NFC West Preview
The NFL West figures to be a battle ground division this season. Despite having last seasons Conference champs, Los Angeles, both Seattle and San Francisco look poised for a playoff run. What is most distinguishing about the division is the offensive firepower on display in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Arizona. Each team has aggressive play callers as Head Coaches and the possibility to be the most prolific offense in the league.
New Faces: QB Kyler Murray, CB Byron Murphy, DE Terrell Suggs, WR Michael Crabtree; Murray was brought in to run Kliff Kingsbury’s system. Byron Murphy was a great value in the second round and should be an immediate starter. Suggs was the only significant free agent signing and should help stabilize a young defensive front seven. Crabtree was a late signing to provide some depth for the receiving corps.
Offensive Outlook: Kingsbury’s system has been the talk of the NFL all off season. While it dominated the Big 12 the Red Raiders weren’t exactly known for beating strong defensive teams. Murray should have some success when he has time. His scrambling ability is a huge plus, but a key component of the Air Raid offense is allowing some rushers to go unblocked. Any NFL coordinator is going to figure out how to get his best pass rushers in those spots and Murray is very likely to get hit, hard. Hopefully the Cardinals staff has made some adjustments because if they haven’t the Murray won’t last the season. The other aspect of the offense worth discussing is David Johnson’s production. While many people speculate that Johnson, as good a receiver out of the backfield as there is in the league, might catch 100 passes, the Air Raid has not thrown to running backs often. It will be worth watching for any adjustments to the play calling there..
Defensive Outlook: There will be some new faces on the defense. The most urgent problem was one of complacency and lack of attention to detail, which the team addressed by cutting former first round pick Robert N’kemdiche. Terrell Suggs will bring the locker room credibility and overall attitude needed to help shift the culture. Byron Murphy was the best cornerback in last April’s draft, in my eyes, and he should help lock down the field opposite Patrick Peterson.
Overall Prediction: In addition to having a huge question mark at coach, and throughout the front office, the Cardinals should be a fun team to watch. Playing in a division with three teams that figure to compete for the playoffs will limit their ceiling but Murray, if he can stay upright, might throw for 5000 yards and Johnson could add another 2000 total yards on the ground. They won’t win more than 4 games, however.
Los Angeles Rams
New Faces S Taylor Rapp, LB Clay Matthews S Eric Weddel; By the end of the season Rapp should be a starter. Matthews will start week one and provides an interesting chess piece for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Weddel will be an immediate leader and stabilizing force for the secondary.
Offensive Outlook: Much has been made of Gurley’s injured leg, and while it remains a concern, I would expect the team to mitigate the risk by using Gurley less early in the season. Which means they’ll likely pass more and leads me to by biggest concern regarding the Rams, offensive line. Roger Saffold is the type of quiet long term starter that the league is built on and replacing him with an untested player is a risk. Still, the Rams have ample weapons in the passing game and a play caller that can get the ball out quick. I expect the Rams to put up similar numbers to last season, albeit with a heavier emphasis on passing.
Defensive Outlook: As I mentioned earlier Clay Matthews gives Wade Phillips an enhanced ability to disguise his pressure, which could be deadly for opposing offenses. There is probably no one that knows more about NFL defense than Wade Phillips and with a solid secondary. Marcus Peters and Aquib Talib are both excellent cover men and a bit, temperamental. Bringing in a steady veteran presence like Eric Weddel was a genius move by the Rams. The defense should be even more effective this season.
Overall Prediction: The Rams are probably still the team to beat in the West and they look like the surest bet to make the playoffs with a floor of 10 wins. Seattle’s newest defensive acquisitions and the 49ers improvements could push the Rams out of first place, though likely not out of the playoffs.
New Faces: DE Dee Ford, DE Nick Bosa, LB Kwon Alexander, RB Tevin Coleman, WR’s Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd. Ford and Bosa will be expected to pressure the quarterback early and often.Alexander will also start. Coleman and Samuel are starters while Jalen Hurd is an exciting addition to Shanahan’s arsenal. Tevin Coleman gets to be the featured back for the first time in his career, though he will likely split time evenly with Matt Brieda.
Offensive Outlook: With a solid offensive line and depth throughout the skill positions the 49ers are hoping that Jimmy Garoppolo can finally stay healthy. If he does expect for Shanahan to have ample inventive options for him with a roster that is deep at receiver and running back, without having any established leaders at either position. Jalen Hurd, specifically, was brought in to play a role similar to the ‘athlete’ role in college football. He should see time in the backfield, inline at tight end, in the slot, and out wide and Shanahan appears ready to use him to create mismatches in key situations.
Defensive Outlook: The 49ers defense now boasts five former first round picks and is nine players deep. The Wide nine system is perfect for Dee Ford but the 49ers should be able to dominate late in games off of depth alone. Kwon Alexander has brought some energy and urgency to the 49ers defense thus far although his knee injury from last year is concern. Along with Warner the 49ers front seven appears to be loaded. Defensively they hope that increased competition at cornerback helps Ahkello Witherspoon and, honestly, health is the big issue at safety. The 49ers have talent throughout their secondary and the improvements along the defensive line should only help them.
Overall Prediction: The 49ers are going to be a good team. The Seahawks pre-season moves make them more of a contender but San Francisco looks like a team that is built to win the division and peak as the season goes along. I thin they’ll come up just shy of winning the division but slide into the wild card.
New Faces: DE’s Ziggy Ansah, LJ Collier, Jadeveon Clowney; Obviously Seattle wanted to change up their defensive end situation.
Offensive Outlook: Doug Baldwin retired and with him went Seattle’s only proven weapon among offensive skill positions. Tyler Lockett has been effective as a pro, and showed some progress in 2018, and he figures to be the focal point of the passing attack. Chris Carson and Rashard Penney will fight for playing time at tailback, and while both have looked very good at times neither has proven to be capable of being an every down back. Still, Russel Wilson can work wonders at quarterback and the Seahawks figure to be in a good position, if not a great one.
Defensive Outlook: One would expect the pass rush to be improved. With Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright the linebacking corps is in good hands. The secondary and interior line are question marks for me but Seattle deserves the benefit of the doubt in terms of fielding a tough defense since they always seem to find away. With the pass happy attacks and deep receiving corps of their division mates the secondary will need to be on point all season long.
Overall Prediction: Seattle will be good. They have a difficult schedule but one that they can overcome if they get their ground game working and the secondary holds up. I think they will lose some division games, there is too much offensive talent for them to shut down or outscore over 6 games. They look like a team that will have a winning record but finish around 8 or 9 wins.