The Seattle Seahawks still have coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson.
But the Seahawks are no longer the team to beat in the NFC West, which seemingly places the 49ers in a position to improve to the point to battle the Los Angeles Rams in the top half of the division.
The Seahawks have replaced assistant coaches in the past, but this is the first time Carroll felt compelled to fire some of his top assistants, including both coordinators and long-time offensive line coach Tom Cable.
The nucleus of the Seahawks’ dominating defense is being ripped apart with Michael Bennett’s trade to Philadelphia and cornerback Richard Sherman on the way out. Safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, and defensive end Cliff Avril, also face uncertain futures.
There’s one more thing the Seahawks will not have as the 2018 season opens: A streak of consecutive playoff appearances.
Seattle won 10 or more games for five consecutive seasons and advanced to the playoffs each of those seasons. The Seahawks came up short last season, finishing 9-7.
Carroll said last week he is looking at it as a franchise-altering offseason.
“I think the opportunity for it to be an altering moment for us is there,” Carroll said at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “But every offseason we approach it the same way: to compete as hard as we can to figure out the best ways to put our guys in the right positions, to do the right things, to make the right choices, to stay abreast at what's going on in the league.
“And sometimes you've got to make some tough calls to get that done and put it in the right order. I really feel confident that we've done that. But there is a lot of work here, a lot of stuff to get better on before we figure all that out."
The Seahawks have terrorized the 49ers, beginning with the wild finish in the NFC Championship Game in January 2014.
That game marked the end of the 49ers' three-season run as Super Bowl contenders and sent the organization in a downward spiral that ultimately led to a massive roster turnover and four head coaches in four seasons.
But, now, perhaps the 49ers are ready to snap out of it, as the Seahawks experience their own organizational shakeup.
The 49ers certainly do not have it all figured out, but they ended the season on a high note with a five-game win streak with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback.
It might be premature to place the 49ers as a team that can compete for a division title. After all, the 49ers finished last year with a 6-10 record in Kyle Shanahan’s first season as coach.
“We’re very much a work in progress,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “Our goal is to be a team that competes and competes for championships. That’s why I got into this thing. That’s why we got into this this thing together. That’s what we talked to our players about.
“What Kyle does a great thing with and he talks to his players about, is focus on what you can control. That’s our effort each and every day to become that team. Timetables, I’m not going to do that. But, yes, having a quarterback makes you better. He made us better last year. We expect that going forward.”
The transformation of the Los Angeles Rams under first-year coach Sean McVay was astounding. The Rams scored an NFL-worst 14.0 points per game before McVay’s arrival. Last season, they led the league with an average of 29.9 points per game.
Quarterback Jared Goff took off in his second season under McVay’s tutelage, and the Rams won the division with an 11-5 record. The Rams will not be sneaking up on anybody in 2018, as they will undoubtedly be the heavy favorite to repeat.
McVay pushed back last week when it was suggested that the Rams and 49ers were ready to own the division.
“I think it’s fun to go against guys like that but then you also realize, you look at the consistency of Coach Carroll and what Russell Wilson’s done leading them,” McVay said. “I think a lot of people forget that with two games left we were really playing them almost for the division, so Seattle’s still a force to be reckoned with and they’re an excellent team well-coached by Coach Carroll.
“I don’t know that I really can say I’m excited, but it’s going to be a great challenge for us going against those three teams again next year.”
Arizona is the only NFC West team with a change at the top, as former Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks takes over as head coach for Bruce Arians, who retired after five seasons.
The Cardinals appear to be the furthest from being competitive because they are the only team in the division with no answer at quarterback. Like the 49ers a year ago, Arizona has no quarterback under contract.
And, like the 49ers of last offseason, they have to consider all options at the game’s most-important position.
“We will have plans in place for free agency, a trade option potentially, and the draft,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. “It's all three because we don't have any on the roster currently. Whether we are going to keep two or three, we're going to have to have someone that's experienced, and you'd like to be able to take a young guy and develop him.”