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NFC West Preview

With no sports and nothing but time, due to the global pandemic we’ve been living through, I have tried to figure out how to approach the 2020 NFL season. A part of me thought about ranking every team from 1-32, another wanted to rank each team per conference, but since we’re here I might as well just do every division in the league.

So this’ll be eight parts, one for every four-team division, starting with the NFC West.

1. Arizona Cardinals

2019 record: 5-10-1

2020 over/under win total: 7.5

The Cardinals’ offseason was highlighted by a blockbuster trade that brought in one of the league’s top receivers, DeAndre Hopkins, in exchange for washed up running back David Johnson and a second round draft pick. The move was almost unanimously dubbed a win for the Cardinals — a fleecing, even — and is the primary driver for why the Cardinals received a 2.5-win bump from their 2019 total. 

The club also added linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons with the 8th overall pick of the NFL Draft, a player many experts considered a top-5 talent. Along with the addition of Hopkins, as well as the expected progression in the second year from former #1 overall pick Kyler Murray, Arizona is receiving a fair amount of dark horse buzz in the NFC. 

I remain a skeptic that the Cards will go over 7.5, largely because head coach Kliff Kingsbury hasn’t proven to be a winner at any level of his career. He didn’t win as a player at Texas Tech, he didn’t win as a coach at Texas Tech, and his first year in the NFL — regardless of whether or not he had a rookie QB and a bottom-third roster — netted just 5 wins. 

On paper Arizona looks to have a pretty soft schedule, which includes a juicy little stretch from weeks 2-5 where they play Washington, Detroit, Carolina, and the Jets, so I suspect it won’t take long before we realize if the Cardinals are for real. I lean under 7.5, and think 7-9 is the perfect mark for a team that seems to be headed in the right direction. 

2. Los Angeles Rams

2019 record: 9-7

2020 over/under: 8.5

A couple years ago when the Rams made the Super Bowl — a boring 13-3 loss to the Patriots — it looked a lot like the NFC was looking at its next superpower. They featured a young coach in Sean McVay, a promising former top pick in quarterback Jarod Goff, and a star running back in Todd Gurley. 

Following a frankly underwhelming 9-7 campaign in 2019, the Rams are in a very different position. McVay has since been overshadowed by another former coach’s son, and in the same division no less, Kyle Shannahan. Jarod Goff clearly regressed. And Todd Gurley is no longer with the organization. To top it all off, all those big-name free agents they signed to go on their Super Bowl run have put the franchise in salary cap hell. 

The Rams didn’t have a first round pick this year, and lost two of their stud defenders — Dante Fowler Jr. (Falcons) and Corey Littleton (Raiders) — to free agency. They traded arguably their best wide receiver, Brandin Cooks, to the Texans for a second round pick. On the field there is a good chance their offense isn’t in the upper-third of the league as it was in 2019 (5.7 yards per play). As such I find over 8.5 wins to be optimistic, and I could see this team taking a year to retool to iron out their cap situation and build for 2021. 

3. San Francisco 49ers

2019 record: 13-3

2020 over/under: 10.5

I still think the 49ers have the best roster in the NFC. Not sure if there will be any carryover from their Super Bowl collapse against the Chiefs, but if I had to put my eggs in any basket in this division it doesn’t require a lot of mental gymnastics to picture it being San Francisco. 

They traded DT Deforest Buckner to the Colts, lost WR Emmanuel Sanders to the Saints in free agency, and lost future Hall of Fame tackle Joe Staley to retirement. Those players were replaced by the 14th overall pick (DT Javon Kinlaw), the 25th overall pick (WR Brandon Aiyuk), and they traded for tackle Trent Richardson. 

It isn’t easy winning 11 games, but facing the AFC East and NFC East is a good start to getting there. I think it would be tough for a team as good as the 49ers to go any worse than 6-2 against the likes of the Dolphins, Bills, Patriots, Jets, Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and Redskins. Throw in a matchup against the packers and four games against the Cardinals and Rams, and I think you are looking at an 11-5 or 12-4 football team. 

4. Seattle Seahawks

2019 record: 11-5

2020 over/under: 9.5

I really don’t have anything special to say about the Seahawks other than I believe they were overachievers last year. They came within inches of winning the NFC West and handed the 49ers their two toughest games of 2019. On paper, however, they +7 point differential suggests they were much closer to a .500 team than one challenging to win 12 games. 

It’s all about Russell Wilson. He is the force that drives this team, and his performance will again dictate whether this is an 8-8 team or one that will challenge the 49ers again in 2020. I would make a small bet that the team has a better than +7 point differential in 2020, but I am not so confident that it will make a meaningful difference in the win column. 9.5 wins feels like the perfect number, but I will lean over for the simple fact that betting against Russell is a fool’s game. 

Division Prediction

  1. 49ers: 12-4
  2. Seahawks: 10-6
  3. Cardinals: 7-9
  4. Rams: 6-10

 

7 Comments

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