NFC West Preseason Preview
The West has been one of the strongest divisions in the NFL with three of the last four NFC Super Bowl representatives from the West and a wild card out of the division each of the last four years as the division has 12 postseason wins in that four-year span. Most expect Arizona and Seattle to be serious contenders in 2015 while the NFL is finally back in Los Angeles in the return season for the Rams.
Over/Under Win Total: 9.5 (-165 OVER, +135 UNDER)
Odds to win the NFC West: 7/5
Odds to win the NFC: 6/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12/1
STAFF CHANGES: The Cardinals promoted James Bettcher before the 2015 season to defensive coordinator and he had a strong season replacing Todd Bowles. Head Coach Bruce Arians has retained assistants Tom Moore and Harold Goodwin to lead the offense again in 2016 as most of the staff has returned after the team lost in the NFC Championship last season.
KEY POSITON BATTLE: Center
The Cardinals expect A.Q. Shipley to be the starting center but 4th round draft pick Evan Boehm has put a lot of pressure on in camp, impressing after a strong career at Missouri. Earl Watford is another versatile lineman that will get looks at center. Shipley’s job looks safe but the team will be excited to see Boehm in live game action.
OTHER POSITIONS TO WATCH: There is a lot of sorting out to do in the secondary with three starting spots potentially open at corner and safety and solid groups of players competing. There will also be special teams tests done to organize those groups. The defensive line will also be under watch for the Cardinals in the preseason.
SEASON OUTLOOK: The season ended poorly with an ugly loss to Carolina in the NFC Championship but it was a great season for the Cardinals with a 13-3 record and a dominant point differential on the season. Arizona figures to be on the short list of NFC favorites and they have a very favorable early season as the Cardinals could be the pace-setters in September and October.
[displayProduct type=”carousel” sort=”oldest” productnamecolor=”#ffffff” pricecolor=”#ffffff” textcolor=”#ffffff” carousel=image,title,price,button,excerpt]
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Over/Under Win Total: 7.5 (+120 OVER, -150 UNDER)
Odds to win the NFC West: 15/2
Odds to win the NFC: 33/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 66/1
STAFF CHANGES: Some expected a change after the announcement that the team was moving from St. Louis to Los Angeles but Jeff Fisher is a native to the area and played his college ball at USC, looking like a great candidate to lead the renewal of the NFL in the area despite four straight losing seasons with the Rams. Five assistants were released in January however including changes on special teams, running backs, and wide receivers positions. Rob Boras is the team’s new offensive coordinator, promoted from leading the tight ends while Gregg Williams is the defensive coordinator.
KEY POSITON BATTLE: Quarterback
The Rams traded to get the #1 pick in April’s draft and selected Jared Goff out of California. He may get a chance to start right away as Nick Foles was recently released. Case Keenum has some NFL experience and looks like the main option if Goff is not deemed ready to start from Week 1. Sean Mannion is also on the roster after briefly appearing once last season in his first season out of Oregon State.
OTHER POSITIONS TO WATCH: Cory Harkey and Lance Kendricks are holdover tight ends with the departure of Jared Cook to Green Bay. The Rams also drafted both Tyler Higbee and Temarrick Hemingway as the position could turn over significantly. The Rams could be without both of last season’s starting safeties as Rodney McLeod signed with the Eagles and T.J. McDonald had an off-season incident that may leave his role in question. Kenny Britt and Brian Quick could be pushed by rookie Pharoh Cooper at wide receiver as well.
SEASON OUTLOOK: Enthusiasm will be high with the move to Los Angeles but the Rams reside in a tough division and the move will increase the travel demand significantly in a year where the Rams will also give up a home game to play in London. Los Angeles has some talented pieces on defense and at times the unit shined last season but getting consistent results from the offense has been an ongoing problem throughout Fisher’s tenure with the franchise.
[displayProduct type=”carousel” sort=”newness” productnamecolor=”#ffffff” pricecolor=”#ffffff” textcolor=”#ffffff” carousel=image,title,price,button,excerpt]
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Over/Under Win Total: 5.5 (-115 OVER, -115 UNDER)
Odds to win the NFC West: 20/1
Odds to win the NFC: 40/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100/1
STAFF CHANGES: Chip Kelly was fired before last season ended in Philadelphia and while the Eagles were a big disappointment last season Kelly has a winning NFL record in three seasons. He inherits a challenging situation in San Francisco as Jim Tomasula was released after just one season. Kelly brought on former Lions assistant and Curtis Modkins as his offensive coordinator, a role he had with the Bills from 2010-12. Leading the defense is Jim O’Neil who was the defensive coordinator with the Browns the past two seasons. A handful of 2015 assistants were retained on the staff including former 49ers fullback Tom Rathman who has been an assistant on the team through four coaching changes.
