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NFC West 2021 Preview

Photo Credit: Overtime Heroics

We will preview the NFC West division. The division arguably the strongest division in the NFL. Anyone of these teams can take the division, make the playoffs or make a deep playoff run. It sports some top level QBs, great defenses and terrific coaching. We will break this division down team by team to see who will come out on top.

Los Angeles Rams

Photo Credit: Rambin' Fan

Last Year Finish: 10-6, Lost in Divisional Round to Green Bay Packers

Key Additions: Matthew Stafford – QB (from Lions), WR DeSean Jackson (from Eagles), WR Tutu Atwell (Rd. 2, No. 57 – Louisville)

Key Losses: QB Jared Goff (to Lions), RB Malcolm Brown (to Dolphins), WR Josh Reynolds (to Titans), TE Gerald Everett (to Seahawks), S John Johnson (to Browns)

Outlook: The Los Angeles Rams were one of the most frustrating teams to watch last year. One game they can look impressive against eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay, then the next struggle to beat the New York Giants. Head coach Sean McVay is the golden child and lead this team to a Super Bowl appearance, but the offense has struggled since then. The trade of Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford is the first step in getting the Rams back to the Super Bowl.

In one of the biggest trades of the offseason, Los Angeles sent QB Jared Goff and draft picks for Lions QB Matthew Stafford. McVay basically laid the Rams struggles at Goff’s feet and made him the scapegoat. The Rams offense never was able to open up with Goff, but Stafford is a clear upgrade with the talent around him to make a difference. Stafford has what he never had in Detroit; a team built to win. He has talented WRs in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp to throw to. The duo has been among the best combinations in the league and adding free-agent WR DeSean Jackson will make for a scary offense. But Cam Akers' offseason Achilles’ tear is a huge blow to the offense. RB Darrell Henderson's role will increase the most and the trade for Sony Michel should help offset the loss.

The defense should be a strength, but key losses could take their toll. S John Johnson and CB Troy Hill both signed with the Browns. Michael Brocker, Morgan Fox and Samson Ebukam are also no longer in LA. While Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and Leonard Floyd are the cornerstone of this defense, it’s going to be a task to recreate the dominate ways of this defense.

The Rams will go as far as their cornerstone pieces on both sides will take them. Matthew Stafford makes them Super Bowl contenders because of the possibilities. Coach McVay has to be able to unleash his offensive playbook fully with Stafford because he all out of excuses now. I expect a deep run for this team.

Prediction: 12-5 record

Seattle Seahawks

Photo Credit: USA Today

Last Year Finish: 12-4, Won NFC West, Lost Wild Card round to Los Angeles Rams

Key Additions: TE Gerald Everett (from Rams), WR D'Wayne Eskridge (Rd. 2, No. 56 – Western Michigan), G Gabe Jackson (from Raiders), CB Ahkello Witherspoon (from 49ers)

Key Losses: RB Carlos Hyde (to Jaguars), LB K.J. Wright (FA), CB Shaquill Griffin (to Jaguars), DT Jarran Reed (to Chiefs)

Outlook: The Seattle Seahawks got off to and amazing start to the 2020 season. But down the stretch, the team struggle to find their winning ways. Russell Wilson's up and downplay down the stretch might have been overblown, as he finished with a career high 40 TDs. The Seahawks boasted two 1,000-yard receivers in Seattle, but the offense struggled, and they bowed out in the first round of the playoffs to the Rams.

Russell Wilson was the MVP after the first 6 games of the 2020 season as he posted 28 TDs and only 8 INTs. The Seahawks’ passes the ball on a league high 65% and Russell Wilson was operating at 8.6 yards per pass attempt. But Wilson started to turn the ball over 7 times in 3 games and head coach Pete Carroll began to run the ball a bit more. Through the final 8 games of the season, Seattle called pass plays only 57% of the time. Seattle clearly needs to take care of the ball, but the offensive line needs to hold up for the offense to be a dangerous as last season. Both DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett gained over 1,000 yards in the air, and they will need that two headed monster this season.

Long gone are the days of the “Legion of Boom” defense as the Seahawks allowed 285 passing yards per game last year (31st). Seattle surprisingly decided not to bring back LB K.J. Wright and top CB Shaquill Griffin who cashed in on a nice deal with the Jaguars. The pass rush lead by DE Carlos Dunlap will have to cover up the backend while star S Jamal Adams will make for an interesting dynamic in the secondary. Adams secured the bag in the offense so he should be ready to go.

As long as stud QB Russell Wilson is running the offense in Seattle, there’s no reason to think they can’t be in the playoff conversation. The offensive weapons of DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Chris Carson will keep this offense as one of the best, but the defense will need to improve to be serious Super Bowl contenders.

