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NFC West: Five things to know by Jay Skurski

1. The San Francisco 49ers have fallen apart. Despite a 44-19 record over the past four seasons and three straight appearances in the NFC Championship Game (plus Super Bowl XLVII), the 49ers parted ways with coach Jim Harbaugh after a disappointing 8-8 season. That, however, was just the tip of the iceberg. The list of talented players who followed Harbaugh out the door is dizzying. Right tackle Anthony Davis, linebackers Chris Borland and Patrick Willis and defensive end Justin Smith all retired. Additionally, San Francisco lost running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, left guard Mike Iupati, and cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox. Heck, even punter Andy Lee, one of the NFL’s best at his position, left. Oh, and Aldon Smith was released, too. Add it all up and that’s 20 Pro Bowl appearances and more than 1,000 NFL starts. Replacing Harbaugh will be Jim Tomsula, the team’s former defensive line coach who has all the excitement of … a defensive line coach.

2. The Seahawks are again Super Bowl favorites. That was true even before Seattle traded with New Orleans for tight end Jimmy Graham, giving them one of the better receiving threats in the league to pair with a dominant running game led by Marshawn Lynch. Nearly all of the key contributors to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances are back.

3. In St. Louis, Sam Bradford is out, Nick Foles is in. In an offseason full of interesting trades, the Rams pulled off a big one when they acquired Nick Foles from the Eagles for quarterback Sam Bradford, who has missed the past two seasons because of knee injuries. Foles will be counted on to greatly improve an offense that finished 28th last season. St. Louis has failed to reach .500 in any of Jeff Fisher’s three seasons. The Rams haven’t made the playoffs since 2004. If those streaks continue, Fisher’s job may be on the line.

4. Arizona’s hopes rest with Carson Palmer. The Cardinals were 9-1 last season before Palmer tore his ACL and was lost for the season. They went 2-4 the rest of the way before losing to Carolina on the first weekend of the playoffs. Over the past two seasons, Arizona is 13-2 in games Palmer starts. The defense will have to deal with the loss of coordinator Todd Bowles, who took the Jets’ coaching job. James Bettcher takes over in that role.

5. Kam Chancellor’s holdout could extend into the regular season. The Seattle Seahawks’ safety wants a new contract, and sat out all of training camp in an effort to get it. Chancellor, who signed his current contract in 2013, has seen the team rework several contracts recently, including those of Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson. If his holdout extends into when the games matter, it would be a big blow to the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” secondary.

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