NFL season has begun but we are still waiting until Sunday to see the opening weekend for all four NFC West teams. This figures to be the most stacked division in football and it’ll be an absolutely grueling experience trying to get to the top spot and clinch at least a home playoff game.
Just as we did last year, the Field Gulls staff has gotten together and written down their predictions for the NFC West race. However, we’re doing something a little different and splitting this into three parts. There are a lot of new staff writers who’ve joined Field Gulls for their very first season and the first two parts are exclusively their spots. These are lengthy reads so I hope you’ve got some time on your hands because all three parts will be published in 30-minute intervals.
Part 1: Wilson Conn and Willie Keeler
Part 2: Frank T. Raines, Stan Taylor, and a cameo from Terrance Robinson (thadisrad) who is our Pre-Snap Reads compiler
Part 3: Yours truly, Tyler Alsin, John P. Gilbert, and Brandan Schulze
1.) Los Angeles Rams: 13-4, #2 seed
Everything looks like it’s coming together for the Rams. Although RB Cam Akers is out for the season, the team still has a capable back in Darrell Henderson, and Sony Michel should fit into the picture as well. Matt Stafford is certainly an upgrade over Jared Goff (although not as big as many have claimed), and his competency and experience will make the Rams offense much more consistent and potent. The defense, meanwhile, is one of just a handful in the NFL that can really control a game, despite having lost a few key players in the offseason. I’m not convinced that the Rams are the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, or even a lock to win the division, but at this point there is very little that makes me feel like they won’t retake the top spot.
2.) Seattle Seahawks: 12-5, #5 seed
12-5 is the new 11-5?
Here’s my thing. The Seahawks offense will be better this year. A lot better. I’m just never sold on the consistency of this team. No matter what, Pete Carroll teams do not blow out opponents with any sort of frequency, and are rarely in control of games through three and a half quarters of football. The Seahawks often spend whole games just waiting for things to kick in, and I really just don’t see that changing much with Carroll still at the helm. This causes them to drop games they should win (see the Giants last year, as well the seemingly annual late-season blunder against Arizona), and not infrequently costs them seeding or a playoff berth. The defense is also incredibly suspect, by the way.
I can’t help but feel just a little pessimistic at this point, to be honest. Every year is supposed to be the year the team gets back to 13-3 form, and it just never comes to fruition. My negativity might not be warranted by the objective fact that the Seahawks got better at almost every position of need this offseason, but I just can’t help but feeling like the Seahawks will ever be consistently dominant under Carroll without a defense like the LOB (or the Rams’, for that matter) that can just shut down opponents week-to-week.
3.) Arizona Cardinals: (10-7, #7 seed)
The Cardinals are by far the biggest Wild Card in this division (no pun intended). Cliff Kingsbury has proven time and time again that he is simply not a good NFL head coach, yet I can’t help but feel like the pure talent on this team will overcome that. Kyler Murray is my favorite pick as a dark-horse MVP, and the addition of Rondale Moore will do a ton to improve the Cardinals’ offense (sorry, Andy Isabella).
I’m also very impressed by the Cardinals’ defensive talent. Budda Baker is a true superstar in the defensive backfield, and I still feel that J.J. Watt has a lot to give at this point in his career. Isaiah Simmons’ versatility and speed keeps me up at night, and I think he’s ready to make a big leap this year, too. Honestly, the Cardinals have by far the lowest floor of any team in this division, but I’m sold on their upside.
4.) San Francisco 49ers (9-8, miss playoffs)
I am not sold on the 49ers at all. Two years ago, they were the last team in the NFL I’d want Seattle to play. Now, I’m not so sure. The defense that dominated in 2019 has lost a number of key pieces and won’t be quite the same, although Fred Warner and Nick Bosa should hold down the fort just fine. The real concern for me with the 49ers lies on the offensive end. Without a defense that can control a game, the quarterback will have much less room for error. I don’t think that Trey Lance is NFL ready, and Garoppolo is no star either. One place on the offense where the Niners have gotten better since 2019 is in the receiving corps (especially with Brandon Aiyuk), but none of that matters if your quarterback can’t make the throws he needs to.
Each team above San Francisco in the division has a surefire star under center, and the 49ers just don’t have that right now. Even with Shanahan at the helm, it’s hard for me to see the red and gold re-creating their 2019 magic with their current roster and the questions they still have at the quarterback position.
1.) San Francisco 49ers (13-4): The 49ers will lead one of, if not the best divisions of all time. The 49ers will look scarily similar to their 2019 NFC Champions team and are still just a good team all across the board. While they lost Rob Saleh, thanks to Shanahan and Saleh this team that looked nothing like the 49ers in terms of the names on their backs in 2020, went 6-10 and were still competitive in many games. Now everyone’s back and this team is just ridiculously talented and well coached and as has proven true in the past, it might not even matter who is playing quarterback.
2.) Los Angeles Rams (11-6, Wild Card): The Rams saw a lot of movement going the wrong way for LA, and really only made one major addition. But that addition was one of the most important of this offseason, acquiring Matt Stafford. The talent, like my good god the talent, it’s there. Stafford, that WR core, multiple Hall of Famers on defense, the top o-line in the NFC West according to PFF. The problem will be depth and they lost a lot of key role players on defense and their defensive coordinator. After Stafford, his o-line, and McVay can get into a rhythm, they become serious contenders and should head into the playoffs on a strong note.
3.) Seattle Seahawks (10-7, Wild Card): The Seahawks sneak in as the final Wild Card. Oh the lovely Seahawks. They will disappoint and actively include many hair pulls from the fanbase but, per usual, will make the playoffs and actually have a good record. Not too good though, as there are reasons to worry. They will win 10 games because the offense will be very good (if healthy), and just really because of Russell Wilson (who needs to stay healthy). They will also win 10 games because I don’t think the defense will be that bad (If healthy). So, did you catch on to the reason that they will lose 7 games and finish 3rd in the division? Ah, health. The depth is concerning throughout the team, besides defensive ends and corner where the starters and the backups don’t have that much of a talent gap in between them, but that is not exactly a good thing. So, if this team is to make the playoffs or win the division they will need to stay healthy, among many other things that I could write a novel about.
4.) Arizona Cardinals (9-8, Miss Playoffs): I would have to imagine that the NFC West amassing 43 wins in one season will set a record, of course with everyone playing 17 games that would make it easier but still, every team having a winning record has to be something that has never happened. The Cardinals have not had a winning record under Kliff Kingsbury, and while this year I think the trend will change, they will be a Week 18 defeat at the hands of the Seahawks away from missing the playoffs by one game. Their roster is better than last year, Kyler Murray and their other young rising stars will get better, but this division is just too crazy and Kingsbury is just not that great of a coach. They’re a better team than 9-8 on paper, but in this division, with that coach, and with the 13th ranked strength of schedule that also has the 49ers as a 6-10 team last year, that is where they will land.
A decidedly not optimistic start as Wilson and Willie have the Seahawks as wild cards and not repeating their NFC West title winning ways from last season. What will Frank and Stan think? Part 2 coming your way shortly!