NFC West; can anyone challenge the Rams?

Based on win totals from 5 UK-based bookies, best prices from Oddschecker.com

In 2021 the NFC West was the best division in football with three teams making the playoffs and the Rams and 49ers making it all the way to the NFC Championship Game. The Rams (just) got the better of the 49ers on that occasion before winning an equally close game against the Bengals to become only the second team (after the 2020 Bucs) to win the Super Bowl in their home stadium. The impressive season for the Rams also included their third division title in five years with Sean McVay as head coach and they remain slight favourites (at 13/10) to retain the division title this year. 

The Seahawks were the only team in the division to miss out on the playoffs, finishing with a losing record for the first (and only) time in the Russel Wilson era. And were it not for a familiar late season collapse it would have been the Cardinals that topped the division. No one would be surprised to see the same three teams back in the playoffs this year and my money is on at least one of them returning to the NFC Championship game. Meanwhile, Seattle will be battling with some of the worst teams in the NFL for the chance to pick the likes of Bryce Young and CJ Stroud in the 2023 draft. 

Neither San Francisco or Arizona have managed back to back playoff appearances since Sean McWay entered the division but both should have a good chance to buck that trend this year. The schedule for the NFC West does get a bit trickier in 2022 though as they will be facing the division most likely to take their crown as best in the league, the AFC West. This will make for some great games for us to watch though. 

Arizona Cardinals

The 2021 Cardinals improved to an 11-6 record and their first playoff berth since Carson Palmer was on the roster. They started hot and jumped out to a 7-0 record before an all too familiar end of season slump saw them lose their final five homes games. The disappointing end to the regular season carried over to the playoffs where they were beaten handily by the Rams in the Wild Card round. 

The off-season revolved around them eventually getting a new deal done with franchise QB Kyler Murray which included that infamous “study time” clause, as well as trading for his college teammate “Hollywood” Brown. Both Brown and second year receiver Rondale Moore will have to step up to fill the void left by DeAndre Hopkins six game suspension and Christian Kirk’s free agency move to the Jags.

Arizona enter the season with a relatively low win line of 8.5 with most bookies which reflects the tougher schedule they will face, including the hardest run of home games in the league. While some have doubts over the competence of head coach Kliff Kingsbury I think I would take the over there. They have improved their record every year under this coaching staff and I see no reason why they can’t be around the 10-11 win mark again this year. Bet365 are also offering a 9.5 win total at 6/4 if, like me, you think they hit double figures. But I do think the Rams and 49ers will have more about them so I wouldn’t take them to win the division at 7/2. 

In terms of player props, Murray’s passing yards line is 3,950.5 with Paddy Power which I think I would take given he had almost 3,800 last season and missed four games. If you like the under you can get 4,050.5 with SkyBet. If he hits those numbers and the Cards get double figure wins you’d like to think he has a shot to win the MVP at 20/1. I think it’s more likely Josh Allen or one of the older guys win it but so do the bookies so he could be a good outsider bet. 

I also like Brown to top his receiving yards line of 875.5 as well but I don’t think I would bet anything meaningful on it. On the ground we are almost certainly going to see touchdown regression from James Conner after rushing for 15 last year. You can get 9.5 as the line with Bet365 which is definitely tempting. 

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams went all in last season and it paid off in the only way it could, with them walking away with the Lombardi trophy in February. It seemed like all of their big moves paid off after trading for Stafford before the season started and acquiring both Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr either side of the November trade deadline. Stafford obviously played a big role in taking the offence to the next level but both Miller and Beckham came up big in the playoffs and will be missed this season. Allen Robinson and Bobby Wagner are the key new recruits this year and if the camp reports are anything to go by, Robinson is in for a big year. Wagner had his lowest PFF grade since 2015 but will be a solid addition to a defence that already includes superstars Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. 

The Rams have a top 10 roster again this year and the only concern will be the health of Stafford’s elbow. The team have been downplaying it through the preseason but I suspect we will see him sitting out a lot of practices once the games get going. This isn’t necessarily an issue for someone like Stafford but it is something to keep in mind given they have the second hardest schedule in the league ahead of them. I think it would make me hesitant on taking the Rams to win the division again but they should be a lock to make the playoffs and we know if they make it there, they are going to have as good a chance as anyone else to win it all. 

While Aaron Donald is still playing football (and not swinging helmets) he is going to be in the frame for the Defensive Player of the Year award. He is 8/1 to win it for a fourth time with Paddy Power which is probably better than the 14/1 you can get for Stafford to be MVP. Cooper Kupp took home the Offensive Player of the Year award last year but that hasn’t been retained since the early 2000’s so I’d give that a miss this time around at 12/1.

