NFL Previews and Predictions: NFC West

It’s time to wrap up our division previews and predictions; let’s take a look at the NFC West. This division is actually one of the most exciting divisions in football. It features two playoff teams from last season (Rams and Seahawks), a team on the rise (49ers), and a team that will be a lot of fun to watch (Cardinals). This could be a very competitive division that comes down to the end; it’ll be a lot of fun to watch it unfold. Can the Rams continue to dominate? Can the Seahawks duplicate their success? Will Jimmy Garoppolo come back from injury to lead the 49ers to the playoffs? How will head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s air-raid offense work in Arizona with Kyler Murray? Let’s deeply examine the NFC West!

First Place: Los Angeles Rams

Photo Cred: Pats Pulpit

Record Prediction: 12-4

Best Case: 16-0

Worst Case: 7-9

Power Ranking: 7th

Offense Ranking: 9th

Defense Ranking: 10th

Initial Thoughts: The Rams have absolutely dominated this division the past two seasons, and are expecting to do the same this year after reaching the Super Bowl last season. They may have lost some key players in the offseason, but this roster remains one of the best in football; they’re still the top dog in this division.

Offense: As expected with an offense run by head coach Sean McVay, the Rams offense should put up a lot of points this season. Quarterback Jared Goff may more of a system quarterback, but in this offensive scheme, there’s no doubting his ability to be effective. As per usual, he’ll be complemented by plenty of supporting talent. The receiving core of Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Brandin Cooks is one of the best in the league, and the team also has a solid tight end duo in Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee. Even though they lost guard Roger Saffold and center John Sullivan this offseason, they still have a nice tackle duo in Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein, and this scheme’s play action-heavy style should neutralize some concerns on the interior by delaying the pass rush. The main uncertainty with this team is the running back position. They invested a lot of money in Todd Gurley, but he was diagnosed with arthritis in his knee, and won’t be able to be a workhorse back anymore. That’ll mean a reliance on Malcolm Brown and third-round pick Darrell Henderson, with Henderson providing a lot of intrigue as a very elusive runner. This is a deep offense with a lot of star talent and an elite play caller; their 9th ranking may be too low.

Defense: In addition to McVay, the Rams also have one of the top defensive minds in football in Wade Phillips. He’ll have to deal with the losses of a few players in free agency, but with the reinforcements made in the offseason, this defense should be a top-ten unit. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is not only one of the best interior pass rushers of all time, but the best player in the entire NFL. He alone could elevate this defense, and he’s definitely good enough to make up for the fact that Dante Fowler and Clay Matthews are the team’s best edge rushers. However, the secondary has a lot of talent. Cornerback Marcus Peters had a down season last year, but he’s still a playmaker, and Aqib Talib remains a reliable corner as well. Meanwhile, Nickell Robey Coleman gets the job done in the nickel, and the safety duo of veteran addition Eric Weddle and John Johnson III may be the most underrated duo in the entire league. The linebackers (Cory Littleton and Micah Kiser) are likely a weak point, but when you have a talented secondary, the best player in football, and a great play-caller, you get the benefit of the doubt.

Final Thoughts: The Rams may not be the perfect team on paper that they were heading into last season, but they still have a very strong roster and a great coaching staff. This division will be tougher this season, but they still should be the definite favorite to win it this year.

Second Place: San Francisco 49ers

Photo Cred: Niner Nation

Record Prediction: 11-5

Best Case: 14-2

Worst Case: 5-11

Power Ranking: 15th

Offense Ranking: 11th

Defense Ranking: 17th

Initial Thoughts: After quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3 last season, the 49ers collapsed, finishing with the second-worst record last season. However, with Garoppolo back healthy this season, San Francisco is a serious threat to win this division.

