Continuing our NFL preseason preview series, our next stop takes us to the NFC West, which produced two playoff teams last season including the Super Bowl runner-up.
Dominated by the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks, the NFC West was a top-heavy division in 2018-19, with the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals combining for just seven wins compared to the 23 of the Rams and Seahawks.
A 13-3 record, the Rams tied the New Orleans Saints for best mark in the NFC, however due to various tiebreakers, landed just the second seed in the conference. The Rams and Saints went on to meet in the NFC Championship where it was Los Angeles who emerged victorious in a heartbreaking overtime loss for Drew Brees and co.
It was the first conference championship for Los Angeles since 2001 and their fourth overall. It was just their second while in Los Angeles. The Rams went on to face the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, but fell short, losing 13-3, the lowest scoring Super Bowl in history.
The Rams however, will no doubt look to return and have the pieces to do so led by last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald. The Seahawks are also expected to play into the divisional race, and the Cardinals, who made significant improvements in the offseason. Even the 49ers are coming off a strong offseason. Let’s take a look at how the NFC West might play out in 2019-20.
Los Angeles Rams
- Last year’s regular season record: 13-3; 7-1 at home (won the NFC West)
- 2019-20 Super Bowl Odds: +950
- 2019-20 Conference Odds: +425
- 2019-20: Division Odds: -180
There’s an expression that goes somewhat along these lines: “Don’t mess with success.” Or another one, “Don’t fix what isn’t broken.” In many ways, that’s how the Rams offseason could be classified. They didn’t make any huge splashes but equally as important, they kept the majority of their Super Bowl runner-up team intact.
The Rams lost Ndamukong Suh and Rodger Saffold, but they picked up Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews. They also had a strong draft bringing in two guys who will help sure up the team’s secondary, which if there was a weakness with the Rams, it was in that area. Even still, it was a minor weakness at that. Perhaps for the Rams, the biggest addition isn’t in the form of a new player however, it comes in the return of one who missed much of last season with injury. To illustrate the importance of Cooper Kupp, QB Jared Goff had a 111.9 passer rating in games where Kupp played and a much lower 88.6 in games where he didn’t. With a healthy Kupp on the field, the Rams have a dimension to their offense that they lack without him.
One of the reasons why the Rams have been so good over the last two years is running back Todd Gurley. Last year, Gurley led all running backs in touch downs with 17 and was third in yards with 1,251. Gurley’s health is a concern and as a result, his production was limited in the Super Bowl to just 35 yards on 10 attempts. Gurley is expected to bounce back but a lot of what the Rams do in 2019-20 will depend on him and just how well he can return to his form of the past two seasons.
- Last year’s regular season record: 10-6 (2nd in the NFC West)
- 2019-20 Super Bowl Odds: +3000
- 2019-20 Conference Odds: +1500
- 2019-20 Division Odds: +285
It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, it was the Seattle Seahawks that were facing off against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, ironically also losing as a result of a lack of running game. That is neither here nor there. What’s important to note is that for Seattle, they have struggled since then and have gone through a fair amount of transition that they are still trying to make their way back from and rediscover their identity.
Having moved on from the Legion of Boom fully following the departure of Earl Thomas this offseason, the Seahawks turned to the draft to find their new defensive core of the future, drafting three safeties over the last two years. They also picked up some new weapons for Russell Wilson in a pair of solid, dependable and explosive wide receivers, DK Metcalf and Gary Jennings. It was in the draft that Seattle really shone its brightest, as they turned four picks into 11 through various moves. Needing to acquire depth at many positions this was especially vital for the Seahawks.
Still helmed by Wilson, the Seahawks will look to continue their rebuild en route to regaining the division crown from the Rams. It won’t be easy, and likely may take another year, but the Seahawks can certainly be said to be on the upswing.
San Francisco 49ers
- Last year’s regular season record: 4-12 (3rd in NFC West)
- 2019-20 Super Bowl Odds: +3000
- 2019-20 Conference Odds: +1600
- 2019-20 Division Odds: +500
The San Francisco 49ers haven’t been a good team in quite some time. In fact, the 49ers haven’t won the NFC West since 2012, which was the last year they went to the Super Bowl. 2013 marks the last time the 49ers have been to the playoffs. That could all be starting to change and turn around as San Francisco’s rebuild had another great offseason of talent acquisition.
When it comes to a team like the 49ers, rebuilding through the draft is key and San Francisco did just that with their first-round pick, Nick Bosa. Paired with Dee Ford who they picked up in free agency, the Niners now have a pretty dynamic one-two punch. Their front four took a huge step forward and the 49ers should be able to build on that going forward.
With additions on the offensive side of the ball including Tevin Coleman, and Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd in the draft, the 49ers made major upgrades. Their odds with the legal USA sports betting websites reflect that, as the Niners jumped from bottom of the pack to about the middle, tied with the Seahawks when it comes to winning it all.
- Last year’s regular season record: 3-13 (worst in the NFL)
- 2019-20 Super Bowl Odds: +10000
- 2019-20 Conference Odds: +5000
- 2019-20 Division Odds: +2500
Needing to make some major improvements, the Cardinals moved on in the offseason with a brand-new head coach and one who is in his first year in the NFL. The Kliff Klingsbury hire was certainly met with criticism but Arizona had nothing to lose. Given Klingsbury’s track record of offensive excellence at Texas Tech, he is not a terrible pick to take a flier on. That said, college coaches don’t always fare well when trying to translate top-tier offenses to the NFL. The Cardinals are hoping that Klingsbury won’t be one of them.
Bearing NFL’s worst record a year ago, the Cardinals used the draft essentially to restructure their entire offense. Gone was Josh Rosen and replaced by top QB, Kyler Murray out of Oklahoma. The Cardinals also added Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler as great options for their new signal caller and versatile back Zach Allen as a later round steal in the draft.
With a first-year coach and first-year QB it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals suddenly winning eight games this year as it’s going to be a process. That said, in a few years, if all goes well, we could be looking at a very different NFC West with the Cardinals perhaps at the top of it.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.