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2020 NFL Preview: NFC West


Photo Credit to Chris Korman, USA Today Sports

Written by Stephen Brown III


2020 NFL Preview: NFC West

Now that we’ve covered the AFC, let’s head over the NFC side of things. And I’m going to begin with what will, in my opinion, be the most exciting and strongest division in football. With three teams making the playoffs via the wild card this year, I think this is the one division in football that has a chance to send all four teams to the playoffs.

San Francisco 49ers, Last year record: 13-3, 1st place

Last year, the 49ers became the biggest surprise in the NFL. Many thought this team was still at least a year away from being legitimate contenders. But instead, then ran roughshod through the NFL and made it all the way to the Super Bowl. They were one quarter (or even one completed deep pass to Emmanuel Sanders) away from being Super Bowl champions. Now, this team will be looking to make it back so that Kyle Shannahan can finally get the Super Bowl monkey off his back.

Offensively, this team is very similar to last year. They did lose Emmanuel Sanders but they replaced him via the draft with Brandon Aiyuk. While Aiyuk may not be as immediately polished as Sanders, he provides the team with a ton of potential and upside. If used properly, he could provide a huge lift to this offense. The other big addition to this team on offense is Trent Williams. The Niners traded for the disgruntled tackle this offseason. Even though Williams is older and took a year off, he’s still an elite level tackle who should provide a huge boost to a line that was already excellent last year.

On defense, this top 5 unit really only lost DeForest Buckner. However, they drafted his replacement in the first round by selecting Javon Kinlaw, one of the top defensive players in the draft. The biggest loss this team would have suffered was losing defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Despite being a finalist for the Browns’ job, he ultimately wasn’t offered the position.

With nearly everyone coming back on both sides of the ball (including the coordinators), there’s no reason this team shouldn’t be good again. However, for some reason, the losing Super Bowl team nearly always struggles the following year. In the last five years, the Rams and Panthers missed the playoffs following a Super Bowl loss and the Falcons only made the playoffs through the Wild Card and lost in the divisional round. So, while on paper, this team should be rock solid, a tough division and a first-place schedule could result in some regression.

Final Record: 11-5

Seattle Seahawks, Last year record: 11-5, 2nd Place

After the Legion of Boom was dismantled, people had low expectations for this team. However, Russell Wilson showed that even without an elite defense or elite offensive weapons, he can carry his team to the playoffs. Last year, his team was literally one inch away from beating the Niners in week 17 to secure the one seed. Instead, they were stuck being a wild card team. After defeating the Eagles, they lost to the Packers in the divisional round. Offensively, this team once again decided to not get Russell Wilson any help. Their offensive line is still average at best as are their skill position players. The only major addition to the offense is the signing of tight end Greg Olsen, who, while excellent, is older and past his prime. While he may be a reliable target for Wilson, he’s not the dynamic threat this offense needs. What this offense truly needs is a new OC. Brian Schottenheimer loves to pound the rock for most of the game and then use the passing game when they are losing late in the fourth. If he would mix in more passing earlier in the game, this team would be perennial Super Bowl contenders instead of perennial underdogs.

Defensively, this team was not very good last year. They were ranked 21st in DVOA according to Football Outsiders. They return a lot of the same players, such as Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright, and Quandre Diggs. However, they did make one huge addition: they traded for Jamal Adams. Jamal Adams is one of the best safeties in football. This defense was ranked 16th and 23rd in passing and rushing DVOA respectively according to Football Outsiders. A versatile player like Jamal Adams can help in both those respects. Adams Is not only good in coverage, he’s excellent close to the line of scrimmage. While Adams may not vault this team to be a top 10 defense, he’s an impact player who should help get this team a couple of extra wins.

As long as Russell Wilson is the QB of this team, they will never be bad. He’s, in my opinion, the best quarterback in football. If he had a better offensive coordinator, he would be in the same conversation as Patrick Mahomes (in fact, put him in that Chiefs offense and I bet he has as good if not better numbers than Mahomes). Without Wilson, this team is probably under .500. But with him, they are a playoff team. And once they make the playoffs, they are dangerRuss.

