NFC West Breakdown
August 12, 2015
By Gary Bart
Editor’s Note: Gary Bart joins the VegasInsider.com pro football handicapping roster this season. Don’t miss out on his selections on VI. Click to win!
The NFC West is one of the most interesting divisions in the NFL. Each team had at least one major change to their organization this offseason.
The Seahawks lost a number of key players and were involved in a blockbuster trade that involved the acquisition of New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham and a fourth round pick for veteran center Max Unger and Seattle’s first round pick. St. Louis sent former first overall pick in 2010 quarterback Sam Bradford to the Eagles for quarterback Nick Foles. Add to that the return of Carson Palmer to the Cardinals from a knee injury and this division has a lot of unanswered questions. Plus, San Francisco will be without Jim Harbaugh as coach and some key veterans across the board.
Odds to win NFC East - per Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
Seattle Seahawks 1/4
Arizona Cardinals 11/2
St. Louis Rams 7/1
San Francisco 49ers 25/1
NFC East Win Totals - per Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
Seattle Seahawks - 11 (Over -125, Under +105)
Arizona Cardinals - 8.5 (Over -120, Under +100)
St. Louis Rams - 8 (Over +140, Under -160)
San Francisco 49ers - 6 (Over -110, Under +100)
Odds Subject to Change – Updated 8.12.15
Listed below are my notes on all four teams and predicted order of finish.
1) Seattle Seahawks
Pete Carroll has guided the Seahawks to a 36-12 record during the past three regular seasons and came within a whisker of winning his second straight Super Bowl last season.
Seattle’s accomplishments have been remarkable. Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid for that success. Most people do not realize the physical toll a run to the Super Bowl places on a team. That toll is magnified for this team as a result of back to back appearances in the Super Bowl and the damage incurred by the loss of a number of starters through free agency and injury.
The Seahawks number one defense has been decimated by the loss of cornerback Byron Maxwell through free agency and defensive back Jeremy Lane to an ACL injury. Add to that the loss of defensive backs Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond last season and this team is vulnerable.
Seattle traded away their first round pick when they acquired tight end Jimmy Graham from the Saints. They drafted Michigan defensive end Frank Clark with the 63rd pick and added free agent cornerbacks Cary Williams and Will Blackmon to fill holes in their defensive backfield.
The Seahawks finished with a 12-4 record last season after getting off to a sluggish 3-3 start. They were talented enough to survive that slow start and make it to the Super Bowl. They will not have that luxury this season. With the fourth most difficult schedule, the loss of key players during the past two years and an improving division, I do not see this team making it to the Super Bowl for a third consecutive year.
2) St. Louis Rams
Jeff Fisher is entering his fourth season as head coach of the Rams with an unimpressive 20-27-1 record. St. Louis made a bold move in the off-season when they traded 2010 first overall pick quarterback Sam Bradford to the Eagles in exchange for Philadelphia’s starting quarterback Nike Foles.
The Rams had nine selections in this year’s draft. They used their first seven picks on offensive players including running back Todd Gurley with the 10th overall pick. The offensive line was terrible last season. They addressed that issue by drafting offensive linemen with their 2nd, 3rd and 5th picks.
The Rams did not sign any impact players through free agency. They were able to re-sign their second leading receiver free agent Kenny Brit to a two-year deal and added depth to their defensive line with the signing of former Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairly.
St. Louis will be an interesting team to follow this season. They have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and have improved their offensive line. I am a Jeff Fisher fan. With the acquisition of Foles and an upgrade on the offensive line this team could surprise a few people.
3) Arizona Cardinals
What a job head coach Bruce Arians has done with the Cardinals. They are 21-11 in two seasons under Arians including a trip to the playoffs last season. He was able to get his team into the playoffs despite losing starting quarterback Carson Palmer for a good portion of last season with a knee injury.
The Cardinals had some interesting statistics. They were ranked 24th in overall offensive and defensive statistics and 24th in points scored.
Arizona needed to address their 31st ranked rushing attack. They accomplished this by drafting offensive tackle D.J. Humphries with their first round pick and Northern Iowa running back David Johnson with their third selection. They also signed 49ers free agent offensive guard Mike Lupati and Colts centre A. Q. Shipley to bolster their running attack.
The Cardinals invested heavily on defense. They used their 2nd, 3rd and 5th picks to select defensive ends and added four defensive players through free agency.
It is hard to tell what will happen with the Cardinals this season. Arians is a very good coach, but I am concerned with last year’s 24th rankings on offense, defense and points scored. I am not sure they have added enough pieces to improve in these areas. I also have concerns about starting quarterback Carson Palmer. He was having a very good season before his knee injury, but has been inconsistent throughout his career. Add this to the 5th hardest schedule, and I do not see this team matching last year’s win total.
4) San Francisco 49ers
Jim Harbaugh is out as head coach. He has been replaced by likeable 49ers assistant coach Jim Tomsula. Despite his success, the knock on Harbaugh was that he was too hard on his players.
The 49ers finished with an 8-8 record last season. There are questions surrounding starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s play. His quarterback rating was second highest in the league last season, but the 49ers finished 30th in overall passing statistics and 25th in points scored. There is no question that part of San Francisco’s problems last season were caused by a drop in Kaepernick’s performance.
San Francisco had the 5th ranked defense in 2014. That didn’t stop them from selecting defensive players with their first three picks in this year’s draft. The 49ers used their other seven selections to fill a number of holes including the addition of Clemson punter Bradley Pinion in the 7th round.
The 49ers have lost a number of players to retirement and veteran running back Frank Gore to free agency. They signed 11 free agents in the off-season including notable running back Reggie Bush to help replace Gore and Ravens wideout Torrey Smith.
This team has the third most difficult schedule in the league and they will be tested early. They open at home on Monday Night Football against Minnesota then travel to Pittsburgh and Arizona for their next two games before returning home to play Green Bay.
This team appears to be in big trouble. The recent loss of former first round draft pick Aldon Smith will make it difficult for this team to match last year’s win total.
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