Will the Seattle Seahawks win the NFC West for a second straight season for the first time since 2013-2014? Or will one of the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, or Arizona Cardinals sit atop the throne in the NFL’s toughest division? We’ll find out soon enough!
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. Part three is reserved for the seasoned veterans. 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.) Seattle Seahawks (13-4)
2.) Los Angeles Rams (11-6, WC)
3.) San Francisco 49ers (11-6, WC)
4.) Arizona Cardinals (8-9)
Get to know Terrance, your daily links guy!
Favourite Seahawk (All-Time): John L. Williams
Favourite Seahawk (Current): Alton Robinson
Favourite Music: Jazz
Favourite Day of the Week: Thursday
Favourite Colour: Kermit Green
Frank T. Raines
1.) Seattle Seahawks (14-3, #1 seed)
Call me a homer if you want to but if the Hawks had beaten the Giants last season, they would have won the tiebreaker for the top seed in the NFC, would have had a first-round bye, would have hosted the NFCCG at Lumen Field, and would have undoubtedly handed the Chiefs a Denver-esque ass-whoopin’ in the Super Bowl.
Revisionist history aside, my point is that the Hawks were one bad game (one really, really bad game) away from the Rams being someone else’s problem in the playoffs.
Lesson learned: No more bad games!
As far as this season goes:
- I am cautiously optimistic that Shane Waldron’s offense will prove to be actual magic in the hands of Russell “the Magician” Wilson.
- On defense, I am telling myself that the ongoing concern(s) about our outside cornerback group won’t derail the season.
- I feel like this might be the year that Pete finally realizes that games can be won in the first quarter - if you build a big enough lead and don’t dial back the aggression.
Schedule-wise, I think the Hawks have a couple hiccups early on but reach the bye week 6-2 and then stack wins, starting with an elusive W at Lambeau Field, before resting their starters in a meaningless Week 18 matchup at the franchise-bug-a-boo that is State Farm Stadium.
2.) San Francisco 49ers (12-5, #5 seed)
There are 3 things that I strongly believe about this year’s iteration of our most-hated rivals:
- Santa Clara Adjacent has far too much talent to not be a threat;
- There is no way that they can have as bad of luck as they had last year on the injury front; and
- Trey Lance is (probably) going to be a thorn in our side at some point - but it won’t be this year. Especially not if Kyle Shanahan sticks with the ill-fated idea of a quarterback platoon*.
* Note: I actually think that Shanahan could pull off this innovative wrinkle if he’s shuffling in complete personnel groupings, but that’s not the same as saying that I think it’s a good idea.
3.) Los Angeles Rams (11-6, #6 seed)
I believe the Rams are overrated - which shouldn’t come as a surprise given my pseudonym.
- Point #1: Last year, the Rams finished 2 games behind the Seahawks in the regular season.
- Point #2: During the offseason, we got “more better” than they did.
While the Rams still have Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, they watched their Defensive Coordinator and a number of key defenders leave, including S John Johnson, CB Troy Hill, DT Michael Brockers, and EDGE Samson Ebukam.
Bottom line: Methinks their league-leading defense is going to regress this year.
In theory, improvement by the offense can offset that.
However, as someone who has watched their new QB regularly (I’m from Michigan which makes the Lions my mistress), I can tell you that while Stafford’s cannon is certainly preferable to Goff’s peashooter, I won’t be surprised if the Rams offense takes a step backward - at least initially, and potentially long-term.
4.) Arizona Cardinals (11-6, #7 seed)
Arizona is an interesting enigma.
On the one hand, their head coach has thus far not been all that great (and might be on the hot seat in Year 3); they have a young franchise QB who, despite some incredible highlights, has underperformed overall; and their biggest offseason addition was a well-past-his-prime J.J. Watt.
On the other hand, they have a reasonably decent collection of talent so if the coach gets out of his own way and the QB learns to trust his compatriots and the defense lives up to their potential and their rookie class shines …
The NFC West has a chance to make history if Arizona does their part.
Assuming a 3-3 record in the division and the expected NFC West dominance in common games, the Cardinals’ fate - and a chance to make history - comes down to how they do against their unique opponents: Carolina, Cleveland, and Dallas. Fingers crossed! (because I like witnessing history.)