Final Record: 12-4

Los Angeles Rams, Last year record: 9-7, 3rd Place

Ever since Sean McVay took over this team, they have been exciting. After struggling for years, they finally have some consistency. In McVay’s three seasons, they have been 11-5, 13-3, and 9-7. Last year’s down year was due largely to a lack of consistency from Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, two of their key pieces the previous two seasons. Unfortunately for this team, they are in an excellent division, so there may not be much room for improvement.

On offense, this team didn’t make too many changes. The most significant change was moving on from Todd Gurley. They replaced him via the draft with Cam Akers. Considering how well running backs seem to plug into this system, I’m sure the run game lead by Akers and Darrell Henderson will be just fine. At receiver, this team lost their deep threat, Brandin Cooks. However, they did add Van Jefferson in the second round of the draft. Jefferson was an excellent receiver at Florida, where he was the top receiver there for two straight years. Overall, this team should still be fine on offense but might need to add a few wrinkles if they want to get enough wins to compete for the division.

Defensively, this team is very similar to last year. They still have perennial DPOY candidate Aaron Donald leading the defense. They return some key pieces such as Jalen Ramsey, Taylor Rapp, Samson Ebukam, and Michael Brockers. The big addition to this defense was the signing of former Bears first-round pick, Leonard Floyd. While Floyd never quite lived up to expectations in Chicago, a change of scenery or scheme might be all he needs to become a star player on this defense.

As long as Sean McVay is in LA, there will always be high expectations for this team. His innovation on offense is what propelled this team to relevance. However, after getting embarrassed by Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl, things just haven’t seemed the same for him. Hopefully, a year removed from his Super Bowl hangover, McVay can get this team back on track as Super Bowl contenders rather than just the third-best team in a strong division.

Final Record: 7-9

Arizona Cardinals, Last year record: 5-10-1, 4th Place

The last couple of years have been rough for Arizona. After a successful run with Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer, the team went 7-8-1, 8-8 (both with Arians), and then 3-13 in their one season with Steve Wilks. However, they hired Kliff Kingsbury to try to bring his college-style air raid system to the NFL. After drafting Kyler Murray with the first overall pick, the team had a slow start to the season. However, as the season progressed, so did Murray and Kingsbury. Even though they were 5-10-1, they showed signs of being ready to take the next steps.

On offense, this team will look to build on their success from last year. Murray will be in this system for a second year, which is when we tend to see QBs make huge leaps. Also, this team added a decent wide receiver by the name of DeAndre Hopkins. This team has a lot of exciting, young receivers with Christian Kirk, KeeSean Johnson, and Andy Isabella. However, none of them are a number one receiver or really even number two. With Hopkins and the ageless Larry Fitzgerald leading the way, the pressure should be off the young receivers, allowing them to excel. This team also added Maxx Williams at tight end, which just adds another weapon to a stacked unit. This offense alone should be strong enough to win against any team in the league.

Fortunately for the offense, the defense also looks pretty solid. This team was ranked 20th in DVOA last year according to Football Outsiders. However, that should change this year. First, they return a lot of their key assets such as Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, Budda Baker, and Byron Murphy. However, they also added some key pieces to the front seven such as Jordan Phillips, who had 9.5 sacks for the Bills last year, and Jordan Hicks. The final key addition to this defense is Isaiah Simmons. Simmons was their first-round pick this year. He was a swiss army knife for the Clemson defense last year and will look to do the same in the NFL. Simmons can play every position on the field and, if used correctly, will be a huge contribution to this defense.

This team is absolutely trending in the right direction. If they were in any other division in football, they would likely be right up there as contenders. At the very least, this team will be a lot of fun to watch. And who knows, with a few lucky breaks and some great play from both sides of the ball, this team could be dark horse winners of the NFC West.

Final Record: 9-7

I am so excited to follow this division this year. I truly think any team could potentially win the division. However, unlike other divisions, this division could be won by anyone because each team has the potential to be so good. And as long as these teams don’t cannibalize each other too bad, this division could legitimately send all four teams to the playoff.

Final Standings

Seahawks: 12-4

49ers: 11-5

Cardinals: 9-7

Rams: 7-9


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