The NFL season is one-fourth of the way over, and some things are starting to become more clear. The haves and have nots are showing themselves and we’re starting to get a pretty good idea of who looks to be a playoff contender. We’re going to take a look at the NFC West and make some bold predictions on how it’s going to shake out.
NFC West Report: Which Team Is the Frontrunner to Win the Division
San Francisco 49ers Are Leading the Way
The San Francisco 49ers are 3-0 on the season, having had a bye last week. They are the only undefeated team in the division and have looked pretty solid thus far. The team has utilized a dynamic running game on offense and a stifling defense to set the tone this season.
Offensively, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been effective if not dynamic under center. I am not thrilled with his inconsistencies but for the most part, you have to feel comfortable with him running the offense. He’s a good leader and makes plays when needed. The running game has been top-notch all year, with the NFL’s second-best average of 175 yards per game. Both Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert have 200 yards plus rushing through three games. The 49ers will be getting injured rusher Tevin Coleman back as well, who was injured in Week 1. He adds another dynamic run option and pass-catcher out of the backfield.
The defense has been outstanding, ranking third in the NFL in yards allowed. They’ve been putting pressure on the quarterback and swarming to the ball. Richard Sherman has only allowed eight receptions for less than 50 yards through three games. The defense was thought to be a strength heading into the season and they’ve proven themselves time and again. It is a very dynamic unit and we should learn more about them as they face Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns this Monday night.
Outlook: The 49ers have the tools to win the division. It will be a question of if they have the experience to keep it together. I think they have a very good chance of going 11-5 or 10-6 and winning the division for the first time since 2012.
Seattle Seahawks Will Contend for the Division Crown
The Seattle Seahawks are currently 3-1 and tied with the Rams for second place in the NFC West. They’ve looked very good at times but looked pretty lackluster in their season debut at home against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals. They were also defeated at home by the New Orleans Saints without Drew Brees.
Their offense goes however dynamic talent Russell Wilson goes. He’s been unbelievable this season and continues to look every bit the superstar he’s paid to be. Wilson has thrown eight touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception. He’s also completing passes at a high rate of 73 percent. He’s been phenomenal. He has to be. The Seahawks top rusher is Chris Carson, but he averages less than four yards a carry, which ranks him 30th in the league in that category. Tyler Lockett is their most consistent pass catcher, by a wide margin.
The Seahawks defense doesn’t have the same swagger that it did during their heyday. The Legion of Boom is gone. In their place is a secondary that has been gouged for some big plays. Bobby Wagner is the best remaining player on the defense. Where the Seahawks have been looking great is along the defensive line. Newcomer Jadeveon Clowney has been outstanding.
Outlook: The Seahawks have shown some inconsistencies and we’ll learn a lot from their Week 5 game against the Los Angeles Rams. I see the Seahawks going back and forth with the 49ers for the NFC West title and I see them finishing with a 10-6 record.
Los Angeles Rams Are a Riddle-Wrapped Enigma
The Rams enter Week 5 with a solid 3-1 record, but in their last outing, they looked horrendous defensively. The Rams gave up 55 points, at home, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not good.
Their offense is led by Jared Goff, but the big talk seems to be about how they are utilizing Todd Gurley. Gurley has been the workhorse in Los Angeles since his debut, but this season he’s not getting the carries. He’s averaging only 12 carries a game, despite his healthy 4.5 yards a rush average. Goff hasn’t done a great job protecting the ball and is on pace to throw 24 interceptions this year. The receiving corps is good, led by Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.
The Rams defense is led by elite defensive lineman Aaron Donald. He’s just a supremely gifted football player and is as disruptive a force as anyone in the league. That said, he’s only had one sack this year to go along with ten tackles. It’s not statistically been a good year for him. Clay Matthews leads the team with five sacks. Two of the teams leading tacklers are safeties which indicates that they are allowing a lot of plays downfield. Eric Weddle and John Johnson have combined for 71 tackles from the safety position. They are coming off of a game where they gave up 55 points to Tampa Bay and literally could do nothing to slow them down.
Outlook: The Rams are seemingly in transition. They’ve not looked great this season, but they are still 3-1. If they lose to the Seahawks Thursday night, things could get scary in Los Angeles. I don’t think they will win the West, but I think they could find the playoffs by going 9-7.
Arizona Cardinals Seemed Destined for Dead Last
The Cardinals are trying to ride with their overall first pick Kyler Murray and he’s doing a serviceable job. They’ve been competitive in two of four games, but seem outgunned by and large. The NFC West is the most talented division in football, and Arizona simply doesn’t stack up.
Back to Kyler Murray, he’s thrown four touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s made some plays with his feet and has shown the growing pains you’d expect from a rookie. Running back David Johnson hasn’t found his old form and is running at a disappointing 3.7 yards per rush. Larry Fitzgerald continues to lead the way for the receiving group, proving that age is truly just a number.
The Cardinals’ defense is doing what they can, but they simply struggle to get off the field. They’ve only forced a total of two turnovers through four games. That’s not going to get it done. Terrell Suggs has continued to find the fountain of youth and has 3.5 sacks already. The talented Chandler Jones has three sacks as well. The secondary is led by Budda Baker and D.J. Swearinger. Linebackers Jordan Hicks and Haason Reddick have been all over the field, and are a good young duo.
Outlook: It’s pretty clear that the Cardinals are the worst team in the division. I think they can put some things together and finish in the basement with a record of 5-10-1. It could be a lengthy rebuilding process in the desert.