NFL Divisional Preview: NFC West

Debatably, the two best teams in the entire NFC play in the same conference. Like, there’s a very real chance that, despite one would be a #1 seed and one would be a #5 seed, they have the two best records in the conference. Other than that? Well, you can say every team has real talent, which is not for nothing.

Arizona Cardinals

You can basically make an argument for anything you want, but it would be hard to argue against the Arizona Cardinals being the best team in the NFC, if not in all of football, on paper. The key words there obviously are “on paper”. Either way, football fans everywhere expect Arizona to be one of the last teams standing at the end of the year.

Basically the biggest reason I’d be okay if the Cards won a Super Bowl is Larry Fitzgerald. If you want an example of a humble, do-it-all receiver who just deserves a damn championship, he’s your guy. He’s literally impossible to hate, he’s an all-time great at the position, and even in his advanced football age, he’s still killing it. The offense around him has gotten better, too. Carson Palmer had an excellent season last year until the NFC Championship rolled around. Then, he did Carson Palmer things, like turn the ball over 6 times. Either way, he’s still a talented signal caller, he knows the offense inside and out, and he’s hungry for a ring too. Former ND great Michael Floyd has been a reliable #2 option, and John Brown is another excellent target out of the slot. The trio of David Johnson, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington all, at the very least, do their part to take some of the pressure off of Palmer’s shoulders. The Cardinals will not struggle to put up points, they just need to figure it out come playoff time.

Defensively, they’re just a downright scary team. Patrick Peterson is a top-5 cornerback in football, and he helps out big time in the return game, too. Tyrann Mathieu will be a huge boost once he comes back, and Deone Bucannon has morphed into one of the most versatile players in all of football. The d-line got a boost from drafting Robert Nkemdiche, who is an all-world talent. If he can just put aside the character issues that made him fall (i.e. don’t get high and fall out of a dorm room), he’s going to be a force.

It’s not far fetched at all to say that Arizona is the most complete team in the NFL. Bruce Arians is one of the best coaches out there, and he’s a master motivator who can truly get the most from his players. They just need to take that final step and learn how to win the big game.

Los Angeles Rams

Los Angeles finally got their football team, and the NFC West finally makes geographical sense again. While they’re not playoff ready, they’ve got a decent roster that won’t roll over and die – they’ll be competitive for as long as they can.

The Rams made the biggest noise out of basically anyone this offseason. It was them that made the first big trade of the offseason, landing the #1 overall pick from Tennessee in exchange for about 100 future picks. If you’re set on your quarterback of the future and he is the only thing missing from your team, I say go ahead with this trade. If he’s a generational talent, I say go ahead. But when I see Jared Goff, I see Eli Manning as an absolute best-case scenario. I don’t think he was worth the #1 overall pick, and I don’t think there was a quarterback worth taking in the top-10 picks this season. But, I’m not the one running any teams, so there’s that. Goff steps into a solid team without any sort of marquee receiving talent. His best guy is Tavon Austin, who’s good but not great. Maybe rookie Pharoh Cooper pans out, maybe Kenny Britt stays on the field, but regardless, they don’t have much proven talent. They do have Todd Gurley though, so at least it won’t all be on Gof’s right shoulder to move the chains.

Defensively the team is okay, but they’re still not in the ballpark of really competitive defenses. They let Janoris Jenkins and James Lauranitis walk, which I kind of get, kind of don’t. I know they’re trying to rebuild, but even rebuilding teams need leaders of some sort to steady the ship. I think keeping one of these guys would’ve made sense in order to simply mentor the yonger guys on defense. It’s not as if they got wiped clean, because their front seven is still solid. Robert Quinn on one side of the line and Quinton Coples on the other makes for a good d-line. Alec Ogletree is a very good linebacker, and Mark Barron is one of those versatile, hybrid-type of players that defenses seem to be after.

The Rams are in an interesting spot because they aren’t going to be awful even though they’re rebuilding. Los Angeles plays in debatably the most talented division in football just because of its two best teams, which will basically be why they won’t be any sort of Cinderella story this year.

