An Up-And-Coming Powerhouse: The NFC West
Some divisions have no contenders. Some have one, and some may have as many as three. Then there’s the NFC West, which is easily the toughest division in the NFC, even though it only boasts two real contenders. Here’s my early predictions for the 2016 season.
Fluke or Force: The Seattle Seahawks
Since 2012, Seattle has been in the Super Bowl contender talks. They’re 1-2 in the big game, all 3 happening in under 15 years. I could go in-depth on how each Super Bowl went, but I think I’ll pass. (Couldn’t resist.)
Russell Wilson is possibly the best young QB playing the game right now. He has a pretty good WR trio at his disposal, in Tyler Lockett, Jermaine Kearse, and Doug Baldwin. Jimmy Graham hopes to return to his former ‘top 3’ TE title this year. The offensive line is nothing more than questionable, considering they are coming off of a year where they were ranked 30th, down from 19th. How well Seattle did with a performance like that is a testament to the skills of Wilson and Co. Justin Britt is a glaring weakness in their line, even though they’ve moved him around. Don’t even question the running game. Rawls showed that he has some fire under him, so the loss of Lynch won’t hurt them as bad as most people think. Combine the #4 offense (yes, even with that line) with the #2 offense, and the team looks unstoppable on paper.
Let’s talk turkey. (Or Seahawk, in this case.) Seattle has a HUGE opportunity to get off to a fast start, with 4 easily winnable games, 2 against division rivals, before their early Week 5 bye. Add the fact that 9 of the first 11 games are against teams that missed the 2015 playoffs, and the Seahawks could very well be 9-2 at the end of that stretch, losing only to the Cardinals and the Patriots. I have the Seahawks at 11-5, getting swept by Arizona and just missing the division title.
Arians’ Arizona: The Arizona Cardinals
I’ve spent the last decade living in the Phoenix Metro area. I have seen the Cardinals go from nothing, to the current threat that they are. Bruce Arians has done a hell of a job, moving the team in the right direction, starting with minimal weaponry to work with. Just give him the key to the city. (Although, who really wants the key to Glendale?) If I had to make a choice, I would say that the Cardinals are the most rounded out team in football. That’s tough for me to say, being that they beat on my Ravens this past season.
Let’s be honest. Carson Palmer is not the best NFL QB. He might be 2nd tier, at best. But give any NFL QB the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown to throw to at WR, and they will do great things. He gets help from a great ground game, in Chris Johnson, David Johnson, and a huge 3rd down threat in Andre Ellington. Having the #7 defense (and improved in the off-season, on paper) doesn’t hurt them at all, especially when they have to face the likes of New England (less Tom Brady), Seattle (twice), and Carolina. The first half of the season will be nationally televised, and 5 of the last 7 games are on the road, making this schedule a bit tougher than it looks on paper.
However. They have a slightly late bye week, which will help recharge the batteries after getting off to an amazing 7-1 record. (I have them losing to the Panthers. Again.) I think the road games take their toll, and Carson Palmer’s age shows in the cold at the end of the season. 12-4, with the division title, and a sweep of Seattle.
Home is Where the Horns Are: The Los Angeles Rams
It’s really hard for me to be unbiased about the Los An.. I mean St. Lou.. wait, no, Los Angeles Rams, because the team up and leaving was, for lack of a better term, a d*ck move. Couple that with them losing key pieces of the defense during the offense, and not doing anything to improve a faltering offense, and it’s hard to write anything good about this team that isn’t named Todd Gurley. At least they brought football back to the City of Angels, because California didn’t have enough teams to choose from. (Sarcasm!)
The Rams are, at best, an average team. Their best WR is the young Tavon Austin, which wins the spot by default. His closest competition is Kenny Britt. I mean, c’mon. The starting QB looks to be Case Keenum, but Jared Goff was picked for a reason. Look for him to start halfway through the season. Todd Gurley will be leaned on heavily, as weaponry is far and few between on the Rams’ roster. The 13th ranked defense from 2015 falls to the bottom half of the league, allowing the Cardinals and Seattle to walk over them with ease, with the Patriots (Tom is back!) and Carolina following suit. I’ll give them a couple fluke wins, and put them at 7-9. Hey.. at least they aren’t last!
The Good, The Bad, The Chip Kelly – The San Francisco 49ers
I don’t know what the NFL was thinking. The 9ers went 5-11 last year, and the league decided to hand them the toughest strength of schedule out of any team. (Tied with the Falcons.) Free Agency bore no fruit for them, and the only true improvement that they made over this past season was the addition of Zane Beadles. I pity the 9ers fan base. (Maybe because my little brother is a 9ers fan. I don’t know how that happened, poor guy.) The organization seems to think that they have more depth than last year, but on paper, this team seems to have even less talent than their 2015 counterparts.
I don’t think that they pay attention to what’s going on in the rest of the NFL. Sure, Chip Kelly seems like an improvement over Jim Tomsula, but the fiasco in Philadelphia has to be a worry in the front office over at the Bay. Maybe I’m off the mark, and maybe he will be a great fit on the West Coast, but skeptical, I remain.
Honestly, the 9ers get off to a strong start, winning their Week 1 matchup, but unfortunately, I think that that is their peak. They face Arizona and Seattle twice. New England. Carolina. Even Dallas and Buffalo will give these boys a hard time. Look for the 9ers to drop the ball (again and again), stumbling to a 4-12 record, officially becoming the Browns of the NFC.
Credit: Michael Telford, Original article on NFL Chalk Talk