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2018 NFC West Season Preview: A Changing of the Guard

Image licensed from USA Today Sports

There is an ebb and flow in all sports. Some teams get better, and some teams get worse. In some cases, it takes a lot longer for a team to either regress or progress, but it eventually happens. The NFC West is a division that is currently seeing a very significant shift in the balance of power, as a couple of teams are on the rise, and a couple are regressing. Let’s take a look at each of the four teams and find out who is coming on, and who is primed for a fall.

 

Arizona Cardinals

There have been quite a few changes in this organization over the past year. New coach, new quarterback, and the return of running back David Johnson are a few of the things that will factor into their success or lack of it. They face some tough spots on their schedule such as every team in their division against whom the Cards went 1-5 last year. They visit Minnesota, Kansas City, Green Bay, Atlanta, and Los Angeles Chargers. It’s going to be a challenge for them to come out of any of those with a win. Even hosting the Redskins, Broncos, Raiders, and Detroit Lions won’t be easy.

It’s likely just a matter of time before we see Arizona’s first-round pick Josh Rosen in the starting lineup but, for now, it looks like the Cards have their confidence in Sam Bradford. While he has aging, but still effective, Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver and David Johnson coming out of the backfield, there is nothing overly impressive about this offense. This squad had a very tough time scoring touchdowns on 2017, and it will likely be more of the same this year. One also needs to consider the number of departures and new faces.

For what is lacking on offense, the Cardinals will try and make it up on the other side of the ball. The Cardinals defense allowed the 6th-fewest yards per game, but they were middle of the pack in points allowed. Arizona will need to get used to the newly-instituted 4-3 scheme with an experienced defensive line and a young bunch of linebackers. Arizona’s defensive backfield, which now features 34-year-old Antoine Bethea, is not going to inspire fear in many opposing quarterbacks. This defense has potential, but it won’t likely win them enough games to finish the season at .500.

 

Seattle Seahawks

The window is closing fast on this team, but it stays open just a crack in 2018. It remains to be seen how the team will respond to the massive overhaul of their coaching staff and the roster. Seattle’s 2017 road schedule is somewhat favorable. Aside from divisional road games, the Hawks visit the Broncos, Bears, Raiders, Lions, and Panthers. They will have some good teams coming to Seattle including Dallas, the Chargers, Green Bay, Minnesota, and Kansas City.

Like the New York Giants, the Seahawks spent their first pick on a running back in an attempt to reestablish a running game that was almost a non-factor in 2017. Russell Wilson has a pretty strong set of receivers to throw to, but the departure of Jimmy Graham could hurt. It’s well-known that Seattle’s offensive line is terrible and it will be crucial for newcomers Duane Brown and D.J. Fluker along with center Justin Britt to come together quickly. They need to buy way more time for Wilson, and they need to be much better at opening up running lanes.

The defense doesn’t resemble the old Legion of Boom in the least. Sherman, Bennett, and Chancellor are just a few key departures. The defense was in a free-fall last year, and it isn’t going to get much better this year.

 

San Francisco 49ers

There is no doubt that the 49ers finished strong in 2017, winning their final five games in a row. What is even more impressive is that they beat Jacksonville, Tennessee, and the Rams during that stretch. So, can they beat good teams this year? They will be tested when they visit the Vikings, Chiefs, Chargers, and the Packers and their home games against the Lions, Raiders, Giants, and Denver won’t be a walk in the park.

The turnaround in the 49ers fortunes started with the acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo. San Francisco averaged over 28 points per game after he arrived. Garoppolo and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin proved to be a deadly duo, and the tight ends suddenly started to produce. Running back Carlos Hyde is gone, and Jerick McKinnon has taken his place. This is likely going to be a bit of a step back, but the Niners have fullback Kyle Juszczykas as a not-so-secret weapon. The offense will be fine.

Unlike, the Arizona Cardinals, the strength that the Niners have on offense is tempered by their less than mediocre defense. The defensive line is young as are the linebackers. In fact, except for Richard Sherman, so are their defensive backs. The Niners will need their youth movement on defense to come through for them if this team is going to make the leap.

 

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams shocked a lot of people last year en route to their 11-5 season. They ended up losing to the Falcons in the wildcard game, but they are primed to go further this year. They will make stops in Oakland, Denver, New Orleans, Detroit, and Chicago on top of their divisional games while they play host to Minny, Green Bay, Kansas City, and Philly. They’re going to be tested, but they did well against winning teams last year.

A lot of the Rams’ success lays in the hands of Jared Goff. Management has given him some great tools to work with this year. The weight is not entirely on his shoulders with the emergence of Todd Gurley. The Los Angeles offense can employ a multi-pronged attack that will drive opposing defenses nuts. Of course, Both Goff and Gurley will need their aging, but effective, offensive line to play well.

L.A.’s defense was pretty good in 2017, but the additions Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Taliq, and Marcus Peters should make them a lot better. The defensive line looks like it will be able to apply a lot of pressure and the defense as a whole can cause a lot of turnovers. Another factor is a healthy Greg Zuerlein who still contributes at a high level when healthy.

 

 

Betting Predictions

Current Odds to Win the Division and Projected Order:

1st  Los Angeles Rams  -130

2nd San Francisco 49ers +300

3rd Seattle Seahawks +375

4th Arizona Cardinals  +1100

Win Total Predictions

Los Angeles: Over 10 (-125) - This was a good team last year, and they added a lot of talent in the offseason. Was it enough to make them great? Maybe. It DID, however, add enough to give them 11 wins in a weak division.

San Francisco: Over 9.5 (-110) - The bookies have hung an 8.5-win season total on the Niners. San Francisco’s in good shape to be a winning football team again.

Seattle: Under 8 (-110) - The Legion of Gloom era has officially begun in Seattle. Russell Wilson can't carry this team, especially since he can't line up in the defensive backfield. The thought here is this total is about one game high.

Arizona: Over 5.5 (-150) - Laying -150 will scare plenty of people off, you shouldn't be one of them.

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