By: Monte Perez
For the past few seasons, the NFC West has been one of the most physical divisions in all of football. Their defense reminds me of the SEC in College Football, they are just bigger, stronger and faster than other divisions. Most experts feel there are at least two Super Bowl contenders to come out of the NFC West. I only see one. Over the past two years, I have predicted 13 out of 16 division winners.
Seattle Seahawks (Projected finish 11-5): Over the past 4 seasons the Seattle Seahawks have been a legitimate contender to win the Lombardi Trophy. There is a simple reason for that; Russell Wilson has been the starting quarterback since 2012. In his 4-year career, Wilson has a completion percentage of 64.7, has thrown for over 13,000 yards, has 118 total touchdowns, only 18 interceptions and has rushed for 2,430 yards. Head coach Pete Carroll is very optimistic about his team. The Seahawks return 17 starters, 9 on defense. For the first time since 2010 RB, Marshawn Lynch will not be in the backfield. I think this is addition by subtraction. Lynch was a great player and a 5-time Pro-Bowl selection but his personality and outspoken ways are now a thing of the past. The offense belongs to Wilson and that is a great thing. Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael could be a two-headed monster at running back. With the physical play of this division, having depth at RB is always a good thing. TE Jimmy Graham struggled in his first season in the Pacific Northwest. In 11 games, Graham had 48 receptions and only 2 TD’s. Graham and WR Doug Baldwin must have big years if they want to compete for a championship. As long as Richard Sherman is in Seattle’s secondary, their team will always be a dominant defense. Sherman cuts the field in half because quarterbacks don’t like to throw in his vicinity.
Arizona Cardinals (projected Finish 10-6): In his last four years as a head coach, Bruce Arians has a record of 9-3, 10-6, 11-5 and 13-3. The window may be closing for the Cardinals, Quarterback Carson Palmer is 36 years old and Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will be 33. The Cardinals running game is a big question mark coming into the season. David Johnson emerged late in the year as someone who can possibly be a featured back. The rookie out of Northern Iowa averaged 4.6 yards a carry in 2015. On defense, free agent Chandler Jones should provide a much-needed pass rush. Jones had 12.5 sacks with New England last season. The DB’s will be led by Patrick Peterson and “The Honey Badger,”Tyrann Mathieu. The Former LSU standout, Mathieu signed a 5-year contract worth $64 million, $35 million guaranteed. If Arizona can get pressure on opposing teams quarterbacks, they can be one of the best defenses in the league. The Cardinals are like the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA. They are very well coached and will win games during the regular season but they are not a threat to win a Super Bowl. Palmer had 4 interceptions (6 total turnovers) last year in the NFC Championship Game. He continues to struggle in the post-season. In 4 playoff games, he has a completion percentage of 56.8, 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
San Francisco 49ers (Projected Finish 8-8): After going 10-6,10-6 and 6-9 the Eagles fired head coach Chip Kelly. San Francisco has its 3rd coach in three years, going from Jim Harbaugh to Jim Tomsula and now Kelly. This may be Kelly’s greatest challenge as a coach. The offensive guru comes to a team that was last in points scored (14.9 points per game). Midway through the season, Colin Kaepernick was replaced at QB by Blaine Gabbert. It appears, on paper, that Kelly’s style would be a perfect fit for Kaepernick. But this may not be the case. Gabbert had a decent season last year throwing for over 2,000 yards in 8 games with 10 touchdowns and completed 63% of his passes. Kaepernick should be ecstatic that Kelly is the head coach. He should have picked him up at the airport and followed him around for months leading up to training camp. If ever a coach can “Make Kap Great Again” it is the Kelly. Their WR’s don’t scare anyone but RB Carlos Hyde could have a pro-bowl like season under this offense. The 49ers Defense was ranked 29th last season. This is definitely their weakness. On the bright side, I love the two former Oregon Duck players who will anchor this defense. Arik Armstead was drafted 17th last season and this year the 49ers drafted DeForest Buckner with the 7th pick. Buckner is 6’7, 300lbs and will be in the conversation for defensive rookie of the year. If Kelly can get this team to 8-8 or 9-7 he should be considered for Coach of the Year.
Los Angeles Rams (Projected finish 6-10): Jeff Fisher has been a head coach in the NFL since 1994. In 21 years on the sidelines, he has had only 6 winning seasons. Fisher has a reputation for being a good coach but you are what your record is. He has become the Doc Rivers of the NFL, a nice guy who is pretty much above criticism. His record with the Rams is 27-36-1. He hasn’t made the playoffs in 6 seasons and hasn’t gotten past the 1st round of the playoffs since 2003. I don’t understand why he is coaching this team? RB Todd Gurley had a great year in his first season in the NFL. The Former Georgia Bulldog won Offensive Rookie of the Year and in 13 games rushed for over 1,000 yards and had 10 touchdowns. Rookie Jared Goff appears to be an NFL caliber QB but every 1st year QB has ups and downs. On defense, four starters are gone from a few years ago, including DE Chris Long. So back to my original question. This team moved to a new city, has a young RB, a rookie QB, and a new look defense but the same mediocre coach? The Rams will never be a legitimate contender as long as Fisher is coaching this team.
I like the Seahawks to make it to the NFC Championships. They will play the Packers and lose to the eventual Super Bowl Champs: Green Bay.
Follow the Sports Whisperer on Twitter: Montjwitter11