Seattle Seahawks

Dave Boling: New look NFC West will challenge 2016 Seahawks

New San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly gestures during a media conference Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif.
New San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly gestures during a media conference Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. AP

The NFC West: Land of new faces and new places.

And probably intensified rivalries, too.

In the past week, Chip Kelly was hired as coach of the 49ers, and L.A. became the new home to the Rams.

Both developments could have positive effects on the Seattle Seahawks. And if not positive, it should at least be more interesting.

Healthy rivalries are good for teams. The 2016 Seahawks could have three strong ones on their hands immediately.

Consider: Arizona could win a Super Bowl in a few weeks, having already deposed the Seahawks as division champs.

The Niners will have a coach in Kelly who clobbered Pete Carroll in their only college meeting, back when Kelly was at Oregon and Carroll at USC.

And the Rams will be energized by a new market and a new fan base — and that’s coming after a season in which they swept the Seahawks while still based in St. Louis.

The Seahawks were at their best in the past when pushed by a rugged San Francisco team. Carroll had a worthy antagonist across the sidelines in Jim Harbaugh.

This season, the Niners and Harbaugh-replacement Jim Tomsula hardly felt like a threat.

Kelly, though, handled an Oregon rise that featured a 47-20 blowout of Carroll’s 2009 Trojans. Although there were none of the querulous exchanges with Kelly that Carroll notably endured with Harbaugh, a 27-point loss is never something easily swallowed at USC.

Carroll has commented that he has long appreciated the innovation of Kelly’s offenses. And in 2010, while still at Oregon, Kelly came up and observed from the sidelines during a practice of Carroll’s first Seahawks team. I watched them chat amiably for quite some time that day.

Kelly might look to Carroll again, if not directly, for guidance on navigating the perils of an NFL coaching change. Carroll, too, had trouble in his early NFL experiences. And he seemed to learn from the experiences and prospered in the aftermath.

Kelly’s problem in Philadelphia came after he got sideways with the Eagles players and ownership, and, frankly, didn’t win enough games to lubricate that friction.

The Niners, meanwhile, had to do something to try to arrest the free-fall that took them from the NFC championship game after the 2013 season to a 5-11 record under Tomsula this season.

Kelly, with a 46-7 record at Oregon and a 26-21 mark in three seasons with the Eagles, looked like the best hope the Niners had.

At his introductory press conference on Wednesday, Kelly said he was looking forward to “just coaching” rather than dealing with personnel issues. But he is known as a strong-willed personality, and that statement had the sound of a pre-emptive valentine to his new boss, GM Trent Baalke.

Kelly is a smart guy. He can learn from his Eagles’ experience. Carroll certainly came to Seattle a different coach than the one who misfired with the Jets and Patriots.

On Wednesday, Kelly said he had been in the process of doing “the autopsy” on the corpse of his work at Philadelphia. So he’s at least salvaged a sense of humor heading into his new job.

The Rams move was a foregone conclusion. Sad, definitely, for the core St. Louis fans that continued to support them. From the outside, it seemed as if the alienation of the fan base had been in the works for a while. The atmosphere at their home games in recent seasons was mostly grim.

Having gone without the NFL for 20 seasons, the Los Angeles fan base should create a far more compelling homefield advantage.

The Seahawks don’t need the Rams to be any harder to beat, as they’ve struggled with them. But it means another West Coast trip on the schedule, and that, alone, is a benefit for the team that annually flies the most miles of any club in the league.

“Don’t have to fly to St. Louis every year, that’s a win,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said. “You don’t have the time change, you don’t have the 10 o’clock games anymore. That’s a win for us.”

Carroll, too, saw nothing but positives in the Rams’ move.

“For us, I think it’s great; I love that we’re playing in the west, and for all of the California guys (on the team), it’s fun to have a chance to play down there in our division,” he said.

The Rams organization will be highly motivated to make a huge splash in a market that only truly embraces winners. Rams officials will be pouring resources and energies into getting this team competitive as quickly as possible.

All of which could make the NFC West the toughest division in the NFL as soon as next fall.

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