Prediction: 10-7 record

San Francisco 49ers

Photo Credit: NBC Sports

Last Year Finish: 6-10, Last Place Finish

Key Additions: QB Trey Lance (Rd. 1, No. 3 – North Dakota State), RB Trey Sermon (Rd. 3, No. 88 – Ohio State), RB Elijah Mitchell (Rd. 6, No. 194 – Louisiana), C Alex Mack (from Falcons)

Key Losses: CB Richard Sherman (FA), RB Jerick McKinnon (to Chiefs), RB Tevin Coleman (to Jets), TE Jordan Reed (retired)

Outlook: The 49ers had a terrible season in 2020 as injures at key positions derailed their quest to get back to the Super Bowl. A healthy squad from their Super Bowl LIV push could return the 49ers to playoff contention. This is a mix of young talent and veterans that is run by a great offensive mind.

The elephant in the room is the quarterback contest in San Fran. The 49ers moved the heavens to trade up from No. 12 to No. 3 with the Dolphins in the NFL draft and selected QB Trey Lance. Mac Jones was the heavy favorite to land in San Francisco but GM John Lynch decided to gamble on the major upside of Trey Lance. Lance had only one full year in college and that was against defenses without nearly as much talent. While QB Jimmy Garoppolo was on the roster and led them to the Super Bowl, the best ability is availability. But Jimmy G is healthy and to be honest, Lance can benefit from a year of sitting on the bench and learning.

A Week 2 matchup in MetLife Stadium against the Jets was day from hell, when the 49ers saw three of its key players (Nick Bosa, Jimmy Garoppolo and Raheem Mostert) go down with season ending injuries. Add Greg Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk to the list and this season was lost. But all are returning and hopeful that they can make a run.

The defense is healthy with their star Nick Bosa back on the field. The team however lost Richard Sherman and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is now the Jets head coach. New coordinator DeMeco Ryans doesn't have a lot of coaching experience but should run the same defense (4-3 base and heavy zone coverage). Bosa and Dee Ford will be key to the success of this defense. Add in the emergence of LB Fred Warner, who is one of the best middle LBs in the game, and veteran CB Jason Verrett returned to Pro-Bowl form in 2020.

Whoever ends up under center for the 49ers in 2021 between Jimmy G and Lance will have a nice skill-position players and an offensive guru making the game plan. But the defense will hold the key here also for the 49ers. Expect this team to be a tough out for anyone.

Prediction: 10-7 record

Arizona Cardinals

Photo Credit: GettyImages

Last Year Finish: 8-8, Third Place Finish

Key Additions: WR A.J. Green (from Bengals), RB James Conner (from Steelers), WR Rondale Moore (Rd. 2, No. 49 – Purdue), DE J.J. Watt (from Texans), LB Zaven Collins (Rd. 1, No. 16 – Tulsa)

Key Losses: WR Larry Fitzgerald (FA), RB Kenyan Drake (to Raiders), CB Patrick Peterson (to Vikings)

Outlook: The Cardinals were one of the surprise stories early in 2020, then things came right back to Earth. The Cardinals started 6-3, only to finish 8-8 and lose a tiebreaker with the Chicago Bears for a playoff spot. GM Steve Keim opened the books to bring in newcomers to help push into the postseason for the first time since 2015.

Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury are the key to the Cardinals' fortunes, but there hasn’t been but of that in the desert. Through two seasons they have a 13-18-1 record but the offense went from 21st to 6th in the league. Gone is the legendary WR Larry Fitzgerald to a possible retirement, so enter 10-year veteran A.J Green. In addition, the Cardinals added James Conner, J.J. Watt, Malcolm Butler and Matt Prater in the offseason. They also selected LB Zaven Collins and talented WR Rondale Moore in this year's NFL Draft. The run game with the Edmonds-Conner duo should be a nice balance to the air attack of DeAndre Hopkins and Green. Murray will not be the most dangerous runner in Arizona and the offense will be powered through the tough games.

The Cardinals’ defense is reloaded on all fronts in 2021. The Cards had one of the best pass rushes in the league. The defense generated pressure on over 25% of pass plays, which was 4th highest in the NFL. And they did that without Chandler Jones who was lost to a season-ending biceps injury. While Haason Reddick moved on to Carolina this offseason, but Jones is back and they added J.J. Watt to go with LB Isaiah Simmons, Budda Baker and Zaven Collins to round out the front 7. The have a lot of upside in Arizona on the defensive side of the ball to make life miserable of opposing offenses.

The Cardinals are going all in to take advantage of the roster flexibility by having Kyler Murray on a "cheap" rookie deal. They have one of the best defensive lines in the biz but will it be enough to overcome the teams in their own division?

Prediction: 9-8 record

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