By the TFL Staff
The NFC West has been one of football’s better divisions over the last 5 years, but last year the Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) ran away with the division by three games. The Cardinals experienced a big disappointment while the L.A Rams couldn’t figure out what offense is. Those two teams look for bounce back years, along with the 49ers who can only get better after only winning two games last year.
Offensive Player of the Year- Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Russell would have, and should have been an MVP candidate last season, but in all honesty his own team let him down. This division seems very favorable for the Seahawks to put up big numbers this season, and Russell has yet to show me any decline as a quarterback in this league. Wilson had no room for error last season given that his line couldn’t block. The Seahawks were unable to keep significant players on the field, and their replacements were much worse. And when Wilson was tasked with making up the difference, he wasn’t quite good enough to do it.
Wilson seems primed for a strong season. Jimmy Graham found his groove in the Seattle offense last season and should be even better next season. If Thomas Rawls is healthy then the running game should be stronger, and Seattle’s division rival the Arizona Cardinals lost several key pieces on defense making those games easier. Wilson could easily be one of the top MVP candidates by season’s end.
Wilson had huge expectations heaped upon him from the outside and from within the Seahawks organization. He was entrusted to carry the team on his own. Sometimes he did, but the fact that he couldn’t do it consistently should signal to the Seahawks that their incredible young quarterback needs some help next season. If he gets this help I see him taking OPOY by a wide margin.
Prediction: 3,980 passing yards, 30 TDs, 8 INTs, 520 rushing yards, 5 run TDs
Defensive Player of the Year- Robert Quinn, OLB, Los Angeles Rams
The past two seasons have been rough for Robert Quinn. He is a pass-rushing specialist, and outside of that he isn’t extremely dynamic compared to other pass-rushers. But when he can get to the QB, there is no stopping him.
Between 2012-2014, Quinn had double digit sacks every season. One year he had 19 sacks which was half a sack off the leading sacker Robert Mathis. Over the last two seasons however, the UNC product has only had 9 sacks in 17 games.
Quinn has to first focus on getting healthy, which seems to be going well up to this point. His second focus, learning from his new DC Wade Phillips. Quinn is a traditional 4-3 DE so his move to a stand-up position in the 3-4 scheme is going to be a challenge. But Phillips will make it as easy as possible.
Not only in the seven year vet in for a bounce back season, but so is that whole defense. Talent is every where, and it starts up the middle. Aaron Donald is fast rising superstar DT who can easily play a 2-gap system and eat up blockers. That will free up room for Alec Ogletree, who is coming off a 136 tackle season, and converted safety Mark Barron to make plays. And newly signed Conor Barwin is more than comfortable being the weak-side backer in a 3-4, so the support system is there.
This Rams defense can really turn into a Broncos like unit. The secondary will hold them back, but they are good enough, especially in this division, to cover wideouts long enough for Quinn to get to the QB. I see a huge bounce back year. Even further incentive for him to ball out… the next two years he is due to make $10+ each season, so if he doesn’t show up this year, he might be cut by the Rams.
Prediction: 13.0 sacks, 55 total tackles, 6 forced fumbles
Rookie of the Year- Reuben Foster, OLB, San Francisco 49ers
This was a tough one. Picking Foster meant I had to let go of Solomon Thomas and Haason Reddick, but here’s why.
Foster will join one of the greatest Linebacker units in the NFL. Foster will team up with titans NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Elvis Dumervil, and Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith. There are talks concerned about Foster’s future though. The former Alabama product will be put in the NFL’s drug program right away after a drug test problem back in April. Also, he tore his right rotator cuff back in February, which forced him to not participate in the NFL Scouting Combine. But still, these are minor setbacks that can hold major reward.
Dependent on the recovery of his injury, Foster could be a breakout player right away for the 49ers. Foster is a player that can not only give hits, but can take yards away too. In his last season at ‘Bama, Foster recorded 115 total tackles, 13 of them went for a loss. He also got 5 sacks too, showing he has tremendous speed and hit-power. The former SEC Championship MVP started two years at Alabama, and the only thing notable he needs to work on is his instincts. Foster’s speed is a double-edged sword, meaning that his speed can take away his ability to think in critical conditions. If Foster can take a few notes from Bowman and Co., expect this 49ers D to scare the rest of the West.
Prediction: 3.5 sacks, 89 total tackles (10 for loss), 2 forced fumbles.
Last year was extremely odd for Seattle fans. The defense was pretty much still intact, and the offense looked like it was ready to reach new heights. So what was odd? Their offensive line couldn’t block a soul, like seriously I could salvage a few sacks if I lined up on the edge.
