2018 NFL Preview: NFC West

nfc-westIt has traditionally been one of the more powerful divisions in the league but things are getting strange in the NFC West.

This used to be a division where teams were fighting tooth and nail to get to the top but lately, those dominant teams have fallen off.

It happens regularly in professional sports as times come and go for teams who can build a winner.

They can put together a group that can be one of the most dominant in the league and ride that group for a number of years.

Eventually, though that run will end as players get older and they fail to replace them with draft picks that are not near the top of the league.

The Seattle Seahawks are going through this phase right now as they were one of the most dominant teams in the league for years.

They constantly took home the division title and for two straight years were the NFC representative in the Super Bowl.

Everyone else began to catch up though and their grip of the division loosened while they became a beatable group.

Although still talented they couldn’t recapture that same play that put them to the Super Bowl for two years straight.

Some players left to get more in other cities while others just began to lose a step or became injury risks.

They were not the team that could beat anyone anymore and in 2017 they saw the next step in the decline by missing the playoffs.

Now they are caught trying to do a patchwork job on a team that remains talented but might not be as competitive as they thought.

The Cardinals are not very different as a surprise rise after adding Carson Palmer brought a lot of hope to the desert.

They began to fall apart last year though as major players were hurt and the solution was to replace them with veterans who were closer to the end of their careers.

While the Seahawks were rising so where the San Francisco 49ers who had an exciting young coach that made them a great team.

Although most of their issues came off of the field the same pattern insured on the Bay with the Niners falling behind.

Every team has had their time at the top and have had quick rises to be one of the best teams for a few years.football-sidebar

Usually, that can last a long time but for some reason, in the NFC West, nothing seems to stay the same forever.

Controversy and controversial figures follow teams around in this division and just as they rise to prominence they usually fall.

Now entering a new season one team is rebuilding although not entirely committing to the usual steps of a rebuild.

The Niners know that they aren’t going to be great for at least a couple of years but a trade to bring in a new QB seems like they might be trying to hurry things up.

The hype could catch up to them this year as the new QB is a great addition but probably won’t be enough.

Two more teams are trying to hang on to their success in the Seahawks and Cardinals who both have talented teams.

They just might not have enough talent to keep up with a group of teams outside of their division who are looking very strong.

Then there is the team that seems to be the new power in the West as the Los Angeles Rams are coming off of a division title only to reload with more talent.

If things go right they could walk away with their second straight title and could possibly be beginning something special.

Then again, the West is known for these rises as much as the falls so the Rams might want to enjoy their time at the top before it ends.

In the west that end could be a bad one so they will need to make their run sooner rather than later in this strange group of teams.

arizona_cardinals

The promising era in Arizona seems to be coming to a close pretty quickly after they surprised everyone with their rise a few years ago. They were never supposed to get to the top as the team was mainly relying on older veterans in a division that had a lot of very promising talent. The deep run never came and after finishing 8-8 things needed to change. Steve Wilks takes over a team that has some high expectations despite not really aricardinalsbeing able to replace a lot of their biggest losses. He will go to work trying to get this team back to the top with an entirely new quarterbacking group. Sam Bradford has all of the tools to be great but since entering the league in 2010 he has only played 15 games or more three times. The Cardinals are hoping to get a full season out of the QB as they are looking to Josh Rosen as the future of the team but don’t think he is ready quite yet. The weapons they have for the passing game are somewhat lacking as Larry Fitzgerald is still good but he is not the game breaker he used to be but remains their leading receiver with Jaron Brown and John Brown gone and Jermaine Gresham on the PUP list to start the season. The running game is a bit of a mystery as David Johnson can be one of the best backs in the league but he missed the entire 2017 season in the IR. If he comes back strong they could at least have a strong attack on the ground. The defence has been a strength for this team as they have been a top-ten team for the last few years but a new look has many wondering what they can do. Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch, Tramon Williams and Karlos Dansby are all gone leaving some massive holes to fill while they switch to a new scheme. They still have talent though and a lot of it starts in the secondary where Patrick Peterson remains one of the best corners in the game and Antoine Bethea is a solid presence in the middle. Without Dansby, in the middle of the linebackers, the Cardinals have to rely on some inexperienced players like Haason Reddick and Deone Bucannon with Josh Byrnes taking a leadership role while starting for the first time. Up front, Chandler Jones is among the best pass rushers in the game but there isn’t a lot around him to take attention away and free him up.  The Cardinals have talent but it might not be enough to get any better than a .500 finish as there is a lot more work to do to get them back.

