In a similar trend with the other divisions, the NFC is quite tricky to predict. It was not too long ago, that the NFC West was considered the strongest division in the NFL. The strength of rosters in Arizona, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Seattle were stacked from top to bottom and during the Jim Harbaugh era, the 49ers and Seahawks boasted one of the greatest rivalry’s the sport has ever seen. I am not going to lie, there was a slight drop off (ok, maybe a massive drop off) when Harbaugh left for his alma mater Michigan and Seattle made the division their own for several years.
Sadly, although not for this writer, the Seahawks vice like grip on the West coast is slipping and new challengers have presented themselves. There has been much change and turnover in rosters and coaching within the whole division but it should make for some very polarising games.
#1 Los Angeles Rams – Last year – 11-5, SB Odds – 12/1 (betstars, 11/1 most others), Division odds – 20/27 (Redzone), o/u – 9.5
The Rams took the division last year on the back of their innovative rookie head coach Sean McVay. McVary proved that his mastery of scheming and playcalling could carry over in to his first gig as an HC. With virtually the exact same players, he turned what was possibly the most boring team in the NFL in to the most exciting. They went from dead last in scoring, to first in scoring while amassing just under 6000 total yards. I am expecting some kind of slight regression, as the NFL does learn quickly but you can expect the Rams, led by superstar RB Todd Gurley, to still remain amongst the top teams in plays run and points scored. Gurley is the man atop of most fantasy drafts and rightfully so. Almost called a bust after his sophomore year went so badly but proved to all the doubters and naysayers that he is the focal point of the offence. His 2,093 total yards and 19 Tds paced the league. I would monitor his receiving touchdowns as he had 6 last year and I would expect that to regress back to 3/4. Around Todd Gurley, the number one offence spread the ball around to it’s playmakers. The number one target for Jared Goff, Cooper Kupp has less than 100 targets so picking any of their receiving corp of Kupp, Robert Woods and free agent Brandin Cooks to break out and stand alone is a relatively difficult task. For an NFL offense this is very good but crappy for your fantasy team! Cooks has the pedigree to maybe do this but he’s on this third team in three years and for the first time, doesn’t have a Hall of Fame standard QB throwing the ball to him so it will be interesting to see how the football is distributed this year.
More interestingly however, is that all the stories this offseason have been about the defence. Wade Phillips is one of the best coordinators in the business and with his HC concentrating on the offence and play calling, he pretty much has free reign to do whatever he wants. So they added two top cornerbacks in Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. That’s not a bad paring. Okay fine it’s ridiculously good. Both considered lock down corners which will free up the rest of the D to go get the QB. Which brings me to recently minted Aaron Donald. Defensive player of the year and now the proud owner of the richest defensive player contract in NFL history. Pro football Focus gave him an absurd grade of 94.4 and was the clear number one defensive lineman in football. Arguably the best pass rusher in the league, backed up by his 11 sacks last year AND his does it primarily from the inside positions which is traditionally a much more difficult place to generate pressure. Oh and next to him, happens to be the previous guy who had the richest lineman contract in history, Ndamakong Suh. Those two together, is an honestly frightening prospect for all opposing QBs. Backed up with solid defensive players like Mark Barron and Lamarcus Joyner, they might actually be one of the top defences as well.
The only concern for Rams fans will be what they are going to do with all these players after next year. Cap restrictions will eventually rear their heads and some of these big name guys may be on new teams. For now though, the Rams have to be considered a Superbowl favourite.
#2 San Francisco 49ers – Last year – 6-10, SB odds – 35/1 (Redzone), Division odds – 33/10 (Redzone) – o/u – 8.5
Ah my beloved Niners. I am sure all readers know that San Francisco has been a bit of a laughing stock over the last few years. Our owner going through head coaches like hot dinners until thankfully, he finally got it right and paired up Kyle Shanahan with former NFL safety and analyst John Lynch. In around 18 months, they have completely gutted the roster and removed all but a handful of the players hand picked by previous regimes. Normally, such a turnover results in negative results, which to be fair, it did as the Niners started 1-10 last year charging towards the number 1 draft pick with the Cleveland Browns. Then something glorious happened. A trade was made. A handsome chap called Jimmy Garoppolo arrived in a trade with New England. Long thought heir apparent to Tom Brady, now landed in the Bay area with high expectations. He did not disappoint and with a less than stellar supporting cast, he led the the 49ers to a league best 5 game winning streak and finished the year 6-10.
Continuity in the NFL, cannot be underestimated. Year two in offensive schemes, often shows much improved results and with Garoppolo knowing more of the complex Shanahan playbook, I can see a world where the Niners are amongst the top offensive teams.
