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NFC West preview: Jimmy Garoppolo and 49ers the team to beat

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) gestures during NFL football practice.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo gestures during a practice session in August.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)
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A team-by-team look at the NFC West and the predicted order of finish for the division.

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1. San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle stretches before a practice session in August.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

2019 | 13-3, 1st in West

Last year in playoffs | 2019

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WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON

The 49ers started 8-0 for the first time since 1990 and in Week 15 clinched their first playoff berth since 2013. They made the most of it, getting all the way to the Super Bowl before losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in Miami.

PINNING THEIR HOPES ON

George Kittle. Strange to put that much emphasis on a tight end, but that’s the kind of impact player Kittle is. San Francisco gave him a five-year, $75-million extension, making him the highest-paid tight end in history. He’s coming off his second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Trent Williams. With All-Pro Joe Staley retiring, the 49ers got a star to replace him at left tackle. Williams, a seven-time Pro Bowl player with Washington, will be Jimmy Garoppolo’s blind-side protector and already is getting rave reviews after holding his own against Nick Bosa in practice.

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2. Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson passes during a practice session on Sept. 1.
(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

2019 | 11-5, 2nd in West

Last year in playoffs | 2019

WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON

The Seahawks started 5-1, with their only loss during that stretch coming to New Orleans at home. After a loss to Baltimore in Week 7, they kept rolling with five wins in a row. Seattle cooled at the end of the season, however, losing three of its final four games and ultimately falling to Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs.

PINNING THEIR HOPES ON

Russell Wilson. Year after year, Wilson is an MVP candidate. He’s coming off a season in which the running game disintegrated, and he had to carry extra weight to keep his team in a lot of games. In the last three seasons, he’s thrown 100 touchdown passes.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Jamal Adams. The Seahawks made a blockbuster trade in July, acquiring the All-Pro safety from the New York Jets in exchange for two first-round picks and more. Adams gives the Seahawks a second quarterback on defense, along with linebacker Bobby Wagner, and an elite talent in the secondary.

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3. Los Angeles Rams

Rams defensive end Aaron Donald stretches before a team scrimmage at SoFi Stadium on Aug. 22.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

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2019 | 9-7, 3rd in West

Last year in playoffs | 2018

WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON

Even though the Rams got off to a 3-0 start, the air hissed out of the balloon pretty quickly with the three-game losing streak that followed. Todd Gurley was a shell of himself, and the team couldn’t recapture the offensive rhythm that marked Sean McVay’s first two seasons.

PINNING THEIR HOPES ON

Aaron Donald. He’s the most dominant defensive player in the league and someone who commands double teams on virtually every snap. Having A’Shawn Robinson next to him could help him be even more productive in coordinator Brandon Staley’s scheme.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Jalen Ramsey. Acquired in Week 7 of last season, Ramsey established himself right away as the shutdown corner we saw in Jacksonville. He’s a graceful, dynamic talent who can stick like Velcro to any receiver in the league — but does he have a capable bookend on the other side?

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4. Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins flips the football away after making a catch.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins flips the football away after making a catch during a team practice in August.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

2019 | 5-10-1, 4th in West

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Last year in playoffs | 2015

WHAT HAPPENED LAST SEASON

Their 5-10-1 record doesn’t look great, but the Cardinals had a lot of reasons for hope with the flashes they showed last season. Kliff Kingsbury’s offense was intriguing, No.1 pick Kyler Murray was exciting … yet the team missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.

PINNING THEIR HOPES ON

DeAndre Hopkins. The four-time All-Pro wideout from the Houston Texans has infused a ton of excitement into this fan base, and who better to eventually take the baton from Larry Fitzgerald? This makes a terrible red-zone team a pretty dangerous one.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Chandler Jones. Arizona’s defense is a desert when it comes to elite players, but Jones is a standout. He had a career-high 19 sacks last season — a half-sack fewer than league leader Shaq Barrett — and forced eight fumbles. Simply put, he scares quarterbacks.