49ers play in NFL’s toughest division, NFC West, in 2020

Captains of the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Captains of the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

In some ways, it’s good the San Francisco 49ers have to play in what’s looking to be the league’s toughest division in 2020, the NFC West, with the hope being the proverbial “iron sharpens iron.”

Not too many years ago, after the San Francisco 49ers had gone through their successful years early in the 2010s, the NFC West was essentially the Seattle Seahawks and everyone else.

The Los Angeles Rams had their brief run atop the division in 2018, while the Arizona Cardinals enjoyed three straight years of double-digit wins between 2013 and 2015.

Heading into 2020, the NFC West is now looking a lot like the league’s toughest division overall.

Last year, of course, the Niners held onto the divisional crown thanks to their last-second thrilling win over the Seahawks in Week 17. The 13-3 49ers record put head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad into the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, while Seattle managed to get in as a Wild Card. The Rams, who finished 9-7 last year and missed the postseason, would have made it under the league’s newly adopted format of seven playoff teams from each conference.

And any Niners fan who recalls the two divisional games against the Cardinals can attest to that team being a riser in 2020 and beyond.

No matter how one slices it, the NFC West is turning into the league’s most dominant division entering this upcoming year. San Francisco and Seattle remain playoff-bound favorites, while Arizona could turn into one of those surprising upstarts, especially considering the maturation of second-year quarterback Kyler Murray and the addition of perennial All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins during the offseason.

Even while the Rams appear to be trending downward, it seems feasible Los Angeles could wind up being a winner in many of the league’s other divisions over less-impressive opponents.

Case in point, the NFC North boasts two contenders: the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers, as it’s too hard to envision either the Detroit Lions or Chicago Bears making any serious playoff headway this season. The NFC South, despite the Tampa Bay Buccaneers landing quarterback Tom Brady, remains a division still centered around the New Orleans Saints.

And the NFC East? Well, maybe the Philadelphia Eagles or Dallas Cowboys exceed last year’s mediocrity.

Turning attention to the AFC, the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs could get some fight from the Las Vegas Raiders. But the Los Angeles Chargers don’t have a franchise-winning quarterback, and the Denver Broncos are still in a rebuild phase. Denver is trending upwards, yes. But head coach Vic Fangio’s squad isn’t a playoff contender yet.

The AFC South is interesting, minus the Houston Texans’ odd moves, which include trading away Hopkins for essentially nothing. While Houston could make the playoffs based on the play from quarterback Deshaun Watson alone, it’s now looking more and more like the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts’ division.

The AFC East could undergo a paradigm shift with Brady departing the New England Patriots, leaving the Buffalo Bills as a clear favorite over still-weak Miami Dolphins and New York Jets squads.

Out of the rest of the league, perhaps only the AFC North holds a chance at challenging the 49ers’ own division for the NFL’s best. There’s no questioning the Baltimore Ravens being atop divisional power rankings, and a Pittsburgh Steelers squad with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back in the fold helps matters a lot. The only question here is whether or not the Cleveland Browns finally reach expectations after such a disappointing 2019 campaign.

The point here is the NFC West could easily send three teams to the playoffs this year, and it should be expected. Aside from the AFC North, most other divisions appear to have only two legitimate representatives.

Next. 5 dream picks for 49ers in 2020 NFL Draft. dark

Granted, seasons never turn out as expected. But for those wondering which division is the league’s best right now, going with the NFC West would be a sound argument.