Carlos Hyde is now in Cleveland and San Francisco signed athletic monster Jerrick McKinnon to a huge deal. Oft considered a bad fit in San Francisco, Hyde did produce but now Shanahan has two backs leading the charge who much better fit his zone blocking, one-cut running system. Mckinnon, who’s NFL combine numbers best new RB stud Saquon Barkley, and Matt Breida should lead a potent attack which will hurt teams on both the ground and in the air. Mckinnon could quite easily top 1300 total yards and 10 touchdowns as he will be deployed all over and be able to stay in on third downs. Expect something similar to how Shanahan used Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in Atlanta, that worked pretty well for them. Health would be the only issue from a potent attack – EDIT: since post was written Jerrick McKinnon has torn his ACL and is done for the season. Matt Breida and Alfred Morris should now share backfield duties. Both guys got dinged up in pre-season resulting in Alfred Morris being picked up and will more than likely get himself a roster spot. Catching passes from Jimmy GQ will be speedster Marquis Goodwin and safe hands Pierre Garcon (no drops on any targets received last year). Garcon was on pace for 1000 yards before his injury in week 8 and Goodwin has proved to be his QBs favourite target and only just fell short of 1000 yards himself. Add in some useful youth in slot man Trent Taylor along with rookies Dante Pettis and Richie James, the WR corp doesn’t appear to strike fear in to opposing teams hearts but there is depth and Coach Shanahan is a master at putting players in the best place to succeed. George Kittle, TE, is a trendy pick to break out this year, which if he can stay healthy is a very real proposition, he recorded roughly half of his seasons yards in that final 5 games with Jimmy G, and the 100 yard game he had in the finale has helped build that hype. There isn’t a tall physical receiver on the team so he should lead the team in red zone work. He matches the athleticism of the more recent TE draft class of OJ Howard and David Njoku but was taken 5 rounds later in the draft because he went to a smaller college.
On defence, it is vastly improved simply with the addition of former enemy Richard Sherman at cornerback. Young studs along the defensive line such as DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas give the Niners a really nice foundation to work on. The draft was defence heavy getting more speed and athletism at cornerback and safety. The starting foursome of Sherman and Akhello Witherspoon at CB along with Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tartt at safeties actually has scary potential. Also, if you haven’t heard the name Reuben Foster, starting middle linebacker, then I advise you go watch his highlight videos on Youtube as he is a beast and has already become a top talent at the position. There is no real pass rush at the moment which may ultimately be the units downfall. Registering only 30 sacks ranking amongst the worst in the league. No real upgrades either so that is one rather major knock on a vastly improving squad.
Shanahan, along with his counterpart in LA, are true offensive masterminds and would easily be considered the top two play callers in the league. Which is what makes the NFC West potentially so exciting for the next few years and will hopefully spark a renewed rivalry between the long time foes.
#3 Seattle Seahawks Last year – 9-7, SB Odds – 50/1 (Redzone) – Division odds – 9/2 (Hills, Paddy) – o/u 8.5
Could this be the beginning of the end? No, probably not. I was long a detractor of Russel Wilson but over the past two seasons, he has got better at making plays in the pocket and becoming a better overall QB rather than relying on his legs and unbelievable ability to extend plays. He had to extend plays A LOT last year as for all the talent that the Seahawks have had on the roster, they just can never seem to get the offensive line right. It’s beyond a joke how little they have invested in their offensive line and when they do, they have sucked. Wilson however, seemingly makes that all go away and as long as he is on the field, the ‘Hawks are never truly out of a game. They have been heavily depleted this off season, the retirement of Kam Chancellor and departures of Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett have left huge holes and Earl Thomas still refuses to play without a new contract that rewards him as the games top safety. The team and player are at an awkward impasse and it seems very unlikely to resolve itself soon. All this being said, I don’t expect to just crumble and wither away like I want them too. Carroll is too good a coach despite former players openly criticising him and his coaching style. Many of them being highly vocal about him losing the locker room and saying his style is more suited for college. If you look at their 53 man roster, the vaunted ‘Legion of Boom’ is far distant memory and there is no one there that particularly intimidates you. On the plus side, they still have Bobby Wagner, a great LB and along side him KJ Wright and rookie Shaquem Griffin so their LB core is at least extremely solid.
