2017 NFL Preview: NFC West

nfc-westIt was once one of the most exciting divisions in the game as the NFC West had the young talent that was going to be fun to watch.

The name of the game for the last few years though has been the underachieving of teams that were all supposed to be much better.

That is a constant in the NFL and it becomes more every year as the coverage of the league heaps more pressure on more teams.

The constant analysis of teams and the breaking down of every piece of information can lead to a lot of talk before any team even hits the field.

The fact is that nobody knows what is about to happen and despite the best guesses based on performances from a year ago and improvements made over the off-season anything can happen.

A team might be on the rise one year as they added the right people who played up to their potential.

The next year those additions could fall far short of the expectations that were then added to them after one good year.

Meanwhile, great players could be injured or be nagged by an unknown injury or just simply have a bad year.

There are so many factors that play into the successes or failures of a team that all the expectations laid on a team mean little when the season gets underway.

The issue many times though can be that a team doesn’t know how to handle those expectations.

They see their names in the paper and everywhere else with people saying that they are going to be great this year.

Then they get on the field and things start to go wrong making it even tougher to get back as teams cannot handle that additional pressure.

The NFC West has been a division with a lot of that hype in the last few years and it was well deserved before.

The Seattle Seahawks were one of the best teams in the league making runs at the Super Bowl regularly.

Their battles with the San Francisco became must-see TV during that time as the 49ers were their main rival and began a great division battle.

Both teams were among the best in the division and they were both headed to the top spot regularly although neither could finish the job.

It created an entertaining division for a number of years and then the St. Louis Rams began to get in on the fun.football-sidebar

They never could compete with the best of the best but they were putting together a team of young talent that might just be able to compete.

They were the rising team in the division and things were about to get interesting but it began to change.

The 49ers ran into issues as their star quarterback showed some adjustment issues while the team gave him less of a chance to showcase his talent.

The Rams never quite got to where they needed to be despite all of the talent on the team.

Arizona rose out of nowhere to become one of the biggest competitors while the Seahawks were still good but not Super Bowl good.

Last year the Cardinals were supposed to take over the division while the Niners were set to struggle again.

The Seahawks were going to provide a test and the now Los Angeles Rams were a major unknown.

Things didn’t turn out that way as no team was really all that great but the Seahawks came out on top while the Cardinals underwhelmed in a big way.

No team met expectations last year and with a new season, there is hope from every team that they may have finally figured things out.

The Seahawks hope that their injury woes are behind them, the Cardinals are hoping that the window is not closed today, the Rams hope their young QB can be great and the Niners hope a new coach can turn things around.

Nobody knows what will happen but things are hopefully going to get better for a division that was once one of the best divisions to watch.

arizona_cardinals

It was supposed to be their year to officially take over in 2016 as the Arizona Cardinals were coming off of one of their best seasons in a long time. They went 13-3 with Carson Palmer under centre and became a team to watch especially as they went into the 2016 season. Things did not go as expected though as the Cards struggled throughout the year and couldn’t return to their 2015 form. They finished with a winning record if only because of a tie against the Seahawks. The concerning part about last year’s record is ari-statsthat for many 2015 was the small window opening for the Cardinals to win a Super Bowl and that window would only stay open for a few more seasons. After 2016 people are thinking that the window has already closed and that ageing players like Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer don’t have any time left. The Cardinals doubled down on their veteran presence this year though in a message to the rest of the league that they believe that 2016 was just a blip. The signings of veterans like Antoine Bethea and Karlos Dansby were tow of their biggest but both are over 30-years old and although they may still have some time left they are still veterans added to a veteran group that had issues with injuries throughout the 2016 campaign. The Cards are hoping that the injury bug can stay away and Palmer can return to his 2015 form. If he does, then the Palmer to Fitzgerald connection should be a good one again despite both being on the back-nine of their careers. The bright spot among the offence though is David Johnson who broke through the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his second year in the league. He became a bigger part of the offence and should continue to be a major part of this offence as the Cards are shifting to a run first mentality with Johnson in the backfield. The defence might show the first signs of a window closing though as the Cards lost five starters in the offseason including their leader on the line Calais Campbell. The additions of Bethea and Dansby provide some relief for the losses while Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu are still two of the best in the defensive backfield and should keep the passing defence rolling. On special teams, the Cardinals needed a lot of help and they are hoping that 42-year-old kicker Phil Dawson can provide that help. The Cardinals believe their window is still open and they are headed towards the new season with plenty of talent. The real question is whether or not that talent still has what it takes to compete with the best of the best in the league. If they can’t, whether because of injuries or not, bigger changes might be coming.

