The NFC West has been the hardest fought division in football over the last few seasons. With some of the best defenses and most bruising running backs the NFC West has appeared in the last five Conference championships and three of the last five Super Bowls. Two of the league’s favorites are Seattle and Arizona, both of whom appear to be far ahead of Los Angeles and San Francisco, who, despite their shortcomings, are still the kind of physical teams that can beat anyone on a given day.
The Cardinals have one of the most explosive offenses in the league, and the best current quarterback that has never appeared in the Super Bowl. Carson Palmer does an excellent job of distributing the ball to his strong trio of receivers, Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald, and John Brown. Add in the versatile skill set of David Johnson and the play calling of Bruce Arians and the Cardinals offense should, again, be one of the best in the league. The Cardinals defense is quick and talented with explosive play makers throughout the secondary. Patrick Peterson is perhaps the game’s best cornerback and his presence allows the defensive front seven more creativity in their pass rushing. Arizona doesn’t have many weaknesses at this point and it’s not hard to see them returning to the top of the division at 12-4.
The Seahawks had some significant losses during the offseason in Russell Okung and Marshawn Lynch. The team wanted to move to more of a committee situation in recent years but were unable to find an excuse to sit Lynch. Okung, while underwhelming, was an important part of Seattle’s offense line and his departure leaves some questions that will need to be answered. Russell Wilson, however, looked more comfortable in the offense when Lynch was either hurt or suspended and the team is banking on him getting the ball to Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockette, and Jermaine Kearse more consistently. The Seahawks defense need very little analysis. They are extraordinary as a unit, and have been for several years now. They will also be able to lead this team to some quality wins, though maybe not against elite offense like Green Bay and Arizona, or physical ones like Minnesota and Carolina, consistently. Seattle is still good enough to win ten games and I think they’ll do just that. 10-6.
The Rams need to show some improvement for Jeff Fisher to feel safe, although the drafting of Jared Goff and his steady leadership during the move to Los Angeles might buy him an extra year. Todd Gurley is the engine of the offense and he is helped by an excellent offensive line. The receiver position is a bit murkier in Los Angeles but the team seems to really like Tavon Austin. Defensively the Rams aren’t likely to be as dominant as they have been in recent years due to some roster cuts and free agent defections. They still have the best defensive line in football though and Alec Ogletree is among the most underrated linebackers in football. The biggest problem for the Rams is that they probably can’t beat Seattle or Arizona, and likely will split with San Francisco. Eight wins is reportedly the magic number for Jeff Fisher and that seems like it’s unattainable given their passing game deficiencies. 6-10.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers organization looks like a dumpster fire. No continuity, seemingly no plan, and no talented free agents added to a terrible roster. Carlos Hyde will be a monster in Chip Kelly’s offense if he stays healthy but after Hyde, and some very good offensive linemen the team has almost nothing. Neither Gabbert nor Kaepernick inspire any confidence and Torrey Smith is the only receive on the roster that has any real experience, or speed. It’s going to be a tough year. The 49ers defense, especially their line and secondary, look talented and deep. The linebacking corps has some promising players on the edge and Navorro Bowman, the best middle linebacker in the game, but will it be enough to hold up on short fields with little rest in between? That seems unlikely. It is also the most obvious of several achilles heels this team has. 5-11 looks like their ceiling.