los-angeles-rams

The first year of the Rams in Los Angeles went about as bad as it could have gone with a fan base ready to support a team treated to a 4-win season. They made up for things in 2017 though as the Rams were a team on a mission and turned their season from 4 wins to 11. The fans came back as they got better and in what is becoming a bit of a battle for fans in Los Angeles they are winning. They hope to continue to win with their 2018 laramscampaign after an active offseason mean to fill the holes they had and make a real run at the Super Bowl.it all starts with the face of the franchise in Jared Goff who took over the starting role full time in 2017 and showed that he is an NFL QB. The third-year QB has flourished under Sean McVay’s system and with a second year under the head coach he could develop into a leader for the next generation of quarterbacks in the league. He is sure to miss Sammy Watkins but the additions of Brandin Cooks is as good a replacement as they could find. Cooper Kupp proved to be a solid option along with Robert Woods and if they can develop along with Goff the passing attack could be better. The running game is in good hands as Todd Gurley shook off the sophomore slump and had his second 1,000+ yard season. He seems like a legitimate leader of the running back resurgence and should be a big focus of the offence again this year. The Rams developed in a big way on offence under McVay and they finally caught up to a defence that had been carrying the load for years. That defence remains mostly intact, especially where it matters most, on the line where they boast one of the deepest groups in the league. Aaron Donald is the best defensive tackle in the game and adding Ndamukong Suh makes the pressure in the middle of the line something to be feared. The linebacking corps might be the only question as leading tackler Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn are gone leaving a pretty inexperienced group. Improvements in the secondary could make up for issues in the linebacking group as two key signings have added a lot of talent to this group. Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters are big additions along with Sam Shields who likely takes over in the nickel spot. Those additions make the front and the back of this defence something to fear if all players play up to their potential. The evolution of the offence and additions to the defence brings more pressure to a team that should make the playoffs and potentially make a deep run towards a title.

 

san_francisco_49ers

The Niners are a team that has struggled to keep momentum over the last few years with ups and downs that rarely see to last. Most of the time it is self-imposed as success usually comes with big-name players being cut or great coaches being chased out of the team. John Lynch is hoping to change that pattern and midway through last year, he made his first major move to ensure that the future of the team is in good hands. That sfninersmove was trading with the New England Patriots to grab Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo helped this team recover something from a poor 2017 when they won five straight games with him under centre. Now Garoppolo has the weight of the world on his shoulders with a lineage that includes being mentored by Tom Brady and coached by Bill Belichick. He has talent around him as Pierre Garcon returns from an injury that kept him out of half of the 2017 season while Marquise Goodwin turned into Garoppolo’s favourite target at the end of the season. The running game is in transition as Carlos Hyde is gone with Jerick McKinnon being brought in to take over the role as a bit of an unknown. The focus will be on the quarterback position but they might not have the amount of talent to be an explosive group although potentially good enough. The defence fell off in a major way from their last time at the top but things seem to be improving with their new scheme. To continue to develop the investment in the line needs to pay off as the Niners have taken a lot of defensive linemen in the draft for the last few years. Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas and DeForest Bucknor are all recent draftees and all need to step up and stay on the field to provide a base for this defence. The linebacking corps is already down a man as Reuben Foster has been suspended for two games leaving a leadership hole that Malcolm Smith tries to fix. The secondary got the biggest upgrade as Richard Sherman was released by division rival Seattle and signed a big deal to join San Francisco. He’s not as great as he was in his height but he is still a big body that makes it tough to throw around. If healthy he is a big addition alongside second-year corner Ahkello Witherspoon. The Niners have a lot of hype surrounding them thanks to their quarterback. They could be better because of him but a defence that is still not great and a question at running back leaves the possibility of missing the playoffs again.

 

 

seattle_seahawks

The time for the Seattle Seahawks seems to be ending and it is ending fast although the franchise believes there is enough time to come back. After a year that felt like a failure for a team that is used to playing deep into the season, they decided to make some major changes. Some of the staples from the team that made two straight Super Bowls are gone while the coaching staff is almost entirely gone. The Seahawks looked to play the same seaseahawkstype of game they had for years but they simply didn’t have the same talent to carry them into the playoffs. They are now looking to a mini-rebuild to get back to the playoffs again trying to hold on to the success that they enjoyed for the past five years. The offence used to be concentrated on a power running game but with Marshawn Lynch no longer there it never seemed to get back to that style. When the quarterback is the leading rusher of the team something clearly needed to change and so they go with Chris Carson who got some time last year but will likely take over the starting role with Rashaan Penny getting time to adjust in his first year. Russell Wilson remains the type of player that can change a game and this year he might have some bigger options to work with. Brandon Marshall is a big receiver but has never really returned to his dominant self so there are questions about how well he can lead this team. Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett remain to provide some solid targets while Jaron Brown should get some time as well. For years this team depended on the skill and size of their defensive secondary but the “Legion of Boom” is no more with Sherman and Earl Thomas released removing the final two pieces of that dominant group. Byron Maxwell remains while they likely rely a lot more on second-year corner Shaquill Griffin. The linebacking corps has turned into the most dependable group with K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner patrolling the middle and making it tough to run on the inside. The pass rush was an issue last year though and so the Seahawks brought in Barkevious Mingo and Tom Johnson in hopes that they could crank up the pressure without Michael Bennett or Cliff Avril there to provide that pressure. The Seahawks seem to be one of those teams caught in the middle of being competitive and needing to rebuild. They have talent but it might not be enough, even with their moves, to make the playoffs leading to a lot of questions in the offseason.

Prediction:
The NFC West is a bit of a strange division as every team has recently been great but all have fallen off as quickly as they have risen. It has been a long time since one team consistently sat on top of the division but this year one team might just be getting started. The Los Angeles Rams were a great turnaround story last year but they reloaded this offseason to make a run. Out of all of the teams, they seem like the best bet to take the division and if they play like their roster shows they could run away with the division crown. The Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks are teams caught with talent but not enough of it to really make a run. They could both finish in second but the Seahawks seem to be scrambling a little more while the Cardinals have a little more. Neither will make the playoffs along with San Francisco who might have a lot of hype but who are not talented enough on either side of the ball to be that much better.

nfcwest-prediction

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