Offense: Without a doubt, the 49ers have the most underrated offense heading into 2019. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the top play-callers in the sport, as we’ve seen his system thrive in multiple places, including here last season with Nick Mullens as the starting quarterback. Garoppolo is a very talented quarterback when healthy, and it’ll be very exciting to see what he could do with a full season with Shanahan. Plus, the 49ers also managed to upgrade his supporting cast this offseason. The receivers aren’t eye-popping, but decent; Marquise Goodwin may be the fastest player in the NFL, Dante Pettis was a pleasant surprise in his rookie season, rookies Deebo Samuel and Jaylen Hurd could definitely contribute, and there’s some depth after those four. That’s not even the best part; the team has arguably the best tight end in George Kittle, and after putting up amazing numbers with Mullens and CJ Beathard, one could only imagine what he could do with Garoppolo. In addition, the offensive line fields a strong tackle duo of Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, and the interior offensive line should be serviceable. The running back group, meanwhile, includes three solid running backs in Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, and Jerick McKinnon, with Coleman holding a lot of intrigue due to his past success with Shanahan in Atlanta.

Defense: The 49ers, under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, are trying to establish a Seahawks-like zone coverage scheme. That makes cornerback Richard Sherman a perfect fit here, despite his athletic limitations, but behind him, the team’s best bet at starting-caliber cornerback play is Ahkello Witherspoon, Jason Verrett, and nickel corner K’Waun Williams, and that’s concerning. Especially, since their safeties, Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tart, may be the weakest in the league. The rest of the defense, however, is exciting. The pass rush, led by Dee Ford and second overall pick Nick Bosa (if healthy) on the edge, as well DeForest Buckner on the interior, has the chance to be very, very special, and it doesn’t hurt that Soloman Thomas and Arik Armstead also provide depth as interior pass rushers. Plus, after adding linebacker Kwon Alexander in free agency, the team now has a solid partner for 2018 third-round pick Fred Warner, which they didn’t have last season. The secondary is a major concern, but this team should be able to hide that red flag with an elite pass rush and talented linebackers, very similar to what the Eagles have done in recent years.

Final Thoughts: Playing into the 49ers’ favor is their schedule; all of their “difficult” games are at home. Also, I absolutely admire the potential of Shanahan’s offense with Garoppolo healthy, and if their pass rush is legitimate, they should be a playoff team this season. Heck, they’re even a sleeper Super Bowl contender.

Third Place: Seattle Seahawks

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Detroit Lions
Photo Cred: Seahawks Wire- USA Today

Record Prediction: 8-8

Best Case: 11-5

Worst Case: 7-9

Power Ranking: 19th

Offense Ranking: 15th

Defense Ranking: 24th

Initial Thoughts: The Seahawks have been a model of consistency in this decade; they’ve only missed the playoffs once since 2012, and have had a winning record in every season since then. Despite making the playoffs last season, this will be the year their streak of winning finally comes to an end to a degree; they’ll likely be a mediocre team this season.

Offense: The Seahawks offense is always exciting to watch; quarterback Russell Wilson is one of the most electrifying players in football. He is one of the few players in football that can truly elevate the rest of his supporting cast, which will be important since there isn’t a lot of talent outside of him. Receiver Tyler Lockett is the best deep threat in the NFL outside of Tyreek Hill, but outside of him, the team is relying on a lot of players with limited route trees in rookies DK Metcalf and Gary Jennings, as well as unspecial options in David Moore and Jaron Brown. That’s a lot of vertical threats, but outside of Lockett, you can’t count on anyone to create any sort of separation. That could hamper the offense; despite Wilson’s ability outside of the pocket, the offensive line should prove troublesome. Left tackle Duane Brown is fine, but the guards (Mike Iupati and DJ Fluker) are a definite potential weakness, center Justin Britt is regressing, and right tackle German Ifedi hasn’t shown much promise throughout his career. The weakness at guard, in particular, is an issue, because this team is somehow committed to the running game and not their $140 million quarterback, and it’ll be hard for Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny to find success. I love Wilson, and Lockett to a lesser degree, but I don’t like this offensive scheme at all, nor the talent around those two.

