From 2010 through 2013, the NFC West was a division heavily dominated by the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers as the Seahawks and 49ers looked like they were about to become the next big rivalry in the NFL. However, that didn’t last long after 49ers head coach, Jim Harbaugh elected to leave the 49ers to coach college football at the University of Michigan, leading the Niners to go from first to worst in a hurry. While the Seahawks have slowly declined following their heart breaking Super Bowl XLIX loss to the New England Patriots during the 2014 season as they are getting older and have lost many of their big playmakers the past few seasons.
Sure the Seahawks did make the playoffs each of the past two seasons following that crushing defeat, but in 2017 it appeared that there is a new power house ready to take over the division as the Los Angeles Rams rose up as they went 11-5 a year ago, clinching their first playoff berth since 2004. With the Cardinals and 49ers both still in rebuild mode and the Seahawks on the decline and could be on the rebuild soon, the Rams have an open window these next few seasons to not only win the division, but to win a Super Bowl.
- Los Angeles Rams: 13-3
A year ago, the Rams were one of the biggest surprises in football as they went 11-5 following a 4-12 2016 season, which led to them clinching their first playoff berth in 13 years. And what did the Rams do during the offseason? They made their roster even better by making some major splashes and being very active the past few months. It all started when they made two big trades to help improve their secondary by bringing in veteran cornerback Aqib Talib from the Denver Broncos and young talented defensive back Marcus Peters from the Kansas City Chiefs. They also made a trade to give them a speedy receiver by bringing in Brandin Cooks from the New England Patriots. Then, after the Miami Dolphins cut their star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the Rams came right in and signed him to a one year deal.
The Rams already had a bunch of talent a year ago headlined by former number one overall pick Jared Goff at quarterback, Todd Gurley who has solidified himself as a top five running back in the league right now, one of the top left tackles in the game in Andrew Whitworth, a speedy slot receiver with Robert Woods, and one of the most highly touted defensive tackles in the league in Aaron Donald. Now that the Rams made those trades to bring in Talib and Peters to solidify their secondary and Suh to make that defensive line ever scarier, I expect them to be even better than they were a year ago and finish with the best record in the league in 2018.
Sure there are some other really talented all-around teams in the NFL right now such as the Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, or Pittsburgh Steelers just to name a few, but I think the Rams will have the best record in the league this upcoming season. The all-around Rams roster upgraded from last year and they play in a division that includes the 49ers and Cardinals who are both in a rebuild with very young and inexperienced quarterbacks (Jimmy G and Josh Rosen) and a Seahawks team that is falling apart as many of their big play makers on both sides of the ball either left via free agency or retirement. The Rams will win this division with ease in 2018.
- Arizona Cardinals: 8-8
I know what you are all thinking, but how could I put the Cardinals ahead of the 49ers and Seahawks when both of those teams seem to have a reliable franchise quarterback while the Cardinals have an injury prone veteran (Sam Bradford) and an unproven rookie (Josh Rosen). May I remind you that last season the Cardinals went 8-8 when they had a revolving door at quarterback between three below average veterans in Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, and Blaine Gabbert and with their star running back David Johnson out for basically all of last season, they still somehow finished at .500.
Now this season they get David Johnson back, veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has elected to return for another season at age 35, and drafted probably the most NFL ready quarterback in the 2018 draft by trading up and taking UCLA’s Josh Rosen with the 10th overall pick. I get that there is the possibility that the veteran Sam Bradford will start the season as the Red Birds QB, but let’s be real at some point this season Josh Rosen is going to get in there whether it is struggles or another injury to Sam Bradford that opens the door for Rosen. The Cardinals are a team full of talent as they got the notability mentioned Johnson and Fitzgerald on the offensive side along with veteran tight end Jermaine Gresham and rookie wide out, Christian Kirk.
The Cardinals defense is just as talented as they have Patrick Peterson who is one of the top cornerbacks in the league, defensive end Chandler Jones who has had a pretty successful NFL career up to this point, and veteran safety Antoine Bethea just to name a few. Arizona’s defense was 6th in the league last season in yards allowed, which was a big reason why they overachieved a year ago. They may have lost their great young safety, Tyrann Mathieu as he signed with the Houston Texans, but I think the Cardinals defense still has the pieces to be serviceable in 2018, especially due to the fact that their offensive unit has upgraded from a year ago.