Kupp ended the season with 145 receptions, 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns which was enough to lead the league in all categories and make him the first player since 2005 to win the “triple crown”. If I’m honest I don’t think he is going to get particularly close to those numbers again this year and I wouldn’t be backing him to lead the league but I do think the bookies might be anticipating too much of a decline. Paddy Power are offering the lines at 109.5 receptions, 1,275.5 yards and 11.5 TD’s. I think that at minimum the yardage line is worth looking at (odds are 5/6)

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco 49ers

After trading up to third pick in the 2021 draft to take Trey Lance, the 49ers went with Jimmy Garoppolo as their QB1 last season with Lance’s only two starts coming when Garoppolo was unavailable through injury. It’s all change this season though as Lance was named the starter early in the offseason. With no trade materialising, Garoppolo is still on the roster for now and recently reworked his contract so that the Niners weren’t paying him a starter’s salary just to warm the bench. 

While they had a relatively quiet offseason the 49ers still have a defence that ranks in the top 5 according to PFF and the prospect of Lance leading a Kyle Shanahan offence is exciting. Fantasy football players in particular are aware of Lance’s “rushing floor” that saw him run for 120 yards on the ground in those two starts last year, he seems to be a perfect fit for Shanahan’s offensive scheme. How he is able to perform as a passer and how well he looks after the ball will determine just how high the ceiling is for the 49ers in 2022. And despite the tough schedule for the rest of the division, the 49ers have escaped with the eighth easiest in the league and so Lance should get every opportunity to prove he has what it takes. 

If the defence is able to stay healthy and Lance is able to be at least a middle of the road passer, I think they have a great chance of upsetting the Rams and taking the division. They had a lacklustre start last season winning only three of their opening eight games yet still ended as a 10 win team that made it to the Championship game. So I think the 15/8 odds for them to win the division is well enough priced for me to take. 

This is set to be a pretty unique offence with Lance at QB and with Deebo Samuel as the primary weapon and so the player props aren’t going to be easy to pick. But I do think Lance could easily surpass the 500.5 rushing yards line from SkyBet, if you prefer the under then it’s 550.5 at Bet365.  My guess is that he’s closer to 600 (35.3 per game across a 17 game season). And because of the threat of Lance I would definitely take the under on Elijah Mitchell hitting 950.5 rush yards (also with Bet365), chances are he misses a few games with injury to help with this. 

Looking at the receivers is difficult though. Aiyuk is set at only 775.5, he was 50 yards over this while being in Shanahan’s doghouse for half of last season but we just don’t know how often and how well Lance is going to be throwing the ball. Deebo Samuel had 1,400 yards receiving plus 360+ on the ground last year and we can get either 1,200.5 scrimmage yards with Paddy Power or 1,325.5 with Bet365. So you can take your pick on the over or under there but I think I would steer clear. 

Seattle Seahawks

2021 marked the final season for Russell “Mr Unlimited” Wilson with the Seahawks and it was just the second time in his career that he didn’t make the playoffs. The main reason behind this was him missing playing time for first time with a finger injury and then coming back from it way too early. There were rumours prior to last season that Wilson was open to leaving Seattle and a trade materialised in March this year when he was dealt to the Broncos for a package that included two first and second-rounders plus Drew Lock and Noah Fant. 

This means that the Seahawks are going into the 2022 season with Geno Smith and Drew Lock in the quarterback room and will almost certainly be looking to address the position next year. It looks to be Smith that has won the job to start with after Lock’s terrible preseason. Smith filled in while Wilson was out last year and didn’t look awful, but this team is used to Wilson’s magic papering over the cracks, particularly in recent seasons and that just isn’t going to happen with either of these guys. You would have thought that they would have been in the market for someone else but have obviously decided to wait for next year when they will inevitably have a high draft pick in what should be a stacked draft for QB’s. There are also some big losses on the defensive side with Bobby Wagner leaving for the Rams and the likes of Carlos Dunlap and Rasheem Green also moving on. 

We don’t even need to look at the fact they have the toughest road schedule to know that the Seahawks are going to finish at the bottom of this division. I think they will probably nick a couple of wins from their divisional rivals but this is going to be a long season for Seahawks fans and the under on 5.5 wins seems safe

I don’t think I would be taking any player bets on the Seahawks either. The likelihood is the receivers will not hit their lines but I don’t think it’s worth the risk. The only thing I may look at is Metcalf to hit the over on 6.5 touchdowns (he had 12 last year). They are likely to be chasing a lot of games and he did display some chemistry with Smith last year. Someone has to score for them right?  

What should we be betting on?

As I’ve touched on, my favourite bet would be on the 49ers to win the division which you can find at 15/8. I would also be tempted by a 49ers/Rams forecast which you can get at 33/10 on Redzone, if you fancy those two in any order then its evens on SkyBet. Throwing the Cardinals in place of the Rams would make for a more exciting proposition and that takes the odds up to 15/2 and 7/2 respectively. 

The West is the favourite division to win the NFC at 6/4 and second favourite to win it all at 9/2. I do like some of the other teams a little better but if you want to maximise your opportunity there are two genuine contenders here plus the Cardinals not far away from taking the next step. 

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