It’s time for Regular Season Predictions! For this article I’ll be predicting the 2018 NFC West teams, predicting the worst record they could have (Floor) and the best (Ceiling). Let’s not waste any time dealing with the last division to predict.
1. Los Angeles Rams
Entering week 1 in 2017 the Rams were a joke. Entering week 1 in 2018 and there’s extremely high predictions for a roster suddenly loaded in talent. From the NFL’s worst offense in 2016 to the absolute best in 2017, the new additions and head coach Sean McVay have done wonders turning this franchise into a first class organization.
After an 11-5 finish in 2017 and an early postseason exit, the Rams weren’t satisfied and went all out to build what may be a Super Bowl caliber roster. This offseason alone, LA traded for receiver Brandin Cooks, cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, traded linebacker Alec Ogletree, receiver Tavon Austin, and defensive end Robert Quinn, and notably signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Does this feel like a Dream Team scenario much like the 2011 and 2015 Eagles? A little, but I really appreciate how aggressive the Rams are in an attempt to win a Super Bowl on a rookie quarterback contract.
Jared Goff was awful in his rookie season. Jeff Fisher played a part, as well as a bad offensive line and limited receivers, but his lack of accuracy and poise made him look like an undrafted free agent rather than the #1 overall pick. With that said, he took steps forward in 2017 and played to a competent level. His accuracy and poise developed in the process, and he actually looked like he belonged on the field.
Granted, a lot of Goff’s play was based on the system he was in as well as the players who were around him. Sean McVay installed a play action, option heavy spread offense that constantly gave Goff great looks as well as put his players in position to get in the open field. McVay is a genius young mind that is helping innovate the NFL’s play calling possibilities one step at a time.
With Sammy Watkins gone, Brandin Cooks is expected to take his role. Cooks is not as versatile as Watkins, but he’s a fine vertical receiver. The issue is will he attract the same attention Watkins did against defenses so that other receivers can get open? Outside of Cooks, Robert Woods got the respect he deserved and had an extremely efficient season in 2017. Cooper Kupp’s hands are inconsistent, but he’s an excellent route runner with a nice catch radius. If Kupp can catch with more consistency, he’s going to be a great receiver in this league.
Todd Gurley didn’t rebound in 2017 so much as be put in a system that gave him breathing room. Even then, Gurley was still running with authority, hurdling guys, showing great breakaway speed, and developing into one of the game’s standout receiving backs. He is perhaps the best running back in football and is locked in with the Rams for a long time. John Kelly has a long way to go but the rookie is a fan favorite.
At tight end, Tyler Higbee is a talented starter, but Gerald Everett shows more upside. Either way, the team is set at tight end. The moves the team made at offensive line last season paid off. Andrew Whitworth is old but is still a quality left tackle, while Roger Saffold is a great left guard, John Sullivan has been a big upgrade at center, and Rob Havenstein (along with Sullivan) cashed in on an extension in the offseason.
The Rams don’t have the most depth on defense, but the starting unit should be a top ten unit. Aaron Donald, fresh off the holdout, is the second highest paid defensive player in NFL history, and he deserves every penny of guaranteed money. Donald is the best defender in football, forming a one man army against double coverage as well as flawlessly executing the swim move to school linemen. Next to him at defensive tackle is Ndamukong Suh, forming the best defensive tackle tandem in football.
Michael Brockers can play both defensive tackle and defensive end, and it helps that he’s also a quality player. The weakness for the defense comes from the linebackers, and that may be a problem covering against receiving backs and tight ends.
Still, the secondary should be great as long as the personalities are controlled. Marcus Peters is a top five corner with phenomenal vision and timing, while Aqib Talib and Sam Shields add veteran presence and depth at the position. Nickell Robey-Coleman is a high quality slot defender, the development of safety John Johnson will be something to watch, and Lamarcus Joyner has been really good at free safety.
If there’s issues with the team, it’s that the depth up front isn’t great despite the excellence starting, the linebackers could be a weak spot, the offensive line is a little old, and Jared Goff needs to take more steps in the right direction (his playoff game against the Falcons last year was surprisingly impressive). Still, it’s not hard to see why many are predicting this team goes to the Super Bowl. This is an impressively built team that is taking many risks that can lead to rewards.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have been hyped as the team that stands as the greatest threat to the Rams in the NFC West, and yeah, I agree. The young talent is enticing and there’s many players that can take huge steps in development and pay off for the franchise.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s arrival via trade last year ended with a 5-0 record in games he started. His ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly makes him a perfect fit in Kyle Shanahan’s West Coast spread. Garoppolo needs to improve his footwork and limit throwing the ball to defenders, as the luck he had last year won’t be sustainable this season. However, he’s an upgrade over Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard, and he’s at least able to play at an NFL speed.
The offense suffered a huge blow with the loss of Jerick McKinnon for the season. McKinnon was expected to be an every down, versatile back under Shanahan’s offense, but in his absence Alfred Morris and Matt Breida get their chances to shine. Breida flashed here and then some in his rookie season, and Morris, familiar with the Shanahan system, could be in line for a big role in the offense. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk is a stud athlete, and is an explosive, fast option in small doses in the passing game.
The receiving corps is young but remains interesting. Pierre Garcon at 100% would be big, as he has been one of the more consistent receivers of this generation. Marqise Goodwin developed into an explosive, speedy vertical threat for the 49ers, adding some additional playmaking ability on screens. Trent Taylor looks like a good slot receiver, while either one of Dante Pettis, Kendrick Bourne, and Richie James could have a bigger role in this offense. All six guys are talented in their own individual ways, giving the 49ers a diverse group of receivers to work with.
