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The world turned upside down

The meek are inheriting the NFC West, as Seattle and Arizona crumble.

Los Angeles Rams vs San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The 2018 winner of the NFC West will be a fast-rising team with a red-hot young quarterback, an unstoppable defensive line and an offensive genius coach who cut his teeth calling plays for Washington.

We just don’t know if it will be the San Francisco 49ers or the Los Angeles Rams. Jimmu Garoppolo, DeForest Buckner and Kyle Shanahan, or Jared Goff, Aaron Donald and Sean McVay? Either way, it’s exciting football.

Running back Carlos Hyde was practically giddy after San Francisco’s stunning domination of the 10-4 Jaguars Sunday.

I definitely want to be a part of this. Like I said, I think we got a good chance to go to the Super Bowl next year so I don’t want to go to any other team.

When asked about this comment, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had a curt reply:

I’ll talk to him about that. We’re dealing with the Rams next week and we’ll look at everything else after that.

Now, this sounds like standard (but true) football philosophy: one game at a time, not looking past Sunday, or as Chip Kelly likes to say, “Every game is the Super Bowl.”

But Garoppolo may also have been focusing on this new reality: the 49ers have to get past the Rams to even think about a Super Bowl next year, and that won’t be easy.

Sunday’s showdown between these rising powers kicks off the new rivalry that will dominate the NFC West for the next few years, and whoever draws first blood will have the psychological edge.

Maybe Garoppolo is focused on slapping down the Rams to show them who’s boss, right up front, before they get any notions of their own. This will be the new Battle of Yorktown that reveals a world turned upside down.

Over the last six games, it has become clear that Seattle and Arizona are falling apart, so much so that Bruce Arians is rumored to be quitting as the Cardinals coach. Even if he stays, the team faces a rebuilding year and their quarterback is Carson Palmer, who is frequently injured and older than George Blanda’s grandpa.

As for Seattle, they’re always dangerous but big contracts and a rash of injuries and weak draft picks has cut deeply into their talent pool. Here’s a thought experiment: imagine what the Seahawks would look like if Russell Wilson got injured. Ewww! That’s a disgusting picture (in your mind), isn’t it? Sorry.

Last summer, no one could have predicted these changes, but now they look inevitable in hindsight. The path to success in the NFL is simple: a franchise QB plus young stars whose inexpensive rookie contracts let you amass more talent. If that QB is relatively young, you have a Super Bowl window for a few years.

Until 2014, the NFC West was one of the league’s toughest divisions, year after year. Now that Arizona lacks a franchise quarterback and Seattle’s stars aren’t young (or cheap) any more, their decline is inevitable. But the two hottest franchises in the league are ready to battle, and their divisional rivalry will be incredibly fun to watch.