NFC West Divisional Breakdown: Garoppolo and the 49ers edge out Wilson’s Seahawks

In a division that has represented the NFC five out of the last ten times in the Super Bowl, I consider the NFC West as the best division in football. Last season, the NFC West division champion San Francisco 49ers almost pulled off a Super Bowl win against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Seahawks and 49ers have primarily dominated the division for the last decade, but this season three teams have a legitimate shot at claiming the division crown.

Per usual, my list is based on odds, win projection totals and team composition from the draft and free agency.

TeamOdds to win DivisionWin Totals2019 Record2019 PF2019 PADIFF

1. San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ersLast season the 49ers had one of their best years since 2013, winning thirteen games en route to a Super Bowl appearance. Although they lost to the Chiefs, the 49ers are in a position to repeat as NFC Champions and should be considered as a legitimate Super Bowl contender this season as they have the best odds (+100) of winning the NFC West. In about three seasons, General Manager John Lynch has transformed a roster with a mix of young talent and proven veterans. Although there are a couple of question marks on offense, I believe that the 49ers could outperform their 10.5 win projection due to their dominant rushing attack and defense.

San Francisco’s success a season ago can largely be attributed to the team’s run game and stifling defense. The 49ers finished behind only the Baltimore Ravens in rushing yards per game last season, averaging 153.5 yards per game. Their dynamic rushing attack was a large part of why San Francisco featured the league’s third-best scoring offense, putting up 29.6 points per contest. Out of the backfield, the team utilized three talented running backs in Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, and Raheem Mostert. The Niners also have running back Jerrick McKinnon, who has yet to play for them due to injuries. Through the air, the Niners were much worse, finishing 21st in passing yards per game (220.7).

On offense, the 49ers have an array of weapons for Jimmy Garoppolo to use. They have arguably the best all-around tight end in the game in George Kittle and an emerging wide receiver in Deebo Samuel. Kittle recorded his second consecutive season with at least 80 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards while making the Pro Bowl and earning First Team All-Pro honors. He made 85 catches for 1,053 yards and 5 touchdowns last season. Rookie Deebo Samuel showed a ton of upside in 2019, recording 57 receptions for 802 yards and 3 touchdowns as well as a place on the All-Rookie team. The team lost wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency, but in doing so should allow Kittle and Samuel to receive a boatload of targets from Jimmy Garoppolo in 2020.

Defensively, San Francisco was among the best in the NFL, ranking 7th in points allowed per game (19.5). A big part of their success was an elite pass-rush, where the team ranked 5th in the NFL in sacks last season with 48. The defensive line was among the best in the NFL, comprising of players such as ROTY Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Dee Ford. Although the team shipped Buckner to Indy, they received an additional 1st round draft pick for the former Oregon Duck.

In free agency, the team traded for Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams who should boost an offensive line that ranked 14th in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. Williams joins a line featuring Weston Richburg, Mike McGlinchey, and Laken Tomlinson. They also re-signed Center Ben Garland and added deep threat Travis Benjamin to a wide receiver corps in need of talent. The team also drafted Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk in the 1st round of the draft. Aiyuk was the 5th highest-ranked wide receiver in a class many experts have said to be the deepest at the position in history. Aiyuk should fill the void left by Emmanuel Sanders and should start immediately across from Deebo Samuel. On defense, the Niners re-signed starters Arik Armstead (DL) and safety Jimmie Ward. Armstead had his best season in the NFL in 2019, registering 54 total tackles and 10 sacks. They also added the second-ranked defensive tackle in the draft in South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw.

2. Seattle Seahawks

Seattle SeahawksThe Seattle Seahawks overachieved last season, finishing with an 11-5 record while making it to the divisional round of the playoffs. The team has been in constant transition since their Super Bowl appearance in 2015. Most of their roster has been gutted since that season, as Bobby Wagner, K.J Wright and Russell Wilson remain as the only players from the 2015 Super Bowl team. Although perhaps not in a position to contend, the Seahawks remain relevant as they have one of the best coaches of all-time in Pete Carroll and an all-time great quarterback in Russell Wilson. They should remain as a considerable threat to compete for the NFC West this year and should outperform their 9.5 win projection if Wilson mirror’s the success he had during the 2019 season.

The Seahawks made huge strides on offense in 2019, finishing 9th in scoring in the NFL with 24.7 points per game. The team features an incredibly balanced attack, ranking 11th in passing yards per game while finishing in the top ten in rushing (131.9 YPG). A considerable amount of the team’s success in recent years has been the play of Russell Wilson. In 2019, Wilson earned a top-5 finish in the MVP race while having one of the best individual seasons to date. The Seahawks’ QB finished with 4,110 passing yards and 106.3 passer rating while putting up 31 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions.

The offense isn’t entirely about Wilson, as the team also features receivers Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, running back Chris Carson and tight end Will Dissly. Lockett has quietly been one of the best receivers in the NFL and had the best season of his career in 2019. The wide receiver recorded 82 catches for 1,057 yards and 8 touchdowns. Rookie wideout D.K. Metcalf could be the steal of the 2019 draft as he contributed 58 receptions, 900 yards, and 7 touchdowns. On the ground, Chris Carson posted his 2nd consecutive 1,000-yard season, compiling 1,230 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns before being sidelined by a fractured hip.