Pro Football Focus has the Seahawks o-line ranked dead last in their 2017 preseason rankings. That is what pretty much happens when the 32nd ranked unit to finish the 2016 season does little to upgrade a glaring problem. The Seahawks did add G Oday Aboushi, who only has 18 career starts, and Luke Joeckel, a relative bust for his number two overall status from the 2014 draft, but that isn’t what the doctor ordered. Russel Wilson is dynamic and has an array of shifty receivers and a deep back field to work with, but this line is going to make it extremely hard for this offense to wins games. Another year should help however, since last year Seattle was one of the youngest teams in the NFL. A lot of that youth came from the offensive line, so growth is expected, but baby steps people, baby steps.
Outside that poor front line, the Seahawks look as dangerous on offense then they have ever been. The addition of Eddie Lacy wont give you a 1,200 yard rusher, but he adds depth to a pretty solid running back rotation. But the back I LOVE, is second year man CJ Prosise. Last year he missed 10 games with a scapula injury, but in the six games he played, he totaled 208 receiving yards on only 17 catches. Small sample size, but big production. He also showed some home run ability in the running game with a long run of a 72-yard touchdown week 11. Prosise wont be the best player on that side of the ball for Seattle, but he will provide Wilson with reliable back he can get the ball to quick since he wont have time to survey the field.
As I mentioned earlier their offense wont have to win games, that’s because they have on of the best defensive units in the history of football. Since 2012 their defense has ranked top-3 in yards and top-5 in yards every year. But this year there are more question marks than any other year. Earl Thomas is coming back from an injury he considered retirement over, Richard Sherman causes more drama than your average high school prom queen, and history is not on their side. No defense has led the for more than five years in points allowed, Seattle could only do it four straight times (last year they ended the streak by finishing 3rd in that category). So history suggests slowing down.
I don’t think this is an end of an era, but its close. Offseason additions of Dion Jordon and David Bass should help a front seven that looks more thin with every year. Keep an eye on Jordon, he was a former 3rd overall pick with wicked pass rushing potential off the edge, so if he can lay of the drugs he has scary potential in a historic defense.
With all these problems there still is an easy pass to the playoffs for the Seahawks, their division doesn’t have a roster that looks like it has enough to get past them, and combine their defense and ability to win at home, its the Seahawks division to lose.
Prediction: 10-6 NFC West champs
Teams who will be golfing:
Arizona’s recent success started in 2013 when coach Bruce Arians joined the Cardinals sideline. Arians’ coaching ability and overall personality separates him from the rest of the league as a players coach. Now let’s talk about his team.
Since Arians’ arrival, the cards have went to work on defense. In 2013 they drafted safety Tyrann Mathieu and LB Deonne bucannon in 2014. When healthy, Mathieu is the best Swiss Army knife in the league. Only problem is he’s never started a full season. If he can play at least 15 games with no setbacks, he and the Cardinals secondary should find plenty of opportunity to succeed. Cornerback Patrick Peterson is due for another pro bowl season, and I’m sure we’ll see some fantastic play on special teams from him. I’m excited for CB Brandon Williams as well, the Cardinals 3rd round pick last year who will pick up after the departure of CB Tony Jefferson. I believe he has the potential and pieces around him to succeed. Don’t forget the cardinals also drafted safety Budda Baker out of Washington in the second round. This team boasts a young secondary with enough drive to turnover the ball numerous times.
The defensive front is where things get tricky. Bucannon still needs to become the break out star fans want him to be. Luckily for him, the addition of first-round pick LB Haason Reddick with the help of players like Markus Golden and Karlos Dansby should address their linebacker concerns. As for the defensive line, they’re gonna need help after losing Calais Campbell. Robert Nkemdiche stands as the only big name on the line, and he’s gonna need help putting pressure on QBs for the secondary to make its moves. Right now the only other big name on the line is Frostee Rucker, who turns 34 early in the season.
Time for some good old fashioned offense. Under center we have notoriously inconsistent Carson Palmer. Since being drafted in 2003, Palmer still has to prove to me that he can remain a starter. Whether it’s injury or poor play, Palmer needs to stop with excuses. Yes, the offensive line was ranked 26th last year, but it didn’t stop breakout RB David Johnson from getting 2,000 yards from scrimmage last year did it? And Palmer has a great receiving corps. Larry Fitzgerald, a trustworthy Cardinal since day one, will return for another season. John Brown, who caught for over 1,000 yards in 2015, will finally return after an injury-marred 2016. The other Brown, Jaron (not-related) will return after missing 9 games last season due to an ACL tear. Another receiver to look out for is J.J. Nelson, who’s production is slowly but surely rising. Michael Floyd’s removal from the team will not hamper this offense. The receivers will get open, it’s up for Palmer to find them.
Offensive line now it’s your turn, because let’s face it, you guys stink. The main issue is that a lot of these players are either old or young. Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati turned to the big 3 and 0, and Evan Boehm and Cole Toner are only 23 years old (Price Givens is 22) . That’s a big age difference between starting linemen. It may not seem like a big deal but the Cardinals could use a guy in his prime. For example, the Eagles have Lane Johnson (27), who after his suspension left the Eagles in shambles with the offensive line. I think it would be wise for the Cardinals to spend big on a superstar soon.