On offense, Seattle suffered extremely bad luck with their running backs and whenever each one would shine, they would inevitably crumble to bits and end up missing weeks at a time due to injury. Chris Carson is the starter currently pencilled in by coach Pete Carroll but you cannot honestly put your money on anyone other than Rashad Penny who they drafted in the first round this year. You also have CJ Prosise, JD McKissic who both flashed with incredible games and then just as quickly disappeared. Honestly, this could be one of the best and deepest backfields in the league but they just cannot stay healthy and gain any type of consistency. Even then, despite the draft pedigree on the Seattle offensive line, they are bad and they were not improved in the off season so I would temper any expectations on the Seattle running backs.
In contrary to this, there is one, possibly two guys that I think you can bank on this year and they are Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. SOMEONE has to catch all of Russell Wilsons throws so the odds are going to be that Baldwin and Lockett are going to feast this year. They lost Jimmy Graham and his 20 odd red zone targets and they haven’t really replaced him either so again, if you are expecting Russell Wilson to post similar numbers like he did last year then someone is going to shine. A sleeper type might be Jaron Brown but I am not expecting anything out of Brandon Marshall as I think he is done after the year. He may poach a couple of red zone TDs because he is still a large bloke but he doesn’t really fill me with confidence. One name to remember will be Nick Vannett as their starting TE, he probably wouldn’t be starting on any other team but in the next man up mentality in the NFL, he at least has a good shot to show what he can do. Often, that is all players need.
Overall, I do think Wilson keeps them competitive but the team needs to hit with a few more draft picks in order to surpass the 49ers or Rams. They have far too many holes to fill along virtually all positions outside of QB and LB to mount a serious run at the playoffs.
#4 Arizona Cardinals – Last year – 8-8, SB odds – 150/1 (Blacktype, 100 most) – Division odds – 16/1, o/u – 6.5, some 5.5.
Arizona. My, my Arizona. I was long down on the Cardinals all summer with the departure of Carson Palmer and retirement of Bruce Arians. However, I think they are going to surprise a lot of people.
They have significantly overhauled their coaching staff and their offense but all signs have been trending up for them. The main reason for the arrow pointing upwards? Fantasy stud, and general NFL stud David Johnson is healthy and ready to go. He will be the focal point of the Arizona offence and for some reason, that doesn’t actually bother me because he is that damn good. A lot of people have seemingly forgot his incredible 2016 season when he posted 1239 rushing and 879 receiving yards and an absurd 20 TDs. He isn’t going to get that in 2018 but he will get the volume and he is good enough to carry a team on his own. Let’s not forgot Larry ‘Legend’ Fitzgerald (not his real nickname) who despite just turning 35 is still locked and loaded for another 100 catch season. The pieces around him may be slightly fuzzy but when your options this year and Larry Fitzgerald 1 and then David Johnson 2 then you can still have a shot. Outside of those two guys though, it gets a little fuzzy. Christian Kirk was a good college player but figures to be more of a slot guy, and Fitzgerald is already there so his opportunity may be limited. Ricky Seals-Jones is a trendy sleeper candidate in the TE position as he showed glimpses of what he could do, 3 TDs from 12 catches. All in all, Sam Bradford is just a place holder for the guy they drafted in the first round Josh Rosen. Who was pegged by the majority of analysts as the most NFL ready QB in the draft but the old school attitude of the NFL hierarchy focused on his irreverent nature way more than they should have and from his pre-season showings, he has the tools to come good. What will determine their fate, and their ability to succeed will be their offensive line which has played way above expectation so far and actually look like a decent lineup. Keeping your QB safe and opening up holes for your superstar RB, the offence could help more than they hurt.
On the other side of the ball, they still have a good defence and their new coach Steve Wilks is a defensive minded guy so I would expect them to boast another top 10 type unit. All Pro CB Patrick Peterson locks down the best receiver on the opposition which often frees up time and space for his team mates to either generate turnovers or pressure the QB. Deonne Buchannon and Chandler Jones are such guys racking up huge tackle numbers and some of the best at their respective positions. I love their team defence and if it wasn’t for them playing in the same division as the Niners, I would target their D in fantasy every year. They have enough confidence in their safety corp that they let Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu walk out the door as a free agent so while that might seem insane, I kind of think they have a plan and can fill his production with who they have, mostly in the shape of Budda Baker who can be a big producer in this league.
With all the above in mind, I do think that Arizona will firmly place themselves at the bottom of the division but I don’t feel that it is all doom and gloom. NEXT year will be key for them as Fitzgerald is likely to retire and then after him, they will have no one of note catching passes other than David Johnson.
- Seahawks u8.5 wins – 10/17 (365) – 4 points
The Rams are rightfully fairly short in the Superbowl betting, if you think they can do it, and let’s be fair, I don’t think any of us would be shocked then you can get 25/1 on them over at Redzone right now.