Let’s play what if.
What if instead of throwing the ball on the goal line late in Super Bowl 49, the Seahawks simply gave it to Marshawn Lynch. And let’s assume Lynch scored and didn’t turn it over, like Russell Wilson did.
Pete Carroll, pilloried for his actual decision, would instead be viewed as one of football’s best coaches ever.
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Wilson would be the only NFL quarterback with two titles in his first three NFL seasons.
The Seahawks might not have felt the need to trade for red-zone threat Jimmy Graham in the offseason.
And instead of having their ball-deflation shadiness rewarded with a fourth Super Bowl title, the Patriots would have suffered an epic heartbreak.
With that bit of bitterness for Dolphins fans behind us, let’s take a look at the intriguing NFC West.
▪ 2014 record: 11-5 (second in NFC West).
▪ Coach: Bruce Arians (third season).
▪ Training camp: July 28 for rookies, July 31 for veterans (University of Phoenix Stadium; Glendale, Arizona).
▪ Major additions: C Mike Iupati, DT Corey Peters, LB Sean Weatherspoon.
▪ Key losses: CB Antonio Cromartie, DE Darnell Dockett, DT Dan Williams.
▪ Outlook: Things were going absolutely swimmingly for the Cardinals through nine weeks of the 2014 season. They had won seven of eight games, and Carson Palmer was enjoying a career renaissance. But late in the Week 10 game, Palmer tore the same ACL he shredded years earlier. And it was the Cardinals who limped to the finish, averaging just 14.5 points over the final six games and losing in the wild-card round. Palmer is back — he’s “not even thinking about” his knee, he said recently — and so are the Cardinals’ Super Bowl chances.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
▪ 2014 record: 6-10 (fourth in NFC West).
▪ Coach: Jeff Fisher (fourth season).
▪ Training camp: July 27 for rookies, July 31 for veterans (Rams Park Training Center; Earth City, Missouri).
▪ Major additions: DT Nick Fairley, QB Nick Foles, RB Todd Gurley.
▪ Key losses: OT Joe Barksdale, QB Sam Bradford, DL Kendall Langford.
▪ Outlook: Joe Philbin’s record through three Dolphins seasons is 23-25. Jeff Fisher’s record in three years as Rams coach? 20-27-1. So if Philbin is on the hot seat, there’s no reason Fisher isn’t, too, particularly if the Rams leave for Los Angeles this offseason. The enigmatic Stan Kroenke could elect for a fresh start if he moves his franchise, and Fisher has done little to inspire confidence. It’ll help if his quarterback stays healthy. Sam Bradford is gone after starting just seven games in the past two years. In his place: Nick Foles, tasked with jump-starting a passing attack that ranked 23rd last year.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
▪ 2014 record: 8-8 (third in NFC West).
▪ Coach: Jim Tomsula (first season).
▪ Training camp: July 27 for rookies, July 31 for veterans (SAP Performance Facility; Santa Clara, California).
▪ Major additions: DT Arik Armstead, DL Darnell Dockett, WR Torrey Smith.
▪ Key losses: RB Frank Gore, G Mike Iupati, LB Patrick Willis.
▪ Outlook: Will the last 49ers player who participated in Super Bowl 47 please turn the lights out when you leave? Of the 22 San Francisco starters in that game, only seven remain with the team. Colin Kaepernick is one of those seven, but depending on whom in the Bay Area you ask, that might not be a good thing. Kaepernick threw the most interceptions (10) in his career last year and had his lowest passer rating in any season as a starter (86.4). Perhaps Torrey Smith will help him regain his form. And, of course, Jim Harbaugh is the biggest name gone; his rocky marriage with management ended after last season.
▪ 2014 record: 12-4 (first in NFC West).
▪ Coach: Pete Carroll (sixth season).
▪ Training camp: July 30 (Virginia Mason Athletic Center; Renton, Washington).
▪ Major additions: CB Will Blackmon, TE Jimmy Graham, CB Cary Williams.
▪ Key losses: CB Byron Maxwell, LB Malcolm Smith, C Max Unger.
▪ Outlook: How much is Russell Wilson worth? Depends on how you view him. If you do so purely by statistics, he’s probably due around $20 million annually. He was 15th in passing yards last year (3,475), 10th in passer rating (95.0), eighth in yards per attempt (7.69) and 16th in touchdowns. But he’s also the only quarterback in NFL history to start two Super Bowls in his first three seasons. By that metric, Wilson, entering the final season of his rookie contract, should be the league’s highest-paid quarterback, which is what he reportedly wants. The guess here is that the Seahawks and Wilson will split the difference.