This is it! Here is the final division preview, starring the NFC West.
First: Los Angeles Rams (11-5)
After fielding the league’s worst offense two years ago, the Rams had the best offense in points per game under new head coach last year under new head coach Sean McVay, and their record went from 4-12 in 2016 to 11-5 last year. Even though they lost in the wildcard round to the Atlanta Falcons, it was a very successful season for the Rams, to say the least. They didn’t stop there though. Los Angeles trade for receiver Brandin Cooks to stretch the field for quarterback Jared Goff and also traded for cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters to solidify one of the league’s best secondaries. They also signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to pair with reigning defensive player of the year Aaron Donald to field one of the scariest defensive lines. They also still have running back Todd Gurley, who was so productive last year that he almost won MVP. With him, Goff, and a solid receiving corps and offensive line, the Rams have one of the most complete offenses in all of football to compliment their scary defense. Their excellent coaching staff also can’t be overlooked, as McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips lead one of the best coaching staffs in the NFL, and they will be able to lead the Rams to the playoffs despite having one of the league’s toughest schedules (T-5th).
Second: San Francisco 49ers (9-7)
The 49ers were 1-10 last season. Then, Jimmy Garoppolo happened. After acquiring the 26-year-old quarterback from the Patriots and inserting him the starting lineup, the 49ers won 5 straight games to wrap up the 2017 season. As a result, they received a lot of hype as a potential Super Bowl contender heading into the offseason. That hype built up even when San Francisco signed cornerback Richard Sherman, center Western Richburg, and running back Jerrick McKinnon in free agency. I evened had them as a playoff team and a Super Bowl contender. Then, the 49ers were crushed with devastating news. McKinnon tore his ACL in a workout, which means San Francisco will now have to rely on halfbacks Alfred Morris and Matt Breida. It’s hard to trust them offensively, even though head coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the best offensive minds in the NFL, as this offense may be too one-dimensional in relying heavily on the passing game for it to reach its full potential. On defense, San Francisco is solid in all aspects, but they aren’t spectacular in any category. They also will be without linebacker Reuben Foster for the first two games, which hurts a lot considering they don’t have much depth at linebacker. Overall, there is too many on this team for the 49ers to compete for a Super Bowl. However, they should have enough talent to field an above .500 record and compete for the playoffs, especially since they have the easiest schedule in the NFC West (T-15th).
Third: Seattle Seahawks (7-9)
At this time last year, the Seahawks were considered a premier Super Bowl favorite. That just shows how a lot can change in just one year. Seattle is going through an identity change, after pretty much-losing everyone on their vaunted “Legion of Boom” defense. The only one who remains is safety Earl Thomas, and he reported to training camp just yesterday and very well could get traded very soon. Even though they have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Russell Wilson, they have no proven running back on the roster, a wide receiving corps will a lot of uncertainty, and an awful offensive line that will leave Wilson running for his life. On defense, it doesn’t get much better as they don’t have any sort of pass rush and their below average secondary is another weakness. All they have on defense, if Thomas gets traded, is linebacker Bobby Wagner. Similar to Wilson, Wagner has no help on defense to prevent Seattle from being one of the league’s defenses. Add in the fact that they have one of the league’s toughest schedules (T-5th), and I may be overrating Seattle with a 7-9 prediction.
Fourth: Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
Yes, the Cardinals went 8-8 with three different quarterbacks last season and without running back David Johnson, but they still will find a way to regress in 2018. For starters, head coach Bruce Arians retired so Arizona will go through some growing pains in the switch to Steve Wilks as head coach. Even though Johnson is back, the offense doesn’t look too strong. Quarterback Sam Bradford is fine if he’s healthy, but that’s a major if. Bradford is extremely injury prone, and it doesn’t help that Arizona has one of the worst offensive lines. That could make the Cardinals force first-round rookie quarterback Josh Rosen onto the field, and with that comes growing pains. On defense, Arizona released safety Tyrann Mathieu and their defense looks much weaker as a result. There are some positives – pass rusher Chandler Jones leads the league in sacks, corner Patrick Peterson is one of the best corners, and safety Budda Baker should continue to develop into a Pro Bowl caliber player in 2018 – but Arizona is weak at defensive tackle, not particularly strong at linebacker, and doesn’t have any cornerback depth after Petersen. The defense should still be average at worse, but that won’t be enough to carry a subpar offense, especially considering they have a pretty tough schedule (T-8th).