The 49ers are reigning champions of their conference and division. They held a double-digit lead midway through the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV. Though the Kansas City Chiefs ultimately came back to win, that was only San Francisco's fourth loss of the season, including the playoffs. In those four defeats, the 49ers lost by a combined total of only 24 points -- nearly half of which resulted from the Super Bowl.
So, naturally, San Francisco would be the team to beat -- if not in the NFC, surely in the NFC West -- next season, right?
Not according to Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.
During an appearance on ESPN's "First Take" on Wednesday, Wagner expressed significant confidence in his team, and made the case that the Seahawks should be the favorites in the NFC West.
"I feel really confident," Wagner said. "Obviously, Russell [Wilson] is an amazing quarterback; the things that he does on the field are just amazing. Like you said, he's one of the greatest quarterbacks in our game. We're confident on that side. I feel like from the defensive standpoint, there's a lot of room for improvement. We have to play a little bit better. I feel like if we make those changes and make those improvements, I still feel like we'll be the team to beat."
Still? Hmmm ...
He's absolutely right about Wilson. The guy is a magician in the pocket -- and that's where you hope to contain him. Wilson has been a thorn in San Francisco's side ever since he entered the NFL, and there's arguably no more terrifying opposing QB to 49er fans. With Wilson having two deep targets in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, as well as a strong running game, there's ample reason for Wagner to be confident about Seattle's offense.
The defense, on the other hand? Well, he's correct that there's room for improvement. Plenty of it.
Last season, the Seahawks ranked 26th overall in total defense, and tied for the second-fewest sacks in the NFL. That was with standout defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney in tow, but all signs point toward him signing elsewhere this offseason in free agency. They re-signed defensive tackle Jarran Reed, traded for cornerback Quentin Dunbar and signed pass-rushers Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin, but other than that, Seattle hasn't really addressed the defensive side of the ball this offseason. Granted, the 2020 NFL Draft is right around the corner, but there's no guarantee they'll find any immediate contributors there.
Wagner is phenomenal, and fellow linebacker K.J. Wright is very solid, as well. But they both lived up to those reputations last season, and look how that worked out. Yes, the 49ers won the division by a matter of inches in Week 17, but Seattle also required overtime to beat a shorthanded San Francisco squad in Week 10, which was without star tight end George Kittle.
Though the 49ers have retained most of their own free agents, they did see wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders sign with the New Orleans Saints, and made the tough decision to trade defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts. Of course, San Francisco didn't lose Buckner for nothing -- like Seattle might with Clowney. The 49ers got the No. 13 overall pick in the upcoming draft in exchange, which should help them replace Buckner or Sanders, or address another position.
The Seahawks currently have five picks in the first four rounds of the 2020 draft, but they gave up a third-rounder to acquire Clowney last offseason, and their earliest selection doesn't come until No. 27 overall.
In addition to the No. 13 overall pick, the 49ers also possess No. 31.
Any team with Wilson behind center should feel confident. But last I checked, he doesn't play defense, and that, among other reasons, is why the 49ers -- and not the Seahawks -- are the team to beat in the NFC West.