1.) Seattle Seahawks (14-3, 1st seed in the NFC, en route to a Super Bowl victory)
A tough offseason with many critical questions leaves Seattle in a position they love to be in; with their backs against the wall. With the smallest draft class Seattle has ever fielded, the Seahawks’ biggest moves this offseason came when they re-signed key veterans and added an exciting young OC in Shane Waldron. Waldron’s offense will be an easy pickup for Russell Wilson and the talented wide receiver room that is already amassing hype as the best group that he has ever had the pleasure of throwing to. While questions remain about the defense that admittedly failed to add much firepower this offseason (at least where they need it the most), Ken Norton will continue to look like the revived coach that he did for the latter half of 2020 and will coach his way into the conversation for a head coaching position.
Between an opportunistic playmaking defense that can get after the quarterback from all levels, with a deep pass rushing front seven and the league’s best blitzer out of the defensive backfield in Jamal Adams, Seattle will flirt with 50 sacks this season and will close out the year looking like the team that no one wants to face in the playoffs. Which will be great, because Seattle will play their way into a Wild Card bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs on the strength of an NFC West sweep (yeah, I said it) and major road victories over the Steelers, Green Bay, and Minnesota. Seattle will lose one of their first two games, but don’t let this fool you — they will enter their bye week with a 7-1 record and will pick up steam with a huge shootout in Green Bay. These two teams haven’t seen the last of each other, as they will meet again in a brutal matchup for the NFCCG that will be both rainy and cold. Seattle will come away the victors once again and punch their tickets to SoFI stadium for their third Super Bowl appearance under Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson. A decidedly one sided matchup will see Russell Wilson pick apart the Buffalo Bills secondary while Jamal Adams spends the four quarters chasing an exhausted Josh Allen all over the yard. At the end of the day, the Seahawks take home their second Lombardi and Pete Carroll unexpectedly retires and rides off into the sunset, which for some reason still makes many fans happy.
Reason for optimism: While the Seahawks didn’t add a ton of “star power” in free agency, they did what was much more important: they stabilized their roster with additions of key veterans like Gerald Everett and the trade addition of Gabe Jackson, as well as the return to health for some of the younger players (e.g. Blair and Taylor). In addition to this, they rounded out their pass rushing group and worked out clutch extensions/restructures for some of their most important in-house veterans.
Reason for pessimism: Can the defense really take another step, or was it all just fool’s gold due to a cupcake second half schedule? Ken Norton has never really lived up to the hype he once built as Seattle’s LB coach, and even his improved coordination later in 2020 may not be enough to even keep pace with where the team was at last season. If the Seahawks allow opponents to light up the scoreboard, expect to see a mid-season change at the DC position — for better or worse.
2.) San Francisco 49ers (11-6, Wild Card)
The Bay Area team will start out far away from home, playing back to back games in Detroit and Philly to open the year. Expect the Niners to drop one of these two games and rumblings of Jimmy G’s belated demise will start to bubble up to the surface. A home shootout against Green Day will keep his hopes of clinging to the starter position alive, even though the Pack will end up winning by a field gull in the 4th. Sitting at 1-2, San Fran hosts Seattle and gets pummeled. An uninspiring win over Arizona the following week does little to assuage concerns about the QB situation, and the Niners bye will be spent installing packages for their new starting QB. As Trey Lance takes the reigns of the Niners offense, a rookie Lamar Jackson-esque late season resurgence — combined with stout performances from the defense — will see Shanahan’s squad close out the season winning nine of their final twelve and grabbing a wild card spot, where they will undoubtedly get crushed by whichever team is fortunate enough to host a rookie starter on the road in the playoffs.
Reason for optimism: Its a new year, a new season, San Fran has an exciting rookie QB sitting behind a stable veteran who, by all accounts, may be a bit underrated. Jimmy G looked like a legit starter at one point, and injuries have kept that dream from ever materializing. Between Lance and Garappolo, Kyle Shanahan can likely conjure up enough offensive magic to make at least one of the two players look like a competent signal caller, which may be all the team needs with a rested and healthy formidable defense.
