2016 NFC West Preview and Predictions
Arizona Cardinals (2015 record: 14-2): The Cards definitely didn’t stand pat after a tremendous 2015, as they made vast improvements in two significant need areas; the offensive line and the pass rush. The former was addressed by adding Evan Mathis, one of the best guards in the NFL. The success of the offense is predicated on the safety and health of Carson Palmer, and Mathis will help keep Carson upright. Palmer’s weapons remain intact, and they are really good weapons. Everyone is aware of WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. We can’t wait to see what a full season of RB David Johnson looks like, especially behind improved blocking. He’s also a very good pass catcher out of the backfield and could be in line for a monster year.
The pass rush (28 sacks without the departed Dwight Freeney) got one of the best in the game when the Patriots curiously dealt the Cards DE/OLB Chandler Jones. Jones is coming off of a career-high 12.5 sacks and could thrive in this defense, especially if draft steal Robert Nkemdiche keeps his nose clean and continues to work hard. Reports have him looking great in camp and he should definitely be an impact player. The rest of the defense remains excellent, especially if CB Tyrann Mathieu returns at 100% from his ACL tear. No reason to think that the Cardinals won’t be in the hunt all season long.
Los Angeles Rams (2015 record: 7-9): QB Jared Goff must be royalty, because the Rams paid a king’s ransom to get him. Seems that they completely forgot what happened to the Redskins after the RGIII debacle. Sure, Goff could prove everyone wrong – but it won’t happen anytime soon, for a few reasons. The Rams simply cannot afford to set Goff up to fail, and he shouldn’t see the field until they address the holes on the line and get some receivers. Case Keenum should be the starter this season, and Goff should hold the clipboard as long as necessary. Working in the offense’s favor is RB Todd Gurley. They took a chance on him and man, did it pay off. He is scary good and could contend for the rushing title. As for the receivers, Tavon Austin is a nice gimmick but is inconsistent as a pass catcher. Behind him is absolutely nothing.
The Rams suffered a couple of big losses in the secondary, and they weren’t addressed. CB Janoris Jenkins bolted for the Giants and S Rodney McLeod jettisoned off to Philly. The strength of the defense, though, continues to be the line where Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, and Michael Brockers are formidable against both the run and pass. The move to the Left Coast will make for a nice news story, but the Rams aren’t going to make many other positive headlines this year.
San Francisco 49ers (2015 record: 5-11): Chip Kelly’s ego train inexplicably found a new stop in the NFL. Luckily, he won’t have to gut this roster like he did in Philly; it’s already been decimated. Want to know how bad it is? Blaine Gabbert could be the starting QB. The starting WRs look to be Bruce Ellington (who?) and (not kidding) Torrey Smith. RB Carlos Hyde has some talent, but can he stay healthy? The only decent lineman is Joe Staley. This offense will be, simply put, bad. The defense won’t be much better. Arik Armstead had a nice rookie season, but there isn’t much else there next to him.
The LB corps was hoping that NaVorro Bowman could return to form after his catastrophic knee injury in 2014; that hasn’t happened and he is nearly worthless against the pass now. The secondary isn’t much either. It’s really hard to believe what’s happened to this franchise. There’s no need to write any more…
Seattle Seahawks (2015 record: 10-6): Don’t let the record fool you; Seattle still maintains one of the best teams in the league. In fact, they were 8-2 after a 2-4 start to the season. QB Russell Wilson had a remarkable season, setting career highs across the board. His WRs finally stepped up, as Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett both had breakout seasons. It remains to be seen what TE Jimmy Graham can contribute after tearing his patellar tendon in week 12. Nobody is ever the same after such an injury, though Graham is known for being a workout warrior. They won’t miss Marshawn Lynch too much – the offense was actually better when Thomas Rawls took over in the 2nd half of the season. OL Russell Okung, however, will be sorely missed. The line wasn’t great with him, so losing him could be a big issue. They also lost fellow starter JR Sweezy, leaving two major holes to fill. They drafted versatile lineman Germain Ifedi, but rookie OLs don’t always fare too well in the NFL, especially of late.
The defense will still be nasty, especially in the secondary. Kam Chancellor finally came to his senses and ended his holdout before week three. He, Richard Sherman, and Earl Thomas remain a dominant trio in the defensive backfield. The front seven will miss Bruce Irvin’s pass rush; the hope is that sophomore Kenny Clark can handle a bigger role. Chris Clemons has returned as well, though he’s mainly a depth player at this point in his career. The rest of the line and linebackers will be rock solid. The battles between the Hawks and the Cards should be outstanding; we certainly can’t wait!
PREDICTED 2016 STANDINGS
Los Angeles 5-11
San Francisco 2-14