I suppose we could do one grand preview like other sites where we make our Super Bowl predictions and some expansive breakdowns of the entire NFL season, but this has been one hell of a draining year and this weird-ass offseason is grounds to only focus on the NFC West — the league’s consensus best and deepest division.
In a special roundtable, I asked the Field Gulls staff how they believe the NFC West will play out this year. There won’t be any Super Bowl picks or anything like that, but you’ll find that almost everyone has picked the Seahawks to end their division title drought, and almost everyone believes the NFC West will field multiple playoff teams.
Read on and enjoy!
1.) Seattle Seahawks (11-5, #3 seed). I thought the 2019 team was worse than the 2018 one and just happened to have an insanely good record in close games even by their standards. The 2020 team, at least on paper, has a less daunting schedule and strengthened squad depth in the secondary, linebacker, wide receiver, and running back. Apart from the usual “If Russell Wilson gets injured, etc. etc.” fears, the number one way I see the season collapsing is if the offensive and defensive line concerns end up being totally validated. I believe the Seahawks will finish with the same record as last year but they’ll look like a better team, and Wilson will get some MVP votes for once.
2.) San Francisco 49ers (10-6, #5 seed). The Niners kept a lot of their starters on both sides of the ball so if there’s to be regression I think it’ll be minor. Their defense was outstanding but it’s hard to maintain that level of play from year to year, so they may just be top-10 instead of top-2 in DVOA. San Francisco’s window of contention is heavily dependent on whether Jimmy Garoppolo can actually validate himself as a very good quarterback. To me, he’s a perfectly acceptable starter who’s heavily aided by Kyle Shanahan’s schemes and the ability to just get anyone wide open. Jimmy G’s air yards per attempt last year were absurdly low and we’ve seen that Shanahan occasionally coaches games like he’s scared of his own QB. George Kittle should still be great and the running game should still dominate, but Garoppolo is probably going to prove himself not able to elevate his play and keep San Francisco atop the NFC West.
3.) Arizona Cardinals (7-9). Arizona’s offense is the main selling point for the team’s improvement. Kyler Murray has DeAndre Hopkins to throw to thanks to Bill O’Brien’s idiocy, and Kliff Kingsbury quietly revamped the Cardinals rushing attack to be near the top in DVOA. Kenyan Drake seems like a much better fit for his offense and Murray is dangerous on designed keepers and as a scrambler. For offensive reasons I see the Cards on an upward trend but their defense is still not talented enough for me to think they’ll be a playoff team. Vance Joseph’s reputation as some defensive genius seems a bit unwarranted.
4.) Los Angeles Rams (5-11). I really think the house of cards is about to topple, but Sean McVay is still a good coach and I don’t see his job being in jeopardy. Jared Goff on the other hand? Ehhhhhhh. Los Angeles is in cap hell hence their “big signings” this offseason were Leonard Floyd and uh... A’Shawn Robinson? Meanwhile, Todd Gurley is gone, Clay Matthews is gone, Brandin Cooks is out, Dante Fowler is outta here, ditto Cory Littleton and Legatron. Andrew Whitworth is 156 years old and at some point you just get old and look terrible. If the Rams OL is a liability than it won’t matter what McVay tells Goff in the headset because he’s consistently shown little competence when there’s pressure in his face. I think the Rams defense is going to collapse — it’s not like they haven’t had bad years with Aaron Donald — and the offense is just not going to return to 2017 or 2018 levels.
The Seahawks will win the NFC West. It’s a division tightly packed together and any of the four teams could win it if things break right. But it’s an absolutely bizarre year where structure and leadership will have even greater importance and I’ll bet on the stability and unwavering leadership that Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll provide Seattle with. (Also, Russell Wilson is a force.)
The Cardinals offense will really be unleashed in 2020 with a budding star in Kyler Murray and an established superstar in DeAndre Hopkins. They’ve been practicing playing at a breakneck pace on offense in a year where teams’ conditioning may be a little bit off the mark. Their defense remains fairly talent poor but if they can get up in the 20-24 range as a unit, that will be good enough.
The 49ers defense, talented as they are, will regress as defenses do. They should still be a high-level defense but not carry-a-team-to-the-conference-championship good. In a loaded NFC, a great-not-elite defense and an offense manufactured by Kyle Shanahan will be enough to stick in the division race and earn a wildcard spot.
I’m an unwavering believer in Sean McVay as a rare head coach and it’s only a matter of time until the Rams are back competing. It’ll just be tough this year. They are talent poor on both sides of the ball and need Jared Goff to return to the 2018 level to stay in the mix in the NFC. I would believe any order of NFC West teams but in this prediction, Los Angeles brings up the end even with a respectable season.
John P. Gilbert
1. Rams - With a line that is more experienced than the one that had three first year starters in 2019, they should be able to better protect Goff, who as bad as he is when pressured is good enough to pick apart defenses when he isn’t pressured.