Reason for pessimism: The early Bye week is not great in the seventeen game format, and is likely to precipitate a change at the QB position in my opinion. Wait to see how San Fran will look down the stretch as a worn down squad. Six of the team’s final twelve games come against 2020 playoff squads, with four of these being road games. Not an ideal recipe for success.
3.) Los Angeles Rams (9-8, fail to qualify)
LA opens up with a primetime home game against Chicago, and the Bears stubbornly seem to be banking on Andy Dalton playing Alex Smith to Justin Fields’ Patrick Mahomes. But this is largely irrelevant, because neither the wiley veteran nor the electric youngster will have much success against the Rams defense. I fully expect Los Angeles to open their season with a statement win before skyrocketing up the weekly Power Rankings. But much like the Bears’ QB decisions in week 1, this will all largely be irrelevant. When Carson Palmer came to Arizona, the team instantly improved form 5-11 to 10-6, though they failed to qualify for the playoffs. I believe Matt Stafford will have a similar first season playing under McVay, alternatively looking like everything they hoped for while at others looking like the guy who has never won a playoff game. A loss in Indy in week two will bring hopes back to earth, although back to back barnburner victories over Tampa and Arizona could keep the hype train alive. The season will start to come off the wheels in week five when the Rams get hammered in Seattle and Wilson hangs a 40-burger on the befuddled division rivals. A tough late season stretch on the road winds up in a disappointing finish and the Rams missing the playoffs for the second time under McVay.
Reason for optimism: The season opens favorably enough for LA, with some of their toughest games coming at home. Tampa, Tennessee, Detroit, and Chicago are all scheduled to visit California, while the Rams will have to book tickets to New York, Houston, and Indianapolis.
Reason for pessimism: After the Rams’ bye week, they play four of their final seven on the road, with their destinations being Green Bay, Arizona, Minnesota, and Baltimore. Throw in home games against the Niners and Hawks, and the only game in this stretch that is looking like a surefire win is the December fifth matchup against Jacksonville. It is not entirely out of the question that LA drops four, five, or even six games during this stretch, effectively ending their season and planting a *chef’s kiss* on their disintegrating playoff dreams.
4.) Arizona Cardinals (8-9, fail to qualify)
Wherefore art thou, Kyler Murray? After winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019, the former first overall pick has yet to post a winning season. Electric as he may be, Murray hasn’t thrived under Kliff Kingsbury the way some hoped. While Kyler is certainly exciting and I don’t doubt his potential to lead a team to the playoffs someday, it won’t be this season. Opening with a loss at Tennessee will set the stage for the Cards to drop every road game leading up to their bye week, including a stinker in week three at Jacksonville that will lead to questions around job security for a number of players and staff. While a late bye week will allow some reprieve, whatever rest is found in the final week of November will quickly be erased when the Cardinals tough slate of road games continue with matchups in Chicago, Detroit, and Dallas. While they may win two out of three this time, their struggles persist and they close out the season with a meaningless win over a Seattle team who is resting their starters.
Reason for optimism: A.J. Green and J.J. Watt. The addition of two veterans who once ranked at or near the top of their respective positions, beleaguered by injuries and ultimately bereft of a roster spot where they were once first round picks, these two players will make a sizable impact in Glendale. While neither will light up the stat sheet like they used to, both will add stability and production where it will help the team the most.
Reason for pessimism: Kliff Kingsbury. With his exciting Air Raid offense at Texas Tech producing multiple first round picks, it is easy to forget that his college coaching record stands at an uninspiring 35-40 (for reference, Pete Carroll went 97-19 while coaching at USC, per Pro Football Reference). Kliff has only ever posted two winning seasons as a head coach, going 8-5 and 7-6 in 2013 and 2015, respectively. During these seasons, he had Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, and Davis Webb playing QB.
If you recall in Part 1, both Wilson and Willie picked the Seahawks to finish as a wild card team. Terrance, Frank, and Stan have all got Seattle winning the NFC West and indeed the whole damn thing.
Part 3 is coming your way at 10 AM PT!