFL level. It's also an opportunity for Kelly to show that he can bring a positive culture to the team after being viewed as poison in Philly.