I believe that the Cardinals have plenty of weapons around the rookie Josh Rosen, both offensively and defensively to have him succeed immediately. Rosen is a kid who played three seasons at UCLA on a below average Bruins team that played in the PAC-12, one of the tougher conferences in college football and he still found lots of success and I expect that success to carry over in the Desert in 2018. This year will be a step in the right direction for the Cardinals as I expect them to be back in playoff contention by 2019 at earliest.
- Seattle Seahawks: 6-10
I don’t think any team could have had a worse offseason than the Seattle Seahawks did this year. It was just a few years ago where the Seahawks had one of the most dominating defenses in recent memory in the NFL, and now most of the guys from that unit for years are now gone. Safety Kam Chancellor elected to retire, Cornerback Richard Sherman got cut and elected to sign with the division rival 49ers, Defensive End Michael Bennett got traded to the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles, free agent Cornerback DeShawn Shead signed with the Detroit Lions, Defensive End Sheldon Richardson signed with the Minnesota Vikings, and one of the few remaining guys from that group, Safety Earl Thomas has been saying for months now that he wants to be traded. This is just to name a few of the guys on that defense that has departed from the great Northwest.
Not just defensively, but the Seahawks have also lost plenty of offensive pieces as well. Prior to last season, they traded veteran wide receiver Jermaine Kearse to the New York Jets, and this past offseason they lost even more guys. Star tight end, Jimmy Graham left as he signed with the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers, speedy wide receiver, Paul Richardson who had a breakout 2017 season signed with the Washington Redskins, and successful backup tight end Luke Willson signed with the Detroit Lions. Again this is just to name a few players who left.
If you look at this Seahawks roster, you could make the argument that they could be the worst team in the league in 2018. However, there is one thing that will save the Seahawks from that and give them a few extra wins. That thing is quarterback, Russell Wilson who will be entering his seventh NFL season and these past few years he has established himself as a top ten, maybe even top five QB in the league while playing behind one of the worst offensive lines and running games in football.
During the past few years, the Seahawks have won games thanks to their defensive unit which was once known as “The Legion Of Boom” and the great play by Russell Wilson. They may still have Wilson, but no longer have most of the pieces from that “Legion Of Boom” defense which puts Wilson and that team in a tough spot. For the first time since 2011, the year before Wilson was drafted by the Seahawks; this team will finish below .500. Russell Wilson may be great, but he just simply doesn’t have the team around him to win in 2018.
- San Francisco 49ers: 6-10
Every year there is always at least one team in the NFL that many experts seem to overhype and jump the gun on heading into the season and I think heading into the 2018 season the 49ers are one of those teams. They have seemed to find a long term solution at quarterback when they made the trade to bring in Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots last season. And just because they have Garoppolo for the long term and the 49ers went 5-0 in the games he started, many NFL experts have been predicting the 49ers to finish above .500 or even win the division in 2018 when the reality is, this team still has some rebuilding to do as the 49ers have a lot of voids to fill around him before they become a playoff contender again.
Let’s look at the teams that Garappolo and the 49ers beat when they went on that 5-0 run to end the 2017 season. At a rebuilding Bears team that had a rookie quarterback, at the Texans without Deshaun Watson and two of their best defensive players, at home against the Titans who were good but very inconsistent a year ago, at home against the Jaguars who already had the AFC South clinched heading into that game, and on the road against the Rams second stringers as like the Jaguars, already had their division clinched heading into that game.
Sure the quick turn-around the Niners had late last season was impressive once Jimmy G became the starting quarterback, but can they sustain that success throughout a full 16 game season with many more competitive teams on their schedule? Most likely not with the roster they have around Jimmy G. Their starting running back is Jerick McKinnon who has served as a backup and receiving running back throughout most of his career so far and I just don’t think he gets the job done as an every down type back. Their top two receivers are Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin who both have speed, but Garcon is going to be 33 years old heading into the season and had season ending neck surgery a year ago and Goodwin has had issues with dropped passes throughout his NFL career, so I don’t believe that 1-2 receiver duo can get the job done. Their offensive line is average but since the 49ers don’t exactly have a consistent explosive play maker at the moment, that could hold Garappolo back from having the same success he had a year ago.
Their defense still has some room for improvement as much of their defensive talents are very young and inexperienced such as linebacker Rueben Foster, defensive end Solomon Thomas, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, and safety Adrian Colbert just to name a few. The 49ers future does look bright, but right now I just think they are way too young and inexperienced to be a playoff contender in 2018 just because they acquired Jimmy Garappolo at quarterback, which is what many NFL experts have been predicting heading into the regular season.