2. Seahawks (WC) - Pete Carroll is 2-4 against Sean McVay during the three years they have both been head coaches in the NFC West. Until he proves he can consistently beat the Rams, he’s second fiddle in a division he hasn’t won since before McVay was hired.
3. 49ers - They’ve got a fantastic offensive mind scheming for a quarterback with holes in his game, but they’ve been hit with some injuries to this point and could find sledding tough against the Seahawks and Rams offenses.
4. Cardinals - Arizona is exciting and has a lot of potential, but until that potential turns into some sort of actual positive performance on the field, it’s little more than hope and dreams.
I see the NFC West in two relatively equal tiers. Tier 1 is Seattle and San Francisco. Tier 2 is Arizona and Los Angeles.
Once again, the Seahawks will have the most talented group offensively in the West, especially with the addition of Greg Olsen and a healthy Will Dissly. I expect the 49ers to continue to have the top group defensively, which allows them to stay in tight competition with Seattle throughout the season. While I think the Seahawks edge them out for the NFC West title, I believe they’ll become the first NFC team to lose the Super Bowl and rally to return to the playoffs since the Seahawks in 2015.
Although Arizona made one of the best offseason moves in the NFL to jettison David Johnson and acquire DeAndre Hopkins, Kyler Murray still won’t be able to consistently put up enough points to make up for their issues defensively. They could be the 8th place team in the NFC and just miss out on the playoffs.
I have the Rams finishing last. They seem to be counting on Cam Akers to help replace the production of Todd Gurley, even though Akers also struggled behind a bad offensive line in college. Plus, the Rams have the worst quarterback in the division and Goff isn’t capable of making up for a struggling group up front the way Russell Wilson can.
For all seven NFC playoff teams, I have:
1 - Seattle Seahawks (12-4). They were 11-5 last year, and are two upgrades on defense better, while the departures are minimal. Yes, I’m even accounting that Jamal Adams arrival is far more meaningful than 57% of snaps departing in the form of Jadeveon Clowney. The offense was fine and may well be better, but the defense got some form of help it needed, which should be worth a game improvement on an easier schedule.
T2 - Arizona Cardinals (10-6). Kyler Murray will be better, and they’ve added the No.8 best player from both NFL and ESPN top -100 lists in DeAndre Hopkins. Kenyon Drake seems to not suck, their secondary definitely does not suck, and people have already crowned Isaiah Simmons as not-a-first-round-bust, which we 12s should all applaud and take notes. Last year they were only 5-10-1 but play four very bad teams early on and should have enough figured out with their young players after that to be dangerous.
T2 - San Francisco 49ers (10-6). We were a Jacob Hollister inch away from both Niners and Seahawks being 12-4 last year as it is, and it’s hard to imagine that San Francisco actually got better. At best this roster looks like it will be an uphill battle to maintain, requiring even more from Jimmy Garoppolo. The defense is great, is minus DeForrest Buckner, and the offensive weapon situation after Kittle is very questionable if Deebo Samuel is not at 100%. Three small steps back this year.
4 - Los Angeles Rams (8-8 or something close). The Rams were 9-7 last year, and it wasn’t a fluke. Commentary concluded.
1. Seattle 11-4-1 (2 seed)
2. Arizona 10-5-1 (5 seed)
3. SF 9-7 (7 seed)
4. LA 6-10
The Cards have a scary offense behind future superstar Kyler Murray, but the Seahawks are the division’s most complete team. Seattle’s nonexistent pass rush will be mitigated somewhat by good interior pressure, but it will cost them a couple games they could’ve won. The Seahawks are better than last year, and figure to finish the season a little more healthy than they did in 2019. They’ll still make every game closer than it needs to be, though.
The 49ers are due a healthy dose of regression after a year where everything went right for them until the final six minutes of the Super Bowl.
The Rams are overrated, and having the fourth-best quarterback in your division isn’t a reliable path to a winning season, let alone a playoff berth.
The addition of Olsen, the (eventual) reinstatement of Flash, and a full season from a much improved secondary will complement the reliably excellent play of Russell Wilson. I do not think the NFC West will be nearly as strong as in seasons past, and the rest of Seattle’s schedule is predicted to be weak. It’s gonna take a lot of no names in the front seven for this to happen, but football is the least star-driven league in major sports. I’ll take young and hungry over fat and hyped any day.
Defensive performance varies a ton year to year. San Francisco’s is due regression. I am skeptical the 49ers can maintain their gains on offense. Honestly, I just do not think Jimmy Garoppolo’s a very good quarterback.
I would say the same of Jared Goff—known affectionately around my home as “Goof.” There’s enough talent to grind out some close wins, but I expect LA to be on the verge of collapse by the end of the season.
My gut says I am being generous to Arizona. Kyler Murray will suffer severe growing pains, but scrambling doesn’t slump. If he’s healthy, older and slower defenses will likely struggle to contain him. That’ll boost the record of a team I expect to finish in the bottom ten in efficiency ratings.
So Gilbert believes the Rams will win the NFC West while Morgan sees Seattle as the only team to finish above .500. We can’t wait for Sunday and the return of Seahawks football.