1. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are the clear front-runner for the NFC West title for a third straight year. They are not only the defending NFC West champions but the defending NFC champions as well. If the Rams do win the division, they’d be the first NFC Champion to win their division since the 2014-15 Seahawks.
Expect Jared Goff to take the next step in year three under Sean McVay and put more of his mark on the offense. Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews will add a lot to an already talented defense. The only real question mark for this team remains their offensive line, where Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom will enter the season as starters for the first time in their careers.
-Blaine Grisak, PFN NFC West Writer
2. Seattle Seahawks
We shouldn’t write off the Seattle Seahawks as legitimate challengers to the Rams for the NFC West. Pete Carroll has been to the playoffs with the Hawks seven times in eight seasons – the guy knows what he is doing.
The Seahawks locked down their franchise quarterback Russell Wilson with a big contract. But now they must protect him. Wilson was sacked 51 times last season. But the Hawks have tried to address this in the offseason by re-signing D.J. Fluker and adding four-time Pro Bowler Mike Iupati.
The Seahawks also made a huge splash by acquiring defensive end Jadeveon Clowney from the Houston Texans for just a third-round pick and some player throw-ins. Clowney will make an immediate impact on this defense as a pass rusher and run defender.
Some believe the Seahawks will have a losing record in 2019. But then again, many of these same people a year ago believed Seattle would own the number one pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. In other words, it’s not smart to write off this team.
Seattle will miss Jarran Reed very much, as he is suspended for the first six games of the season. Injuries to rookies L.J. Collier and D.K. Metcalf are additional challenges they must overcome. But overcoming difficult circumstances is nothing new for Carroll and his Seahawks. This may not be his most talented Seahawks team. But it’s reasonable to expect a playoff push once again.
-Shona Duthie, PFN NFL Editor
3. San Francisco 49ers
Despite his prolific showing in the games he has played in, there are some concerns about how good Jimmy Garoppolo is and whether he can stay healthy. The offensive line is a very good run-blocking unit, but protection up the middle figures to be an issue. And I know it’s only preseason, but Joe Staley has not looked good at all. This stems to practice as well, where Nick Bosa was routinely getting the best of the star tackle. Again, we’re talking about practice and preseason but suggests potential pass protection issues for a QB that has had two major season-ending injuries in his short career.
The Niners invested heavily into the pass rush but did so with players who, once again, pose durability concerns. Dee Ford had to be “managed” in Kansas City, while Nick Bosa has been nursing an ankle injury since the beginning of OTA’s after missing nearly his entire last year of college due to an injury. If the pass rush can’t be what they paid for, the Niners secondary will be exposed once again.
Ultimately, their season hinges on Jimmy Garoppolo. If he is the QB they signed for $27 million a year, this team will be competitive. If his early career flashes prove to be a mirage, San Francisco will once face a losing season.
-James Aguirre, PFN Gambling Writer
4. Arizona Cardinals
Excitement and optimism are surely in the air with a first-year head coach (Kliff Kingsbury) and first overall pick quarterback (Kyler Murray). The problem is the roster is pretty barren in some very important spots for this team to be successful in the short term. At the skill positions, there is an excellent combination of proven talent (David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald) and young playmakers (Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella). Just how productive those playmakers can be will depend on the development of the offensive line. That is where the excitement stops. This front five could profile amongst the worst in the NFL.
On defense, there’s Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson, and a whole lot of mediocrity. The interior defensive line is rough. Their top linebacker, Jordan Hicks, has never been able to stay on the field. Therefore, in the near term, optimism should be guarded with an eye towards the future.
-Ryan Roberts, PFN NFC West Writer
NEXT: NFC PLAYOFFS