Like many of the NFL’s divisions last year, a surprise winner emerged in the NFC West. The Los Angeles Rams’ rebuild ran ahead of schedule, as the squad went from four wins to 11 in just one campaign.
The Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers all had somewhat disappointing seasons while the young upstart of the division surprised everyone.
The Rams, with all of their young talent and some key offseason additions, are now the preseason favorite with the sportsbooks for USA citizens to win the NFC West in 2018. Can the 49ers, Seahawks or Cardinals challenge them, though? Let’s examine each team’s situation and then decide what the best way to bet is.
Los Angeles Rams (2017 record: 11-5, No. 1 in NFC West, Lost in NFC Wild Card Round)
The Rams were one of the NFL’s best stories in 2017. They made the amazing jump from last in the NFL in scoring to first in just one year on the strength of a dominant season from running back Todd Gurley and a major sophomore breakout from quarterback Jared Goff. Los Angeles’ young defense also took a nice step forward, with defensive tackle Aaron Donald winning Defensive Player of the Year.
With youth all over the roster, there is lots of potential for continued growth into a perennial powerhouse. The Rams also grabbed three defensive stars (cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh) in the offseason.
There is some concern that maybe the offense played a bit above its head last season. On paper Gurley is the only superstar on that side of the field and the team’s health luck was very good. The path to dominance is often not linear for young teams on the rise. The Rams should be very good again in 2018, but a huge increase from last year’s 11 wins is unlikely.
- Record Prediction: 11-5
- Best Odds To Win NFC West: -133 at Intertops.
San Francisco 49ers (2017 record: 6-10, No. 4 in NFC West)
The Niners are one of the more difficult teams to predict heading into the 2018 season. After starting the 2017 campaign with a 1-10 record, San Francisco rattled off five victories to end the year after trading for young quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo looked like a seasoned veteran with his command of the offense.
So which team will show up this season? Somewhere in the middle of the pack seems fair. The defense is on the rise with a talented young front seven that should continue to improve. Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman will be a boost to the secondary despite the fact that he is recovering from an Achilles injury. Overall, though, the defense is still average.
On offense, the Niners have solid receiver and offensive line groups, and Garoppolo could be a star. But the running game is mediocre, and Garoppolo still doesn’t have much experience in high-pressure situations.
- Record Prediction: 8-8
- Best Odds: +320 at 5Dimes.
Seattle Seahawks (2017 record: 9-7, No. 2 in NFC West)
The Seahawks are no longer a defensive juggernaut. After five consecutive seasons placing in the top five of fewest points allowed, Seattle fell to 13th in 2017. The decline naturally ended the team’s five consecutive years of playoff berths.
Unfortunately, the toughest times could be ahead for the Seahawks. They lost a whole bunch of their top defensive veterans in the offseason, including cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive end Michael Bennett, strong safety Kam Chancellor and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Free safety and Seattle’s pass rush could be pretty weak this season, which will make it even harder for the new starters in the defensive backfield.
On offense, quarterback Russell Wilson will keep this team respectable with his prodigious dual-threat abilities. The running game will be better with a healthy Chris Carson back and first-round rookie halfback Rashaad Penny entering the fold.
However, with a fast-falling defense, the Seahawks are clearly no longer the class of the NFC West.
- Record Prediction: 7-9
- Best Odds: +425 at 5Dimes.
Arizona Cardinals (2017 record: 8-8, No. 3 in NFC West)
The Cardinals may have won eight games in 2017, but they definitely weren’t a good team. Arizona only played four games against playoff teams and it went 1-3 while being outscored 123-50 in those contests. Overall, the Cardinals scored 66 fewer points than their opponents.
The squad is entering 2018 with a very different approach. There is a first-year head coach (Steve Wilks), along with new offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators. Sam Bradford joins as the quarterback and the schemes on both sides of the ball are different. The roster will need a lot of time to jell.
Arizona does boast a nice crop of star players. Defensive end Chandler Jones, cornerback Patrick Peterson, running back David Johnson and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald are all great. With poor depth on both sides of the field and all the new concepts to learn, the Cardinals will need near-perfect health and a sudden grasp of all the new schemes to somehow win the division.
- Record Prediction: 5-11
- Best Odds: +1900 at 5Dimes.
Our Preview’s NFC West Picks & Betting Predictions Verdict
I don’t see the Rams having too much trouble pulling away from the rest of their NFC West competition. None of the other teams are that good on either side of the ball, while Los Angeles should be above-average on offense and defense.
Despite their short odds, the Rams are the smartest bet of the division. The Cardinals have very long odds and could be a nice dark-horse pick here. Teams with stars and very new schemes do sometimes surprise everybody by catching other teams off guard. But the prediction and our selection is the favorite:
- Back the LA Rams to win the NFC West @ -133 with Intertops.