While Seattle may have one of the league’s best offenses, defensively, they were much more average last season. The team finished 19th in scoring defense last season (24.2) and 22nd in rushing defense, allowing 117.3 yards per game on the ground. The team does have some quality players on the defensive side of the ball, though. Bobby Wagner is regarded as the best linebacker in football, and cornerback Shaquil Griffin earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2019. Seattle addressed a ton of needs on defense in the draft, selecting linebacker Jordyn Brooks and defensive end Darrell Taylor in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft.

The addition of Brooks alongside Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright gives Seattle one of the NFL’s best linebacker groups. While Jadeveon Clowney remains unsigned, Darrell Taylor should help a defensive unit that ranked 30th in the NFL in pressure rate last season. Seattle also added former Redskin’s corner, Quinton Dunbar, whom they traded a 5th round draft pick for. In 2019, Dunbar received the 2nd highest cornerback grade by Pro Football Focus. On offense, the Seahawks addressed a porous offensive line by adding veterans B.J. Finney, Brandon Shell, and Mike Iupati. Seattle also added former Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen to a tight end group that already has Jacob Hollister and Will Dissly.

3. Los Angeles Rams

Los Angeles RamsAfter the Rams made the Super Bowl in 2018, they mostly disappointed in 2019. The team finished the season with a 9-7 record and failed to make the playoffs. Many important players were also traded from the team or left in free agency. General Manager Les Snead quickly turned the roster around and made a few critical moves in free agency as well as the draft. Given that the roster has had so much turnover within the last offseason, I’m not quite sure if the Rams are in a place to take the division as they did in 2018.

They currently have the 3rd best odds (+370) to win the NFC West and are expected to win around 8.5 games, behind both the Seahawks and the 49ers. One of the biggest moves during the offseason was the release of running back Todd Gurley, who has been plagued by an arthritic knee the past two seasons. Although Gurley was cut during the offseason, the Rams still owe him about $7.55 million. Veteran linebacker Clay Mathews was also cut to clear cap space. The Rams also agreed to send wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Houston Texans for a 2nd, and 4th round draft picks. By shipping Cooks to Houston, the Rams will incur about $21.8 million in dead money after they gave the wideout a 5-year, $81 million contract extension before the 2019 season.

Although the Rams lost a few key pieces on offense, they still have wide receiver Cooper Kupp, quarterback Jared Goff, and tight end Tyler Higbee. After tearing his ACL in 2018, Kupp recorded 94 receptions, 1,161 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns last season. Kupp’s production may have been an added boost of confidence that the Rams had in trading Cooks, as Kupp proved he’s more than capable of producing WR1 numbers. Jared Goff had a somewhat disappointing season last year after producing the best season of his career in 2018. In 2019, Goff threw for 4,638 yards, 22 touchdowns, but threw a whopping 16 interceptions. Despite his performance last year, I expect Goff to recapture his 2018 form when he threw for 32 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions.

In free agency, the Rams re-signed starting offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth and Austin Blythe. Both should help the Rams improve a line that ranked 31st last season by Pro Football Focus. The Rams also added edge-rusher Leonard Floyd and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson in free agency. The two join a defensive line that already features one of the best defensive players in the NFL in Aaron Donald and veteran Michael Brockers. Brockers re-signed with the Rams after his contract negotiations with the Baltimore Ravens fell through. The two additions to the defensive front should help a defense that ranked in the middle of the pack last year, as the Rams ranked 17th in points allowed per game (22.8). In the draft, Los Angeles added Florida State running back Cam Akers -the 5th ranked running back in the class. They also added former 5-star Alabama linebacker, Terrell Lewis, in the 3rd round of the draft. Lewis provides the Rams with a great value pick and could help a Rams run defense that allowed 113.1 YPG in 2019.

4. Arizona Cardinals

Arizona CardinalsThe Cardinals made the biggest move of the 2020 offseason when they acquired wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans. After finishing 2019 with a 5-10-1 record, the team made a series of significant moves in the draft and free agency. Despite a great offseason, the Cardinals are in the NFC West, a division I believe to be the best in the NFL. Given the circumstances, I could see Arizona outplaying their 7-game win projection, but I could also see them having another year where they underachieve.

Arizona comes off yet another disappointing season in 2019. Despite underachievement throughout the organization, they have shown tremendous improvement compared to previous years. The team ranked 17th in scoring, putting up 22.8 points per game, but also gave up 27.6 points per game, which the 5th worst in the NFL.

In his first season in the NFL, Kyler Murray recorded 3,722 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, good enough to take home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. While the number 1 pick struggled at times, he also showed flashes of his tremendous potential and should have a terrific season in 2020. In free agency, Arizona managed to re-sign WR Larry Fitzgerald, OL Marcus Gilbert and placed the franchise tag on RB Kenyan Drake. Defensively, the Cardinals agreed to contracts with linebackers Devon Kennard and De’Vondre Campbell. The team also reached an agreement with DT Jordan Phillips. All should help a defensive unit that surrendered 120.1 rushing yards per game, 28th best in the NFL.

The Cardinals capped off the 2020 offseason with one of the league’s best drafts, in my opinion. They stole Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons with the 8th pick and also drafted offensive tackle, Josh Jones, in the third round. Scouts widely regarded Simmons as the best linebacker and fourth-best player in his class, so getting him at eight is a huge steal for Arizona. The addition of Simmons gives the Cardinals a terrific linebacking corps, where he Joins Chandler Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, and Jordan Hicks.

Diehard Laker and Seahawk fan. I unfortunately witnessed the Seattle Seahawks passing the ball on the 1 yard line. I hope that sports can unite people and bring them closer together. Current student at Chapman University.

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