los-angeles-rams

The move to Los Angeles was always going to be a bit of a tough thing to do for the Rams especially with the limited amount of time to prepare. They spent more time without a real home than any other team in the league and for some that was the biggest issue for their return season. The reality was that Jeff Fischer didn’t seem to be the coach they needed and their quarterback position needed to be resolved. That is why the Rams drafted Jared Goff with the top pick in the 2016 draft and fired Fischer near the end of lar-statsthe year after it was clear that another losing year was upon them. As the new season approaches this is now Goff’s team and how he goes the rest of the team will go. To help him along the way the Rams took a chance on a young but promising coach whose biggest success has been turning Kirk Cousins into a top QB in the league. Sean McVay takes over the head job in Los Angeles and the young coach will be tied to the young QB for the entire season as the success of one means the success of the other. A late trade provided some hope after they lost their leading receiver in Kenny Britt as Sammy Watkins has all of the talent to be a top receiver if he can stay on the field and could quickly become a favourite target of Goff. The team will also hope that Todd Gurley simply suffered a sophomore slump after breaking 1,000 yards in his rookie year but not even touching 900 in his second season. If Gurley can bounce back and Goff can find a rhythm as the sure starter the Rams might be a fun team to watch. It will certainly help a defence that has been built over the last few years with the front in mind. They have a collection of defensive lineman that could be one of the best in the league led by Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn. Both should feel a sense of renewal too as McVay went with experience bringing in Wade Philips as the coordinator. Widely considered one of the best defensive minds in the league Phillips has a lot of talent up front as Donald, Quinn, Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron can help Phillips get creative. They might need to get into the backfield as well with a secondary that has a lot of questions. The new life is there for the Rams as they have a young team in a lot of spots but if that young talent can play the way they know how the Rams could be a surprise team. It might take some time to adjust though and as a result, they may show promise but won’t get to the playoffs, at least not this year.

san_francisco_49ers

Things have not been very stable in San Francisco as change seems to be the name of the game for a team that was once the best franchise in the league. They looked like they were on their way back with Colin Kaepernick under centre but an unwillingness to adjust to him sunk that surge. Now Kaepernick is one of the most controversial figures in the sport and the Niners are on their fourth coach in four seasons. They are hoping this sf-statsone sticks as Jim Harbaugh left the team in shambles and Chip Kelly only lasted a season before he was let go. Now Kyle Shanahan takes over the reigns hoping for staying power a little more than the two coaches who took over in 2015 and 2016. Shanahan will get some questions as his team is the one that blew the biggest lead in Super Bowl history, with some believing it was his play calling that finished the job. Right now though it is a new team and the offensive minded coach hopes to start to turn things around for this once great franchise. He isn’t going to have a very easy time with that as the talent pool is lacking as he takes over. One thing is obvious when looking at the offence this year though and that is the new additions that have been made who have all had success under Shanahan before. Brian Hoyer takes over at quarterback after all three QBs from a year ago left the team. Pierre Garcon was another new addition that had a career high when he was playing in Shanahan’s offence with Washington. The Niners are hoping that it can continue for both in order to have some kind of success this year although Garcon is an ageing veteran and Hoyer is widely considered a serviceable QB until they can find someone else. In the backfield, the Niners look to Carlos Hyde with the hope that he can stay healthy and potentially crack the 1,000-yard mark. The offence is still a work in progress while the defence might be headed for a complete rebuild. Incoming coach Robert Saleh will try to get the fire back that they had a few years ago. He will hope to do it with veterans like NaVorro Bowman and new addition Elvis Dumervil alongside rookies like Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster who will all try to get after the QB and stop the run. Without Antoine Bethea, the defensive backfield is in a little bit of a hole that they will need to fix with the scheme because they don’t have the talent. The Niners are restarting once again and although there may be some signs of life on offence things are just beginning again. Don’t expect them to make the playoffs this year as there are still a lot of missing pieces on this team.

seattle_seahawksThe Seahawks have been the kings of the west for a while now but that doesn’t always have to do with the skill on their team. More often in the last few years, it has had a lot more to do with the lack of real competition in the division. The Seahawks have not been the dominant team they used to be over the last few years. They still have a lot of talent and can make a run at the Super Bowl but more often than not they fall short. In 2016 sea-statsthey were expecting a battle from Arizona but never got it which turned out to be good because they might not have lasted in that battle. Instead, they rode the lack of competition into the playoffs taking one playoff game before being eliminated in the second round. The Seahawks are still the team to beat in the division but if they want to make a real run to the Super Bowl they need to fix some of their issues which they looked to do in the offseason. One of their biggest issues has been their offensive line that has failed to protect their best asset in Russell Wilson. They didn’t fully commit to fixing that but they did add veteran guard Luke Joeckel to address their biggest issue. The biggest signing was at running back where the Seahawks picked up Eddie Lacy filling a hole left when Marshawn Lynch retired. Lacy has had his issues with fitness and an ankle injury that kept him out of the lineup last year but when he is on the field he is the exact type of back that the Seahawks love. Wilson heads into another season as one of the top quarterbacks in the league with plenty of weapons including Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham who both proved to be great options in the passing game. For years the strength of the team was the defence where the self-proclaimed “Legion of Boom” made it tough for every QB in the league. That defensive backfield is not the same as it used to be and that could be because of their lack of depth. When Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are on the field the group is one of the best in the league. When one is gone they seem to lose the attitude that makes them the best, like they did when Thomas was hurt last season. Together they are great and they lead a very talented team with linebackers like K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner making up a great duo at the second level. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett can find their way to the quarterback too making this defence good at every level. The Seahawks are going to be the team to beat but their offence needs to get better if they want to compete with the best teams in the league.

Prediction:
The Seahawks are the team to beat and there is little question about that as the rest of the West is just trying to catch up. The Cardinals might be able to give the Seahawks a run for their money but the veteran team adding more veterans might not be the best recipe for them to make the playoffs. The Rams could be on the rise with a young team and a lot of potential talent but they still need to come through. Meanwhile, the Niners are simply resetting for another year and the talent isn’t there to compete this year. It could be a battle between Arizona and Seattle but the Seahawks are still the team with the best talent and the best chance at making the playoffs.

nfcw-prediction

 

 

 

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