Now that we’re past the midway point of the season, each week we’ll take a look at one division and examine the situation, any surprises and look forward to the playoffs.
Pre-Season Prediction: Seattle Seahawks
Current Prediction: Los Angeles Rams
Even with the Seahawks seeming to fall off a cliff and the Rams holding a lead, this division isn’t over just yet. The Rams are on a tear though, and I can’t really see them losing either of their remaining two games, at Tennessee and then, at home hosting the 49ers. Tennessee just hasn’t had the chops to beat good teams this year and the Rams balanced attack is more than likely more than the Titans defense can withstand. I see the Rams ending up as division champs and a three seed at 12-4. QB Jared Goff has made vast improvements this season under new head coach wunderkind Sean McVay. Todd Gurley steadily becoming one of the league’s top rushers has given Goff more time and space to operate the offense comfortably, and the Rams defensive unit, led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Aaron Donald is getting off the field quickly, giving their team plenty of opportunities to put points on the board. By any reckoning, this is a young team that has serious aspirations and a chance to play for the NFC title this year. Before the season started, I thought Goff might be on the hot seat if the Rams didn’t make some strides. Boy, have they ever. I think his job is safe.
In Seattle, gone is the stifling defense that could turn pro-bowl QB’s knees into jelly and Russell Wilson has been forced to become a one-man-show on offense. Wilson is leading the team in rushing, as well as passing, which is absurd. It’s a recipe for disaster, but it does make Wilson a legitimate MVP candidate, especially if Seattle can squeak into the playoffs. While the Seahawks are still in contention for a wildcard slot, and potentially even the division at 8-6, their time is running out quickly. In the event that they did win out and make the playoffs, these Seahawks simply aren’t the same unit that hoisted the Lombardi trophy and then came within one bad chess move of a second. Too many injuries on defense and a one dimensional offense make these Seahawks a likely target for an early exit if they manage to make it in.
The Cardinals have been back-to-back disappointments after a string of playoff appearances that ended in 2015, with the bright spot, as usual, being WR Larry Fitzgerald on his way to yet another 1000-yard season, the ninth of his no-doubt Hall of Fame career. With the New York Giants and Seattle left on their radar for the last two weeks, the Cardinals are set up for their second consecutive losing season and probably need to make some serious moves in the offseason to keep up with the Rams, who look a lot like the NFC West’s new bully.
Perhaps the most intriguing team in the NFC West is the one at the bottom of the pile. The 49ers rebooted before the season, starting with locking in GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. The Niners then traded for Jimmy Garoppolo at the trade deadline, getting, by all accounts, a legitimate NFL QB for a second rounder from the Patriots. Any way you slice it, that’s a good deal. He’s won the three games he’s started and is leading all starters in yards per attempt. I’ve made Jimmy G my One to Watch for this week, as I’m keen to see what he can do against one of the league’s toughest defenses. I’m not saying he can win this weekend, but stranger things have happened. These Niners will still enjoy a pretty high draft selection, even if they were to win out, so it’s likely that Lynch and Shanahan are already scoping out weapons to build around their young signal caller.
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.