George Kittle is second on the depth chart behind Garrett Celek at tight end, but he was valuable in his rookie season given his draft selection. The offensive line is going to be a better unit this season. Weston Richburg is an upgrade at center, as is the rookie Mike McGlinchey at right tackle. Joe Staley still has a few good years left in him at left tackle, and Laken Tomlinson solidifies that group as a solid unit.
Solomon Thomas was considered a disappointment in his rookie season, but the defensive end was impressive in the preseason, and looks like a rising star. Reuben Foster is suspended for the first two games of the season but his return would be big to an otherwise vague linebacker group. DeForest Buckner is a phenomenal young defensive tackle with the quickness and snap timing of a defensive end. He should have a huge year.
Outside of Richard Sherman (who is on a prove it deal coming off an Achilles injury), the 49ers secondary is young, with the average age of the non-Sherman starter being 25. Sherman, the former Seahawk rival, has to play at 100%, otherwise the 49ers will be relying on a bunch of unknown players. Adrian Colbert could be a nice breakout seventh rounder in his sophomore season, though.
Depending on Garoppolo’s play and the quality from the defense, the 49ers will either have a really good team or an average/slightly above average one. Kyle Shanahan’s genius will make the team highly competitive in their quest for a playoff birth, but it’s on the younger players to continue to develop, flash, and improve their craft for the 49ers to truly shine in the NFC.
3. Seattle Seahawks
It’s sad to see a once great team like the Seahawks fall this far in terms of talent. One the more dominant teams from 2012 to 2016, Seattle’s reign of terror ultimately ended in 2017, missing the playoffs for the first time in the Russell Wilson era.
Speaking of, Wilson as a passer was not as consistent as in previous years, missing a shocking amount of throws downfield while throwing with a more elongated motion and not taking care of the ball as well as he had in previous years. Granted, he still put together a good season, and a large portion of his inconsistency can be blamed on the offensive line. With Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham gone, however, things are going to be even more difficult for Seattle’s prized mobile superstar.
Instead, the team is rolling with guys with Jaron Brown, 34-year-old Brandon Marshall, and Tyler Lockett (a fine receiver in his own right, but not a premiere guy). Doug Baldwin remains phenomenal, but his knee injury remains a concern early on. Nick Vannett has had little experience as a receiving tight end, so a lot of pressure is on him to replace Jimmy Graham.
The Seahawks have four talented running backs that will most likely be wasted by the offensive line and misunderstood by the public. Chris Carson was a solid back last year, Rashaad Penny was good in college, Mike Davis is an explosive, quick back that contributes well as a runner and a receiver, and C.J. Prosise is an extremely talented player whose health has been the main reason why his career hasn’t panned out. J.D. McKissic, another solid receiving back, is currently on injured reserve.
The once proud Seattle defense is a shell of itself, but there’s still some talent. Frank Clark is in line for a big year as a full-time starting defensive end for the first time, and Bobby Wagner is perhaps the best linebacker in football. Rookies Shaqueem Griffin (joining his brother Shaquille) and Rasheem Green look to make an impact, and that’s big because of the decline in quality talent from the offseason. Earl Thomas is a phenomenal safety that’s ending his holdout at last, but this is probably his last season in Seattle.
This is shocking to say considering how good Seattle has been in the past, but without Russell Wilson, this might be one of the least talented rosters in football. The offensive line is terrible, the receiving corps is nowhere near as good as in previous years, and the defense should see a steep decline. Having Brian Schottenheimer as the offensive coordinator is questionable as well.
I don’t see this team being all that good this year.
4. Arizona Cardinals
With the retirement of both Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians, the Cardinals are starting a new era with Sam Bradford/Josh Rosen and Steve Wilks.
Sam Bradford is phenomenally accurate when healthy, but it’ll take a miracle for him to come close to 100% again. It doesn’t help that he’s with another team with a bad offensive line. Josh Rosen is inconsistent, but shows promise as a vertical passer.
In terms of skill player talent, the Cardinals are pretty similar to the Seahawks. David Johnson is finally healthy, and he’s easily one of the five best backs in all of football. His domination as a runner and a receiver is a game changer for Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald has been the ageless wonder for so long that we have to trust that this will continue to an extent in 2018. Christian Kirk is an enticing rookie, while Ricky Seals-Jones is a talented tight end that could break out this year.
Outside of that, the rest of the skill players are mediocre at best. In regards to the offensive line, rookie Mason Cole is starting at center, which should tell you how promising he can be in addition to how bad this unit is as a whole.
Fortunately, the defense has plenty of talent. Chandler Jones is easily one of the best pass rushers in the league, Robert Nkemdiche could do big things in his junior year at defensive tackle, Deone Buchanon is a quality linebacker, and Haason Reddick is also a talented linebacker that needs to develop more consistency in his sophomore season. Buddha Baker had a nice rookie season last year at safety, and Patrick Peterson is one of the better cornerbacks in the league. Starting Jamar Taylor at right corner is an odd move, though.
The defense and David Johnson should help keep this team watchable. If Sam Bradford actually makes it through in one piece, the Cardinals can be above average. But with the flaws at offensive line and some questionable decisions in the secondary, this team isn’t ready to compete yet, and I doubt the quarterback position will be in good hands this season.