Well Cardinals fans I think you should be excited, but not this year. I say they play well, but not enough. This will make the Cardinals go and get that young QB they’re gonna need.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have suffered through the mediocracy that a coach like Jeff Fisher consistently gives. During that time the only bright spot was an average defense. At least heading into the 2017 season they have a lot more to look forward to.
This is an important year for the Rams. This season will be the second of Jared Goffs career. After a shaky seven games last year, the former first overall pick has to prove that status this year. Jeff Fisher sure wasn’t going to fix him, so here is where new coach Sean McVay comes into play. His job is solely to make the offense work with Goff at the helm. But what I want to see McVay being able to make Todd Gurley into the dynamic RB we all know him to be. If he can make Gurley “pop” again, it’ll make Goff comfortable, which is the most important thing.
Other than Gurley, McVay has some nice weapons to game plan with. Tavon Austin headlines that list. Swiss army knives are becoming more and more valuable in the NFL. Austin is insanely fast, if he wasn’t with a team that doesn’t have buzz, he would be a household name. He has struggled to find his own but I think bringing in a young (31 years-old) head coach for a new look offense can only make him better.
The Rams then added a tight end through the draft, Gerald Everett out of South Alabama was my favorite selection. He is McVay’s version of Jordan Reed and he fits the bill perfectly. He totaled 90 catches and averaged 14.4 yard/rec in two years for the mid-major school. He route-running and versatility can make an instant connection with Goff. We wont see the Greatest Show on Turf right away, but eventually the Rams offense can be very very good.
The offense wont win games, nor be asked to. If the Rams want to have a good year the defense has to carry the team. Wade Phillips is brought in to be the new defensive coordinator for his eight team in his 35th season as a coach. McVay is only 31 so he isn’t as experienced as his DC. So Phillips should be expected to turn his unit into a top-10 defense faster than McVay can do with his. Phillips has the pieces to provide one. Robert Quinn and Conor Barwin bring veteran experience, and young core player such as Arron Donald and Alec Ogletree can provide huge impact. This defense will be dominant.
I expect the defense to jump into the top-10, the offense however will struggle. I like the setup, but I’m not sure how much I like Goff. He looked far to bad last year for me to think he can build off anything heading into this year. It is a good thing the Rams matchup well within their division or their record would be horrendous. There hasn’t been a winning season in L.A for the Rams in their past six years in the city, and I don’t expect that to change.
San Francisco 49ers
It really is hard to believe that not even five years ago the 49ers were NFC Champions. A lot has occurred since then, and most of the occurrences have not been positive ones. After coming off a 2-14 season last year, that was so atrocious that the biggest headline was not the niners poor-pay, but a back up quarterback kneeling during the national anthem. Only to see that QB working on his iron game on the golf course the next year. But that’s irrelevant, or at least should be at this point. To get back to my previous point, this years draft saw an absolute crucial time for the Niners to take strides in the right direction. The Niners took a very talented lineman in Solomon Thomas out of Stanford. And then followed that up with drafting Reuben Foster, the caliber Linebacker out of Alabama. I was extremely happy for them with these picks, as it shows that Lynch has the potential to build this team up for future success. The truth is that the Niners are coming off a horrific 2-14 season, and still have a lot to address on the offensive side of the field.
But while i have listed only negatives so far, the truth is their ARE positives up in Santa Clara. The roster includes a wealth of talent along the defensive line with mountainous pass rushers Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner sandwiched around versatile first-round tackle Solomon Thomas. This will be a better unit in 2017, while the offense finds itself in good hands under Kyle Shanahan. Hoyer and Shanahan did help the Browns to a surprising 7-4 start in 2014 before the wheels fell off, with the coach making the most of Hoyer in a play-action-heavy attack that leaned hard on a young backfield. Rookie runner Joe Williams could also see major carries as well. Shanahan has worked wonders with first-year backs before.
While this sounds all sweet and dandy, their is just one issue, the Niners STILL don’t have a quarterback. I know what you’re saying “Well they have Brian Hoyer right?”. And my response to that would be “That’s a good one”. The truth is that Brian Hoyer, even with newly added wide receiver talent in Pierre Garçon, will not be good enough to majorly improve this roster. The situation has been bad since the departure of people like; Jim Harbaugh, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, etc. I don’t see them improving too much this season, but who knows. As we have seen in the past the Cardinals can be a little inconsistent, and it is not like the Rams will do much this season. But to pull this all together they lack a caliber quarterback, and enough offensive power to compete with teams in the NFC. With all this being said i have them finishing at a disappointing record of 3-13.