Defense: Typically, defenses in Seattle are amongst the leagues best; the players from the “legion of boom” have left, but the scheme, and the mastermind (Pete Carroll) remain in place. However, the loss in talent has been so extreme, that even this culture can’t make up for it anymore. Seattle traded away their #1 pass rusher in Frank Clark this offseason, and as a result, they’re relying on currently injured first-round LJ Collier and the very inconsistent Ezekial Ansah as their top pass rushers, and given each player’s injury issues, they could very well have the worst pass rush in the league. That would be fine during the “legion of boom” era, but now, this secondary isn’t very strong. Cornerback Shaq Griffin graded out as one of the worst corners by Pro Football Focus last year, Tre Flowers is unproven, they lost nickel corner Justin Coleman to the Lions, and free safety (Tedric Thompson, Delano Hill, Marquise Blair) could also be a weakness. Seattle’s defense actually is very similar to their offense, in that they’re carried by one player. Linebacker Bobby Wagner is one of the best overall players in football; he’s as flawless as it gets at the linebacker position. He alone gives this defense some hope, as he and nose tackle Poona Ford will help with the run defense, while he could also assist in coverage. Still, unlike with offense, defenses can’t be carried by only one player, and as a result, they’ll likely be a bottom-ten defense.

Final Thoughts: The Seahawks have two elite superstars in Wilson and Wagner, as well as a great head coach in Carroll. However, that’s all they really have, and playing in a very tough division, they’ll likely be hovering around .500 in 2019.

Fourth Place: Arizona Cardinals

Photo Cred: Arizona Republic

Record Prediction: 4-12

Best Case: 11-5

Worst Case: 1-15

Power Ranking: 23rd

Offense Ranking: 25th

Defense Ranking: 20th

Initial Thoughts: The Cardinals have one of the busiest and interesting offseasons in recent memory. After finishing with the worst record in football, they fired their head coach Steve Wilks after one season and traded their 2018 first-round pick Josh Rosen to the Dolphins. In Wilks’ place, will be head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who’ll look to establish a never-seen-before air-raid offense to the NFL, and with the first overall pick, quarterback Kyler Murray was selected to replace Rosen. They’re one of the most difficult teams to get a read on heading into the season, and they’ll be super exciting. However, with a very tough schedule, it’s unclear if that’ll translate to wins this season.

Offense: As previously mentioned, it’s an unknown if Kingsbury’s air-raid offense will work in the NFL. However, the upside of this offense is tremendous, and it all starts with Murray. He has the chance to be one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL in short-term, and coincidentally, his upside is very similar to a division rival in Wilson. However, the talent around him isn’t quite ideal. There’s some excitement regarding rookie receivers Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler, as well as second-year wideout Christian Kirk, but those players are unproven, and Larry Fitzgerald is a horrible fit in an offense that is all about receivers earning separation. Even more troublesome, is their offensive line. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert is a solid addition, but the interior offensive line (Justin Pugh, Mason Cole, JR Sweezy) is very poor, and left tackle DJ Humphries is very inconsistent. Even in the preseason, we’ve already seen Murray running for his life similar to what Rosen was forced to do, and that’s something that cannot happen during the regular season. This offense won’t rely too heavily on running backs, but it is worth mentioning that David Johnson was once one of top dual-threat running backs before injuries and regressions changed that for the worse. We have no idea how this offense will be in 2019; it could be above-average if it runs outright, or could be an absolute utter failure. It’ll definitely be a lot of fun to watch this season, however.

Defense: The Cardinals defense, as per usual, remains a somewhat intriguing unit, especially since they’ll change back to a 3-4 defense this year. The pass rush, led by Chander Jones and veteran Terrell Suggs, should be strong, and rookie Zach Allen could also be a solid pass rusher as a defensive end in this scheme. Furthermore, linebacker Haason Reddick could be a very useful player if his pass-rushing abilities are used well, especially since Jordan Hicks can assume responsibilities as the main off-ball linebacker. Had it not been for cornerback Patrick Peterson’s six-game suspension, this defense would’ve had a more positive outlook. However, in those six games, it’ll be up to cornerback Byron Murphy to be the #1 corner against Russell Wilson, Matt Stafford, and Matt Ryan, though the safety duo of Budda Baker (also a nickel corner) and DJ Swearinger is very strong. Besides cornerback depth, there’s nothing to be too concerned about with this defense. However, duo to Peterson’s suspension, there isn’t much star talent with this defense; the 20th ranking may be a little low, but they’ll be a middle of the pack defense this season.

Final Thoughts: As illustrated with the difference between their 11-5 best-case scenario and their 1-15 worst-case scenario, the Cardinals could either be great, or horrible this season. I do love their future after a very strong draft, but as far as this season is concerned, they may be looking at another top-ten pick, especially since Peterson is suspended for the first six games.

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