Football is right around the corner and The Game Haus is going to get you ready for the 2017-18 NFL season. The Super Bowl series is going to explain how every team in the NFL can win Super Bowl LII. The Super Bowl series will be divided into eight editions, one for each division. This is the seventh edition, Super Bowl series: NFC West.
The Seahawks are coming off a 10-5-1 season in which they lost in the playoffs to the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons. This franchise has become one of the most consistent in the NFL, making the playoffs for five straight seasons and six of the last seven.
Winning Super Bowl LII is not as daunting of a task as it may be for other teams. There are some issues the Seahawks need to fix though in order to win the Super Bowl.
Seattle is led by its defense and everyone knows it. The Seahawks finished the season giving up just 18.2 points per game, which ranked third in the NFL. They also finished in the top 10 in rush defense (seventh, 92.9 yards per game), pass defense (eighth, 225.8 yards per game) and total defense (fifth, 319.6 yards per game).
In the 2017-18 season, Seattle’s defense should be even better. Up front, they drafted defensive tackle Malik McDowell from Michigan State to play along side Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and even Frank Clark. Seattle also has one of the best linebacking corps led by Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. The Seahawks’ front seven will be extremely talented which will allow the Legion of Boom to continue their dominance.
Speaking of the Legion of Boom, the unit will get some much-needed help back at safety. Earl Thomas will be returning from his leg injury and that couldn’t be better news for this secondary. Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor have proven to be great players, but Earl Thomas may just be the heart and soul of this defense.
Before Thomas went down with a broken leg, the Seahawks were only allowing 16.2 points per game. After Thomas went down, that number jumped to 23.3, an entire touchdown more per game. As long as this secondary can remain healthy, it will be safe to assume that Seattle will have a top five defense capable of leading this team to a Super Bowl berth.
The offensive side of the ball is where fans should worry. Getting back to the Super Bowl is going to require going back to their original identity. The Seahawks were known as a defensive team that could run the ball. Last season, that changed dramatically.
Seattle only ran the ball 40.7 percent of the time. They also ranked 20th in rushing attempts per game at 25.2. That number dropped from 2014 when they averaged 31.8 attempts per game, and from 2015 in which they averaged 31.2 attempts per game. Running the ball less resulted in the 21st ranked rushing attack in the NFL at just 103.8 yards per game.
The Seahawks made many moves to address their running game. Seattle’s offensive line was pretty awful last season in both run and pass protection. This led to the signing of Luke Joeckel and the selection of center/guard Ethan Pocic from LSU in the NFL Draft. They also signed running back Eddie Lacy from Green Bay.
The Seahawks hope these additions will bring back the identity that led them to two straight Super Bowl appearances.
If Seattle can become a dominant rushing team again, then they will continue making deep playoff runs. The Seahawks also need to earn home-field advantage. Over the past five seasons, Seattle has gone 39-6 at home, including the playoffs. They must also become more disciplined as a team. Seattle had the seventh most penalties per game at 7.3. As long as Seattle does these things, then the Seahawks can once again become Super Bowl champions.
The Arizona Cardinals may be the most overlooked team in the NFL. They did finish second in the NFC West last season at 7-8-1 but missed the playoffs. Carson Palmer looked old, yet the offense was still able to be successful. Defensively, the Cardinals dropped off a bit from previous years. So, what is it going to take to see Arizona win its first Lombardi Trophy?
Answering that question takes us back to the saying that defense wins championships. Carson Palmer can’t lead this team to a Super Bowl at the age of 37, but the defense can. Arizona’s defense is going to hurt from the losses of Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson.
They are hoping that rookies Haason Reddick and Budda Baker can fill these holes, but that will be a tough task. Rookies don’t always make immediate impacts so the Cardinals made moves in free agency to help with these departures as well. Arizona signed Jarvis Jones, Karlos Dansby and Antoine Bethea.
In order to win a Super Bowl, these roster changes must improve on the 22.6 points allowed per game last season. Arizona struggled to stop opponents mostly in the second half of games, allowing the 21st most points per second half at 11.8 per game. Not every area of the Cardinals defense was bad. They only gave up 305.2 total yards per game last season which was second-best in the NFL.
If Arizona’s defense can turn these small yardage totals into fewer point totals, then they can easily make the playoffs and possibly the Super Bowl. But as is the case for every team, they need some help from their counterpart.
Arizona must balance out their offense. The Cardinals only ran the ball 36.7 percent of the time last season. They have to put the ball in David Johnson’s hands and take it out of Carson Palmer’s in order to make a deep playoff run. 24.9 rushing attempts for 108.2 rushing yards per game will not be enough in the NFL. The best teams in the NFL still run the ball well even though it is a passing league.
Although they pass the ball too frequently, it has led to a lot of points. Arizona averaged the sixth-most points in the NFL at 26.1 per game. The offense has been really good but balance will be the key. If the Cardinals do this and can improve on allowing fewer points per game, then Arizona will be the next Super Bowl champions.
Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams are going to need a miracle season to win Super Bowl LII. After going 4-12, there have been many changes within the organization.
