Last week, I began my series of NFL Previews by taking an in-depth look at the AFC West
. This week, the focus shifts to the NFC West. As always, I’ll present the teams in alphabetical order within their division.
The Arizona Cardinals
went 13-3 SU, 9-7 ATS and 9-7 to the Over last year. They finished +9 in turnovers; good for fourth best in the NFL. Their mainstream stats were outstanding, finishing with the #1 offense and the #5 defense based on yardage figures. This year, Bruce Arians squad is lined as a 9.5 win team with heavy juice to the Over. Using the standard formula of 50 cents extra juice equating to a half a win in the marketplace, Arizona is effectively lined as a 10 win team for the upcoming 2016 campaign.
Arizona upgraded their roster in several key areas in the offseason. Their defensive line should get a major boost with the addition of #1 pick DT Robert Nkemdiche from Ole Miss. They acquired DE Chandler Jones from New England; just 25 years old & coming off 12.5 sack season. Safety Tyvon Branch and offensive guard Evan Mathis weren’t sexy signings but both give Arians quality depth at positions of need. Based on personnel moves alone, Arizona looks like a serious Super Bowl contender in 2016.
But the Cardinals have two major red flags, in my opinion. First is that based on MY power rating numbers for the Week the games were played, Arizona faced the single easiest slate of opponents in the entire NFL last year. When you use last year’s opponents win percentage (the lazy/mainstream way), Arizona’s schedule graded out slightly below average, but not at or near the bottom. Right now, this team is a notch or two overvalued based on last year’s results.
And then there’s the Carson Palmer question. Palmer had an 82.1 QBR last year, a 104.6 QB rating, an 8.7 yards per attempt average and 35 TD passes. Every one of those stats was a career high for a 36 year old QB who played in all 16 games last year. WR Larry Fitzgerald also set career high in catches last year in his 12th season in the NFL. Frankly, there’s only one way for those numbers to trend in 2016...and it’s not up!
The Los Angeles Rams
went 7-9 SU, 7-8-1 ATS and 12-4 to the Under last year, finishing with a +5 turnover margin despite consistently miserable quarterback play. It’s going to be hard for the Rams to finish +5 in turnovers again this year with a rookie – Jared Goff – expected to start at QB on opening day. And while Goff has much more upside than the likes of Nick Foles and Case Keenan, he’s going to have growing pains, like every rookie quarterback.
The Rams mainstream stats weren’t very good, finishing with the #32 ranked offense out of 32 NFL teams and the #23 ranked defense. Based on those numbers, their seven win season last year was an overachievement.
The Rams jettisoned some key veterans to clear out salary cap space in the offseason. Key defenders Chris Long and James Laurinaitis were sent packing. There are numerous holes on this roster as a result – their secondary lacks depth, particularly at safety, their offensive line looks weak, bad news for a rookie QB and their DL lacks the dominant depth of recent seasons. That being said, the Rams have finally stockpiled some decent skill position talent if Todd Gurley , Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt can all stay healthy.
Jeff Fisher is the first NFL head coach to keep his job off four straight losing seasons since...Fisher did it with the Titans, back in the 90’s! Fisher will get the benefit of a league average schedule this year, a much easier slate compared to what the Rams played last year.
The San Francisco 49ers
fell apart in the post-Harbaugh era last year. After three straight trips to the NFC Championship Game, the Niners fell to 5-11 SU, 7-9 ATS while going 9-7 to the Under. The 49ers finished +5 in turnovers with the #31 ranked offense and the #29 ranked defense, based on mainstream numbers.
The Jim Tomsula era lasted only a single season, and the 49ers are clearly going to rebuild their roster over the next year or two in Chip Kelly fashion. In Philadelphia, Kelly essentially gutted the roster by Year 2, and we can expect a 49ers team built to play power football to have issues running Kelly’s uptempo attack in his first year on the job without his full personnel in place.
The 49ers have a ton of salary cap space, but they chose not to use most of it this offseason, keeping them flexible for future moves. That being said, this roster has holes all over the place, with a void of skill position talent and major issues on both the offensive and defensive lines. With a QB controversy already potentially brewing between Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, it’s hard to project anything but continued struggles for this bottom feeder squad, especially with a tougher than average strength of schedule...just like last year.
The Seattle Seahawks
went 10-6 SU, 8-7-1 ATS and 9-7 to the Under last year, finishing the season with a +6 turnover margin. Their mainstream numbers were truly elite: the #4 offense and the #2 defense. And they compiled those numbers against a much tougher than average schedule. This year, their strength of schedule weakens considerably, facing only five games against teams that made the playoffs in 2015.
Russell Wilson was downright sick last year; making huge play after huge play while running for his life behind a dismal offensive line. Wilson put up a 110.1 QB rating, best in the NFL. He’s now in Year 5 and he set career highs in TDs, QBR, passer rating, YPP and completion % in 2015; an elite QB in every sense of the word. But the Seahawks offensive line – a major issue last year – looks every bit as bad on paper heading into 2016. Tom Cable is a genius level OL coach, but he’ll have his hands full with this iffy unit.
From a personnel standpoint, the Seahawks still look elite, despite a handful of offseason losses. Sure, RB Marshawn Lynch retired and they lost some defensive depth. That being said, the majority of Pete Carroll’s squad went to the Super Bowl in 2013 and 2014. If they don’t get back to the Super Bowl in 2016, this season will be a disappointment.