Written by The Blitz Team
The NFL regular season is almost upon us! For all the fans that have been waiting to put the 2017 season behind them, besides Eagles fans, of course, this will give everyone a chance at another run at the Lombardi Trophy. For this month’s All32 series, we are giving an outlook on what to expect from each team and give an idea how the season may turn out. The preseason gave us a little glimpse of how some players and teams are looking so far in 2018, but, that is in the past and ‘real football’ is back again. We don’t know about you, but, The Blitz Team is beyond excited that the 2018 season is here!
The Cardinals were immediately devastated when likely MVP candidate David Johnson dislocated his wrist just 11 carries into the first game. Coming off a 1,200 yard season, expectations were high for the third year back. Instead, he was sidelined. However, things didn’t look as bad as expected, as they had the classic duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer. Palmer was coming off a good year, but in week 7, he went down with an arm injury and missed the rest of the year. The Cardinals finished with an 8-8 record, held up by only their defense. The offseason was interesting, as it began with head coach Bruce Arians and QB Carson Palmer retiring and Tyrann Mathieu signing with the Texans. Things turned around quickly though as they drafted Josh Rosen 10th overall and stole Christian Kirk in the second round, after signing QB Sam Bradford a month before. Bradford missed most of last season, but in 2016 he had over 3,500 yards and 20 touchdowns. As a person who fell off after his rookie year, he could be the perfect person to mentor Rosen.
The defense lost a step, as 6 starters found new teams or retired. However, they still have an elite corner in Patrick Peterson and NFL sack leader Chandler Jones coming off the edge. The offensive line is rebuilding with Justin Pugh and Andre Smith at right tackle and guard. With new linemen, David Johnson has a chance to come off injury with a fantastic year. Overall, with so many new pieces in place, there aren’t high hopes for the Cards. Many predict a worse record given matchups against several tough opponents, but they could match or improve their record if they build chemistry. An offense of Bradford, Johnson, Fitzgerald, and Kirk has the opportunity to turn lethal. Losing starters on defense will be detrimental, but they still have star power up front and in back. Steve Wilks, coaching them for the first year, will be the deciding factor in how things end up for the 2015 NFC runners-up.
- Pat Pryor
Los Angeles Rams
Coming off an AFC West title in Sean McVay’s debut season (which resulted in Coach of the Year honors), the Rams are clearly pushing for Super Bowl contention after one of the most aggressive off-seasons in recent years by GM Les Snead. Major additions such as Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and Brandin Cooks will make up one of the most dynamic teams in the league. On paper, this offseason was an influx of significant, All-Pro talent. The challenge may be more from a chemistry standpoint, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Suh and the two corners are incredibly talented, but also have strong personalities. They also traded away starting LB Alec Ogletree, a leader and quality cover man, as well as veteran DE Robert Quinn (each without proven replacements). Perhaps there is no defensive coordinator more fit to piece this talented puzzle together than Wade Phillips, who has a track record of putting players in a position for them to thrive. Expect the interior defensive line and secondary to dominate for Phillips’ defense this season.
Offensively, LA should be able to maintain its incredible resurgence from last season as long as the offensive line can stay healthy and on the field together. All-Pro LT Andrew Whitworth (36) and C John Sullivan (33) are reliable, but another year older, and RG Jamon Brown is set to miss the first two games for violating the substance abuse policy. Todd Gurley is hoping to repeat his stellar 2017 campaign which saw him rack up 2,000 all-purpose yards and 19 TDs. Jared Goff clearly fits McVay’s system and he gets a new toy in Brandin Cooks, who replaces Sammy Watkins as the token deep threat in the offense to give Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods more room to work underneath. It will be interesting to see if the offense can maintain its high level from last season now that teams have a year of film on the McVay/Goff offense. Overall, there is enough talent on both sides of the ball for the Rams to not only repeat as NFC West champions, but to also make a deep playoff run in the loaded NFC.
San Francisco 49ers
2017 was a tale of two halves for Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers. They went 1-10 in their first 11 games, losing nine games in a row and getting their only win against the hapless New York Giants in week 10. But then the team traded for New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and San Fran’s fortunes flipped upside down. Garoppolo went 5-0 in his 5 games as a starter, giving the team and its fans immense hope coming into this season.
The team still had lots of holes despite Jimmy G’s success, and addressed a good number of them this offseason. The offensive line underwent a bit of a makeover, with 9th overall pick Mike McGlinchey sliding in at right tackle and veteran Weston Richburg taking over at center. Versatile rookie Dante Pettis joins Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon to form an underrated receiving corps, and running back Jerick McKinnon provides a bonafide dual threat out of the backfield. On defense, San Francisco made a splash signing by acquiring cornerback Richard Sherman, and overall has a lot of high-upside players.
The difficulty for the 49ers is that they play in a hard division and conference, and will be playing the NFC North this season. That means some big games against Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and an improved Bears team. The Los Angeles Rams are arguably the scariest team in the league on paper, and they play the 49ers twice. And given that the NFC is such a difficult conference, assuming the Rams win the division, a wild card spot will be no cake walk either. Richard Sherman is going to have to return close to his original form, and players like Solomon Thomas, Adrian Colbert, Jaquiski Tartt, and Arik Armstead must take the next step and reach their extremely high potentials. San Francisco’s 2018 will come down to the defense, and this team undoubtedly has the talent to come through.
- Alexander Amir
2018 could be a bounce-back year for the Seahawks. Last season was the first time since 2011 that they both missed the playoffs and failed to win 10 games. There is no doubt that Seattle is entering a new period in its history, both in terms of their division and their conference, as the previously lackluster 49ers and Rams are now creating a lot of buzz and may even be looking towards the Super Bowl. In addition, it is safe to say that the “Legion of Boom” defensive era is now over for the Seahawks. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Michael Bennett, just to name a few, are no longer on the team. Earl Thomas’ contract disputes with the team prevent him from being a sure thing this year at this point. To this end, they did make some moves this offseason to bolster the defense. They signed CB Dontae Johnson and S Maurice Alexander away from divisional rivals (the 49ers and Rams, respectively), as well as defensive tackle Tom Johnson. These moves will not replace all of the star players they have lost due to injuries, retirement, or free agency, but it is definitely a step in the right direction towards ensuring a potential playoff run for the team in an increasingly difficult division.
There is more to be optimistic about for Seattle’s offense, as their running game has the potential to be strong. They recently hired offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who often puts emphasis on the run and ball control, reflecting the general offensive attitude that the team seems to be espousing as of late. The pairing of the (hopefully) healthy Chris Carson and exciting first-rounder Rashaad Penny could potentially be one of the strongest aspects of Seattle's offense. In terms of the passing game, the team retained receivers Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, and added veteran Brandon Marshall. If Marshall still has something left in the tank, he could act as a solid third, if not second, option for the dependable Russell Wilson. Overall, the road looks tough for the Seahawks, but I could see them contending for a wild card spot with the 49ers. I would be very surprised if they surpassed the Rams for the NFC West divisional title this year.
- Phillip Samo