Head coach Jeff Fisher was rightfully fired in favor of Sean McVay. McVay has brought in new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and well-known defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. There is optimism in L.A. that a new coaching staff can send this team in the right direction and it all starts with that loaded defense.
Wade Phillips will be taking over a defense that was much better than it looked on paper. The Rams gave up 24.6 points per game, which ranked 23rd in the NFL. Despite giving up so many points, they only gave up an average of 337 yards per game which was ninth-best.
The defense was constantly in tough situations. Los Angeles tied for 26th in the NFL with 1.8 giveaways per game. Despite all this, the Rams defense can become elite.
The reason this defense has a chance to become the best in the NFL is the combination of talent and their new coordinator. The defensive line is headlined by superstar Aaron Donald and defensive end Robert Quinn. Other top defenders on this team include Connor Barwin, Michael Brockers, Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron, Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner.
Phillips will transition the Rams to a 3-4 scheme and his track record as a coordinator is impressive. Since 2011, Phillips’ defenses have ranked eighth, 24th and fourth (twice) in points allowed. They have also ranked second, seventh (twice), first and fourth since 2011 in yards. Phillips and the Rams are a match made in heaven that will turn this already talented defense into being Super Bowl elite.
The biggest question mark for the Rams is their offense and how Jared Goff will fair in his first season as full-time starter. Goff looked bad in his minimal action during his rookie campaign. He had a 54.6 completion percentage and threw for 1,089 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven games.
Overall, the Rams ranked in the bottom of almost every offensive category. They ranked 31st in all of the following: points in third quarter (1.6 per game), points in first half (7.8 per game), points in second half (6.2 per game), plays (60 per game), rushing yards (78.2 per game) and passing yards (184.4 per game).
They also ranked 32nd in the following: points (14 per game), second quarter points (3.3 per game), total yards (262.7 per game), yard per play (4.4), third down conversion (31.5 percent) and first downs per game (15).
As you can see, the offense was horrible. The good news is Goff can’t get any worse. Los Angeles also signed center John Sullivan and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth to help their struggling offensive line. The Rams hope these additions will allow talented running back Todd Gurley to run for more than 3.2 yards per carry like he did last year.
The Rams also did plenty to help their passing game in the offseason. They signed Robert Woods and drafted other receivers in Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds. Los Angeles also drafted tight end Gerald Everett. There is nowhere to go but up and these additions should help improve the Rams’ offense.
It is going to take everything falling into place perfectly for the Rams to bring a Super Bowl victory to L.A. Wade Phillips must turn this defense into an elite defense similar to the ones he had in Houston and Denver. Todd Gurley is going to have to win the rushing title as well. If the Rams do both of these things and Jared Goff begins to show the talent of a number one overall pick, then the Rams can miraculously win Super Bowl LII, just don’t bet on it.
San FRANCISCO 49ers
It was hard trying to find reasons the Rams could win the Super Bowl so finding reasons for the 49ers is like asking a dog to meow, but this is what the Super Bowl series is all about.
San Francisco had a horrible season, finishing 2-14. It was one of the worst seasons in franchise history. This year they will be looking to bounce back under new general manager John Lynch and new head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Finding themselves in the playoffs means fixing the worst rush defense in the NFL. San Fransisco gave up 165.9 rushing yards per game last season. Running backs would see the 49ers on their schedule and smile as if it was Christmas. This caused Lynch to focus hard on the defensive side of the ball this offseason.
San Francisco added defensive end Elvis Dumervill and linebacker Malcolm Smith in free agency. They also used their first two picks of the draft on defense. The 49ers selected defensive end Soloman Thomas and linebacker Rueben Foster.
The 49ers weren’t just bad against the run, they were just bad all around. San Francisco ranked 32nd in points allowing 30 per game. The bulk of the points came at the end of halves. They allowed 9.5 points per second quarter and 8.2 points per fourth quarter. These numbers will have to come down drastically if the 49ers are to make a run towards the playoffs. Their pass defense was average, giving up 240.5 yards through the air per game, which ranked 14th.
Similar to the Rams offense, the 49ers’ defense can’t get much worse. Improving over time will happen but becoming a top 15 defense is what it will take to get to the Super Bowl.
Offensively, the 49ers did have an identity under Chip Kelly and that was running the ball. Since Chip Kelly is no longer around, it will be interesting to see if Shanahan will continue to build off that foundation. The 49ers averaged 126.4 yards on the ground, which was fourth in the NFL.
Despite running the ball well, the 49ers struggled to open up the passing attack and converting on third down. San Francisco only managed to throw for 181.9 yards per game. They also only converted on third down 35 percent of the time. Struggling in these two areas caused the Niners to average 19.3 points per game.
Adding to their offensive woes, the Niners only managed to convert points in the red zone 68 percent of the time. All of these handicaps must improve in order for the 49ers to win the Super Bowl. That and hoping the rest of the league forfeits their season but hey, this was worth a shot.
Thank you for checking out the Super Bowl series: NFC West. Stay tuned the final edition of the Super Bowl series and check out the previous editions of the Super Bowl series here.
Featured image courtesy of http://www.steelcityunderground.com/2016/09/09/2016-nfl-predictions-nfc-west/