KEY POSITON BATTLE: Quarterback
The 49ers mostly had better success behind Blaine Gabbert last season, touting a much more accurate arm but lacking the dynamic ground presence of Colin Kaerpernick. Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl just a few years ago and remains the face of the franchise but he is recovering from off-season surgery and the quarterback decision will be the biggest decision Kelly will need to make for 2016. San Francisco did pick up Jeff Driskel in the 6th round of the draft and he will get some snaps in August as well.
OTHER POSITIONS TO WATCH: Cornerback features a group with limited experience but a lot of draft picks have been used on the position in recent years as there should be suitable options. Tramaine Brock started last season and is the most established in the group while Kenneth Acker also saw some productive time last season. Jimmie Ward and Dontae Johnson will be in the mix along with three rookie draft picks led by Will Redmond from Mississippi State who was picked in the 3rd round.
SEASON OUTLOOK: Not much was expected when Chip Kelly took over the Eagles but in year one a division title was delivered, led by unheralded quarterback Nick Foles. Kelly will hope to work similar magic on a 49ers roster that has turned over significantly in recent seasons after the fallout from Jim Harbaugh’s departure two years ago. Delivering a division title with this group in year one would be a remarkable accomplishment as the West appears to have a pair of serious contenders and by most accounts the 49ers were one of the league’s worst teams last season.
[displayProduct type=”carousel” perpage=”3″ productnamecolor=”#ffffff” pricecolor=”#ffffff” textcolor=”#ffffff” carousel=image,title,price,button,excerpt]
Over/Under Win Total: 10.5 (-140 OVER, +110 UNDER)
Odds to win the NFC West: 10/11
Odds to win the NFC: 9/2
Odds to win Super Bowl: 9/1
STAFF CHANGES: Seattle made a few minor changes under Pete Carroll as he enters just his sixth season with the franchise, leading a great run of success. Kris Richard will be in his second season as defensive coordinator and Darrell Bevell remains the offensive coordinator despite annually being in the rumor mill as a potential head coaching hire elsewhere.
KEY POSITON BATTLE: Offensive Line
While the retirement of Marshawn Lynch made the biggest waves the Seahawks also lost Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy in free agency and the running game could suffer greatly. It is a young group and with the team having to pay Russell Wilson and some of the defensive stars the offensive line was not the priority. Garry Gilliam and Bradley Sowell will be in the mix at left tackle while rookie Rees Odhiambo could push Mark Glowinski at right guard. Justin Britt and Patrick Lewis also figure to have a head-to-head battle at center.
OTHER POSITIONS TO WATCH: Running back is assumed to be led by Thomas Rawls but Christine Michael is also back with the team after finding some success late last season after bouncing around with three teams. Three running backs were picked up in the draft led by C.J. Prosise in the 3rd round. A new back-up quarterback will also be on the roster for the Seahawks with free agent Jake Heaps and rookie Trevone Boykin in play for that spot but a veteran could also be signed at some point. The defense figures to remain fierce but the biggest question mark could be at linebacker on the strong side, needing to replace Bruce Irvin. Mike Morgan is a solid option but from other positions Cassius Marsh and Eric Pinkins could get a look in that role.
SEASON OUTLOOK: The Seahawks should remain on the shortlist of NFC contenders. The 2015 team was relegated to a wild card with a handful of narrow losses and with a favorable early season schedule the West could be Seattle’s to reclaim. It would be a surprise if the Seahawks didn’t return to the playoffs but the line and running game will need to hold up once the schedule stiffens in the second half. Now paying their star quarterback a real quarterback salary the Seahawks have had to pinch the numbers in other areas and that could start to show up this season.
[displayProduct type=”box” perpage=”12″ productnamecolor=”#ffffff” pricecolor=”#ffffff” textcolor=”#ffffff” box=image,title,price,button,excerpt]