San Francisco 49ers

Oh San Francisco. It feels like ages since they were in a Super Bowl, even though that was only four years ago. They took dysfunction and basically multiplied it, and this season has the makings to be a complete, utter mess.

They downgraded from Jim Harbaugh to Jim Tomsula, then fired him after one season to go get Chip Kelly. Once Kelly got the complete control over his team that he wanted, he basically ruined the Eagles with personnel moves that simply didn’t make sense. His first order of business was to try to bring Sam Bradford, an injury-prone, average-at-best QB who still didn’t fit his system to the 49ers in exchange for Colin Kaepernick. Now, I’m not Kaepernick fan, and that’s pretty well documented. He does have tools, however, and his tools actually fit in the scheme that Kelly wants to run. I’m speculating based on how last season ended, but I truly, truly think that there’s an open competition between Kaep and Blaine Gabbert, neither of which will win San Fran a significant amount of games. The most well-known tools on their offense are running back Carlos Hyde and wide receiver Torrey Smith, neither of whom are capable of putting an entire offense on their back and carrying it.

I loved their first round pick with DeForest Buckner. Besides having one of the cooler names I’ve ever seen in my life, he’s literally a giant at 6’7”, and an athletic freak. Did the 49ers draft him purely because he went to Oregon and Kelly is their coach? Well, you can be the judge of that. Either way, lots of mock drafts had him going at #3 overall, so good for San Francisco for getting him without having to trade up. He’s eventually going to be the anchor of their defense whenever it is that they are competitive again. If I were them, I’d try to move NaVarro Bowman for assets. He’s still a really good linebacker who can help out any contending team that might be one player away, and at 28, he’s young enough where you probably have 3ish good years left.

It’ll be a long rebuild in San Francisco, mainly because I don’t think Chip Kelly is good at making peronnel decisions. I don’t think he puts good teams together, I think he’s too stubborn to break away from his system even a little bit, and I think he’s too arrogant to listen to anyone.

Seattle Seahawks

If the Cardinals are the best team in the NFC, then the Seahawks are the second best team. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of separation between the two squads.

This is the season Russell Wilson will take a step into the elite class of quarterbacks. He’s always been mentioned in the same breath as those guys because he’s won his Super Bowl, he’s won a lot of playoff games, and he’s beaten every elite quarterback he’s played against at least once. But, it’s not like he’s ever had big-time passing numbers until last season, which is the first time he eclipsed both the 4,000 yards mark and the 30 touchdown mark. I can seriously see him throwing for 4,500-5,000 yards and for around 40 touchdowns simply because the team doesn’t have Marshawn Lynch, so they’ll have to change their identity a little bit. Doug Baldwin was on absolute fire at the end of the season last year, and even though he’s realistically a #2 receiver at best, he has excellent chemistry with Wilson. The big change will be Jimmy Graham, who’s back from injury and finds himself in an offense that actually fits his skill set. I can see him returning to stardom with a big season this year.

The Legion of Boom still anchors this defense, and the original Legion was reunited with the signing of Brandon Browner. It’s good for team morale to bring Browner back, but he’s not the same cornerback he was when he left three seasons ago. He’s lost a step, and therefore ends up taking a few more penalties than we’re accustomed to seeing, which is saying something because he takes basically the most in all of football. As long as they have Richard Sherman, the best cornerback in the game, locking down one side of the field with Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas over the top, it doesn’t matter who their #2 is. Losing Bruce Irvin isn’t ideal, but they’ve always rebounded whenever a member of their defense has left. Seattle has mastered the ‘next-man-up’ mentality in order to stay competitive as a small market team. I don’t think their D will miss Irvin, as they still have KJ Wright in the middle.

I think Seattle would basically win every other division except for the one that they’re in. I would not be surprised to see them playing Arizona three times this year – twice in the regular season, and once in the NFC Championship game.

 

My NFC West Standings Prediction

Cardinals (14-2). 1

Seahawks (12-4), 5

Rams (7-9)

49ers (3-12)

***Italicized numbers indicate predicted playoff seeding.

Cover photo from NFL.com.

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