Much like the PAC-12 Conference in college football, the NFC West somewhat has that “forgotten” feel to the NFL. When the division isn’t entirely great, people really tune out as the 4:00 games are somewhat of a “no mas” type for the typical football fan as they watched a large portion of the 1:00 NFL games on Sundays. And then we get Arizona vs. Seattle or something to that. While a few years back that was entertainment between the Cardinals and Seahawks, it doesn’t have that same vibe now.
A debate can be made as the NFC West could be the weakest of the NFC Divisions. Seattle looks to be trending down (and yes I think they will trend down big time), Arizona is somewhat in a rebuild phase. But then the Rams and 49ers look to make some noise. Los Angeles re-tooled in getting star players in the off-season while San Francisco hopes to build off their run at the end of the year where they beat three playoff teams down the stretch (in a row). So if the NFC West is weak, at least the top half may provide some must-see TV in 2018. Onto the preview.
(1) SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
LAST SEASON: 6-10, 4TH PLACE
KEY ADDITIONS: RB-Jerick McKinnon (FA-Minnesota), RB-Alfred Morris (FA-Dallas), G-Jonathan Cooper (FA-Dallas), C-Weston Richburg (FA-New York Giants), DT-Cedric Thornton (FA-Buffalo), CB-Richard Sherman (FA-Seattle), P-Jeff Locke (FA-Detroit), T-Mike McGlinchey (Draft-Notre Dame), WR-Dante Pettis (Draft-Washington), LB-Fred Warner (Draft-BYU), S-Tavarius Moore (Draft-Southern Mississippi)
KEY LOSSES: C-Daniel Kilgore (Trade-Miami) T-Trent Brown (Trade-New England), RB-Carlos Hyde (FA-Cleveland), TE-Logan Paulsen (FA-Atlanta), G-Brandon Fusco (FA-Atlanta), DE-Tank Carradine (FA-Chicago), LB-Elvis Dumervil (FA), S-Eric Reid (FA), CB-Dontae Johnson (FA-Seattle)
I admit, I’m buying into the 49ers Bandwagon with Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo. Sue me. But also, while seeing Carlos Hyde leave was a shocker, I think Jerick McKinnon was more suited in what Shanahan wants to run in San Francisco. Garoppolo’s winning streak in San Francisco, say what you want, was no joke. While the Niners look to have the quarterback and the running back in place, questions will be if Garoppolo has a receiver to throw at and yes, he has Marquise Goodwin. I kinda think the days of Pierre Garcon as a #2 receiver are over so there are questions on that side but they have an underrated tight end in George Kittle. He will be missing the remainder of the pre-season but he should be healthy enough to start week 1. So I think the Niners have a quality offense, though may not be tops, but strong enough. The key issue for San Francisco will be on defense and to see if they make strides. They weren’t terrible last year, but they weren’t the teams we saw Jim Harbaugh have with having the likes of Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, and others. But there are pieces such as Solomon Thomas and others like DeForest Buckner. The 49ers added former nemesis Richard Sherman from Seattle in the off-season, so it brings hope that San Francisco will improve. However, at this point, Sherman may be better off as a safety given his skills have gone backwards over the last few years in Seattle. But still, the 49ers defense should improve. KEY QUESTION: Was Garoppolo’s run a fluke last year? I don’t think so. I don’t know if he will put up the big numbers, but he will find ways to win games. MY PREDICTION: 12-4 I think the 49ers just have a favorable schedule and they will take advantage of it to be in the mix of a first round bye.
(2) LOS ANGELES RAMS
LAST SEASON: 11-5, 1ST PLACE (LOST TO ATLANTA IN WILD CARD ROUND)
KEY ADDITIONS: WR-Brandin Cooks (Trade-New England), DT-Ndamukong Suh (FA-Miami), DE-Ryan Davis (FA-Buffalo), CB-Marcus Peters (Trade-Kansas City), CB-Aquib Talib (Trade-Denver), CB-Sam Shields (FA-Green Bay), T-Joseph Noteboom (Draft-TCU)
KEY LOSSES: WR-Tavon Austin (Trade-Dallas), WR-Sammy Watkins (FA-Kansas City), TE-Derek Carrier (FA-Oakland), LB-Connor Barwin (FA-New York Giants), CB-Trumaine Johnson (FA-New York Jets), DE-Robert Quinn (Trade-Miami), LB-Alec Ogletree (Trade-New York Giants) DT-Tyrunn Walker (FA-Buffalo)
“Those who do not learn from history…” The Rams came off a great season last year thanks in part to an MVP caliber year from running back Todd Gurley and then defensive player of the year Aaron Donald while Jared Goff made huge strides and won the NFC West. They lost in the Wild Card so they went out and got Marcus Peters from Kansas City, Brandin Cooks from New England, and Ndamukong Suh from Miami. Everything went great until Aaron Donald held out. And currently he is still holding out. But what was talked about was the Rams created something close to a “SuperTeam” with these guys. Ehh…we saw that the Eagles tried to do it back in 2011 and that completely backfired on them. Now with or without Donald, the Rams defense under Wade Phillips should be near the top of the league given his schemes and plays so to think Los Angeles will be completely reeling from Donald’s holdout is pretty silly. Yes, they will take a hit assuming he doesn’t suit up by Week 1, but it’s still a good defense. I’m more concerned i on the Rams offense and if Jared Goff can play his game like he did last year. In the Falcons game he didn’t look all that great and struggled agianst a good defense. However, if he builds off the season he had last year, he will be considered as an MVP candidate as the Rams SHOULD be in the mix of a first round bye. But I don’t think he will make as many strides, but he should still be at the very least solid. The Rams however will have their fates decided if Todd Gurley keeps his running at a top notch level and at an MVP level. If he can, this team is the Super Bowl sleeper in the NFC. KEY QUESTION: Will Aaron Donald play in Week 1? Honestly I believe so. I think the Rams will give him his money. And it’s rightfully deserved if you ask me. MY PREDICTION: 10-6. Rams will have a good balanced attack, but I’m not 100% sold on Goff being that guy.
