With rosters in place and training camps inching closer, it is time to evaluate what we know about each team. In this series, TGH will predict where each team will land in their division, and whether or not they will be in contention for the playoffs. Today, the NFC West predictions are up.
First Place – San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers went from having the second overall pick in the NFL Draft in 2018 to representing the NFC in the Super Bowl in 2019. What’s more, they show sign of slowing down.
Joey Bosa followed in his brother’s footsteps and disrupted defenses across the NFL. Richard Sherman used his veteran presence to mold the back end of the defense into one of the most formidable forces in the league. While Jimmy Garoppolo was not perfect and the running game suffered injuries, the plays designed by Kyle Shanahan still earned the offense a great pedigree.
Their key departures included stalwart tackle Joe Staley, who retired after 13 seasons with the Niners and DeForest Buckner, who they flipped for a first round pick. That first round pick turned into Javon Kinlaw, a highly touted player to replace Buckner at the defensive tackle position. San Francisco also grabbed another need in the first round; a big, physical receiver in Brandon Aiyuk. Staley was replaced by Trent Williams, who still may be a force up front even after taking the 2019 season off.
In short, the 49ers maybe did not improve the roster immensely, but it certainly did not get any worse. Kyle Shanahan has the comfort to coach under a new, large contract and their quarterback will likely be more confident with another season of his complicated offense under his belt. It is hard to picture San Francisco taking any kind of step back in 2020.
Second Place – Seattle Seahawks
Seattle had yet another great season in 2019, again finding a way to mask their deficiencies and overcome adversity. D.K. Metcalf had a huge rookie season, and Russell Wilson played at an MVP-caliber level.
Their offseason had its ups and downs, however. Greg Olsen and Bruce Irvin were great signings that should pay off immediately. The offensive line got deeper with some lower-profile signings, and the team picked up a good veteran receiving option in Phillip Dorsett.
The draft, however, was pretty strange, as NFL fans have come to expect from the Seahawks. Their first round pick, linebacker Jordyn Brooks, was closer to a late-second to third round talent, for example. Again, though, Seattle perennially ignores opinions, draft who they want and make the playoffs anyway.
2020 should be more of the same. While the Seahawks probably cannot overtake the 49ers at the top of the division, a playoff berth is well within reach. Even in one of the toughest divisions in football, Seattle will continue to shine.
Third Place – Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are a great team with a great coach. The only problem is, the NFC West is an incredible division.
Los Angeles lost some big names during the offseason, but just looking at the list makes things seem more dire than they actually are. The loss of Dante Fowler, Jr. was expected as his price tag was always going to be high. Cory Littleton chose to head to the Raiders, which is slightly more surprising, but the front office saw fit to not price themselves out of potential future cap space.
Greg Zuerlein left, but his days of nailing 50-plus yard field goals as “Greg the Leg” are coming to a close. Clay Matthews’ production was solid, but replacing him with Leonard Floyd makes much more sense.
Finally, the eternal question mark of Todd Gurley and his health was passed on to Atlanta. Taking the cap hit does hurt, but at least the Rams pay a fraction of his contract to guarantee he will not take snaps for them, rather than footing the bill for the entire contract for what may turn out to be the same result.
Keeping Michael Brockers and Andrew Whitworth are both extremely underrated moves, along with the aforementioned Leonard Floyd signing. Add all of these together with a serviceable draft, and you have a recipe for a season similar to last year’s.
While L.A. may flirt with a postseason berth, it will not be enough to win the division. Their exact placement in the NFC West has much to do with how big of a step forward the Cardinals take next year. But considering the coaching talent, third place seems very safe.
Fourth Place – Arizona Cardinals
Placing the Cardinals last may be difficult to explain, for good reason.
Arizona added one of the best receivers in the game, bar none, in DeAndre Hopkins. Kyler Murray won Offensive Rookie of the Year, and a sophomore slump does not feel likely. Kliff Kingsbury will lose his first-year coaching jitters and call his offensive plays more confidently, especially considering Hopkins is now in the fold. Plus, Larry Fitzgerald, one of the best to ever play receiver, is lacing them up one more time.
Kenyan Drake was a boon to the offense midseason, and retaining his services may pay off handsomely. Add in two underrated free agent signings in nose tackle Jordan Phillips and linebacker Devon Kennard and the team is fit to be much better than their decent 2019 rebuild record of 5-10-1.
The problem is their strength of schedule. It is obviously bolstered by the fact that they have to play the rest of the NFC West twice, but they have four other matchups against 2019 playoff teams on top of those games.
Arizona will be better, it is nearly inevitable. The Cardinals may not finish last in the West, and even if they do, it is feasible they will have a better record than some of the second or third place teams in other divisions. Their placement may even come down to tiebreakers. But, considering the strength of schedule and youth of the roster, the prediction stands at fourth place, even if it is close.
For other NFL division predictions go to our NFL page.
Featured Image courtesy of Photo by Kevin Terrell/AP
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