NFC West preview for each squad heading into the 2021 regular season
By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)
As the NFL offseason continues to roll on and the regular season quickly approaches, teams will head to training camp and begin their real practice and preparation. Camp for each team will include new faces in both the roster and coaching staff as well as new strategies and philosophies to implement with hopes of a successful campaign in the upcoming season. All of the changes and other storylines from the offseason now become a reality as players begin to report to the team facilities.
The NFC West is a division with four very solid teams heading into this season. All of them have expectations this year to at least making the playoffs and high hopes of a deep run with aspirations of a Super Bowl. There were plenty of headlines surrounding all four of these teams throughout the offseason. Let’s take a look at each team and the key storylines as they head to training camp.
After an excellent season including twelve wins and a playoff appearance, one would think that the Seahawks would be positive and optimistic heading into the offseason. Unfortunately for them, this was not the case for their superstar quarterback Russell Wilson. He was reportedly very unhappy with the organization and its decision-making processes. In particular, he felt that he was not being included enough in major decisions such as game strategy and personnel changes. He was upset by this, and so much so that there were heavy rumors going around that he wanted to be traded away from Seattle.
Luckily for the Seahawks, they were able to get together with Wilson and hash out their issues. It appears that he is satisfied with whatever conclusion was reached behind closed doors and is now ready to get to work. Wilson is easily a top-five quarterback in the entire NFL and with the weapons available to him on their offensive roster, the Seahawks are a very dangerous team and a true contender in the NFC Conference.
This offense is absolutely loaded and one of the best in the league on paper. The real question is going to be their defense. They were poor last year and didn’t do much to improve on that side of the ball. In the 2020 season, they ranked 11th worst in total yards allowed per game with 380.6 and 2nd worst in passing yards allowed per game with 285. They will need to be better than that but as long as Russell Wilson is playing quarterback with the offensive weapons he has at his disposal, the Seahawks have a shot to win any game.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams made the biggest move in the entire NFL offseason when they traded away Jared Goff and draft picks in exchange for Matthew Stafford. It is uncommon for a team as successful as the Rams have been over the last few seasons to make such a sudden change at quarterback but that’s exactly what they did. Goff was not bad for the Rams last season but he definitely wasn’t great either. His 3952 passing yards ranked 14th and his 20 touchdown passes ranked 19th, which are both acceptable but not exactly impressive. The bigger problem was his 13 interceptions which was the second-highest total in the NFL.
Goff played to a total QBR of 58.5 which ranked an uninspiring 23rd in the league. The Rams are a very good team at every other position group besides quarterback and even had the number one ranked defense last season. They believe that with an upgrade at quarterback they would become a real Super Bowl contender. This is why they traded for Stafford, a quarterback who is seven years older than Goff. They are fully committed to being a win-now team and sold off their future to prove it.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how Stafford does with his new team. He has spent his entire career with the Detroit Lions so far but now has the luxury of a better roster and coaching staff than he’s ever had before. His talent has never been a question and he has a bunch of excellent seasons to demonstrate that. The only thing missing from his career has been sustained winning and postseason success. The Rams are taking a gamble that his shortcomings were simply a product of being a stud on a bad team and that he will shine bright in a more favorable situation.
After finishing the 2020 season at an even 8-8 record and just barely missing out on the playoffs, the Cardinals are approaching this upcoming season with a ton of optimism. They appear to have found their quarterback with young star Kyler Murray, who is one of the best dual threats in the entire NFL. He has developed nicely so far and there is good reason to believe that with another year of experience he will be an even better player this upcoming year. The organization is fully committed to his growth and has made sure to surround him with as many weapons as possible.
The biggest thing they did for Murray was trade for DeAndre Hopkins last season, who is a top-three wide receiver in the league. They continued to improve the offensive weapons this offseason by acquiring wide receiver AJ Green and running back James Conner. The Cardinals were already the 6th ranked offense last year averaging 384.6 yards per game and with these new additions to compliment the growth of Murray, they can climb even higher than that.
Another huge addition to this team for the upcoming season is veteran pass rusher JJ Watt. He will definitely help them on the defensive side, which they do need, but it’s his leadership that may be his most valuable asset. Everything is trending in the right direction for Arizona and they should be feeling very excited heading to camp this year. Watch out for the Cardinals because they could be the biggest sleeper in the NFL.
San Francisco 49ers
It’s sometimes easy to forget that the 49ers are just one season removed from a Super Bowl appearance. In fact, if not for one missed throw by Jimmy Garoppolo they probably would have won that game. Unfortunately, he missed almost all of last year due to injury, playing in just six games. This has been an ongoing problem for Garoppolo. He just can’t seem to stay healthy and even when he is, his statistics are not at all jaw-dropping anyway. It seems like the 49ers have seen enough because they decided to trade all the way up to the third pick in the NFL Draft to select quarterback Trey Lance.
Lance is an incredible athlete with a ton of potential. He is a very exciting prospect but he just doesn’t have much experience even at the college level. Most scouts believe that he will blossom into a star but there’s no telling how long that process could take. That makes the quarterback situation in San Francisco a very interesting one. It’s likely that they will start the season with Garoppolo but at any time they could make the switch to Lance. This is one of the most intriguing storylines in the league, especially considering the potential of the 49ers team as a whole.
When they won the NFC Conference just two seasons ago, they had arguably the best defense in the entire NFL. The large majority of that unit will be back and healthy for the 2021 season. They also have one of the best rushing attacks in the league under the Kyle Shanahan system and solid offensive weapons across the board as well. All of these factors combined to make the 49ers a fascinating team with a wide spectrum of expectations. Mostly depending on how the quarterback scenario plays out, they may not be better than their 6 wins last year but could potentially be a Super Bowl team like they were two years ago.