(3) ARIZONA CARDINALS
LAST SEASON: 8-8, 3RD PLACE
KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Sam Bradford (FA-Minnesota), QB-Mike Glennon (FA-Chicago), FB-Derrick Coleman (FA-Atlanta), WR-Brice Butler (FA-Dallas), G-Justin Pugh (FA-New York Giants), T-Andre Smith (FA-Cincinnati), DE-Benson Mayowa (FA-Dallas), CB-Budda Baker (Trade-Cleveland) CB-Bene Benwikere (FA-Dallas), QB-Josh Rosen (Draft-UCLA), WR-Christian Kirk (Draft-Texas A&M), C-Mason Cole (Draft-Michigan),
KEY LOSSES: QB-Carson Palmer (Retired), T-Jared Veldheer (Trade-Denver), QB-Blaine Gabbert (FA-Tennessee), QB-Drew Stanton (FA-Cleveland), QB-Matt Barkley (FA-Cincinnati), RB-Adrian Peterson (FA), RB-Kerwynn Williams (FA-Kansas City), WR-John Brown (FA-Baltimore), WR-Jaron Brown (FA-Seattle), DE-Frostee Rucker (FA-Oakland), LB-Karlos Dansby (FA), CB-Tyrann Mathieu (FA-Houston), CB-Tramon Williams (FA-Green Bay), CB-Justin Bethel (FA-Atlanta)
To be fair, the Cardinals probably overachieved last season as the team was somewhat patchwork especially after David Johnson was lost early on in the season. He’s a great back, but it just has that rebuilding vibe in Arizona with Carson Palmer out (as well as Drew Stanton) and Josh Rosen in (as well as Sam Bradford). Whether or not Rosen is the starter in Week 1 remains to be seen but there isn’t a feel that Rosen will just take the league by storm. He is an emotional quarterback. When he plays great, he is zeroed in and focused. But when he isn’t, he’s somewhat of a combustible guy and that to me is a big problem for a rookie. Adding on, the roster has a lot of turnover from last year and when you have that much turnover on a team in the NFL it does create problems. Which stinks because the Cardinals have one of the best running backs in the game and probably the best corner in the game in Patrick Peterson. But there will be some hiccups along the way for Arizona as I really don’t see them being a major threat in the NFC West. KEY QUESTION: Is Josh Rosen ready? Absolutely not. People call him arrogant a la Baker Mayfield, but Mayfield found ways to win games. Rosen last year didn’t and you do have to wonder if there is a durability issue. I just think he is more of a guy that would alienate his teammates more than rally them. Just my humble opinion. MY PREDICTION: 5-11. Arizona has far too many questions on both sides to even be considered a threat.
(4) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
LAST SEASON: 9-7, 2ND PLACE
KEY ADDITIONS: WR-Jaron Brown (FA-Arizona), WR-Brandon Marshall (FA-New York Giants), TE-Ed Dickson (FA-Carolina), G-DJ Fluker (FA-New York Giants), K-Sebastian Janikowski (FA-Oakland), P-Jason Myers (FA-Jacksonville), LB-Barkevious Mingo (FA-Indianapolis), CB-Dontae Johnson (FA-San Francisco), RB-Rashad Penny (Draft-San Diego State), DE-Rasheem Green (Draft-USC),
KEY LOSSES: DE-Michael Bennett (Trade-Philadelphia), RB-Eddie Lacy (FA), RB-Thomas Rawls (FA-New York Jets), WR-Paul Richardson (FA-Washington), TE-Jimmy Graham (FA-Green Bay), TE-Luke Wilson (FA-Detroit), T-Luke Joeckel (FA), T-Oday Aboushi (FA-Oakland), T-Matt Tobin (FA-New England), K-Blair Walsh (FA), DE-Sheldon Richardson (FA-Minnesota), CB-Richard Sherman (FA-San Francisco), S-Kam Chancellor (retired)
Don’t. Just don’t. I don’t want to hear the outcry if you’re a Seahawks fan of why I have Seattle dead last and having one of the worst records in football. The draft for Seattle the last few years has been a disaster (Malik McDowell?) and so far not many are getting pumped on the idea of Rashaad Penny in the first round. The offensive line is still a mess which means Russell Wilson will run for his life and try to do too much like he did at times last year. While most of the unhappy campers are gone, Seattle still has an unhappy Earl Thomas and from what it sounds like there are still others who are unhappy and have “tuned out” coach Pete Carroll. The running game is a major question mark and has been since the Super Bowl. So if you think Penny, Chris Carson and others will help out and then bringing in the talented but controversial Brandon Marshall at receiver will solve all ills, then you have far too much faith in the offense, delusional, or just back in time to the 2012-2015 seasons. I don’t see Seattle being much and if Russell Wilson gets hurt at any point, that’s the season right there and he will take more hits again this year. So it may be a long year in the Emerald City. KEY QUESTION: IF Seattle has a porous record, would the Seahawks consider firing Carroll? Yes. I get he won a Super Bowl, but if the Seahawks crash and burn this year, it will be because the players have partly tuned him out with all the rah-rah bit. It worked with a young Legion of Boom squad and yes they are a young group, but you have players who are there that are key players that will just blow it off like whatever. MY PREDICTION: 3-13. I don’t see Wilson making it through a full season either.
That’s it for the NFC West. One more to go!
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat