2018 NFL Preview - NFC West

by Drew Pelto, BBM Staff Writer

Los Angeles Rams - You've seen that meme with the stick figure guy about to say something and then suddenly silent? That's Jared Goff's critics in 2017. I'll admit I was one of them. When he couldn't beat out Case Keenum to start out the 2016 season, I figured he had “Potential Bust” written all over him. Then combine that with a 0-7 record when he got the chance to start, a sub-60 completion percentage, and only 5 TD to 7 interceptions, and I thought the bust label was almost a certainty. And then, enter Sean McVay, a phenomenal bounce back by Todd Gurley after a sophomore slump, and a competent receiving corps that no longer had Kenny Britt as its top target and Goff's numbers looked more like what the Rams expected when they traded up to pick him first overall: 3800 yards, a 4:1 TD:INT ratio, and a 11-4 record as a starter. Add Brandon Cooks this season and an already-explosive offense may have just gone atomic. An already-strong defense has just gotten stronger with Ndamukong Suh added to help plug the middle with Aaron Donald, and Marcus Peters and Aquib Talib at the corners. The division is theirs for the taking. Maybe the entire conference.

Seattle Seahawks - My work cubicle is right across from that of a Seahawks fan, so please temper anything I say with that thought in mind, as my writing may be affected by his views-- both good and bad. I could see the Seahawks doing almost anything this year: 6-10, 10-6, they're tough to get a read on. Russell Wilson is Russell Wilson, possibly the best quarterback in the league when it comes to working outside the pocket and creating something out of nothing. New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been working with that, and trying to forge an identity out of an offense that seemed to lack a rudder since the Super Bowl years. The offensive line will be interesting: lots of big names, lots of talent, and finally a coach who may get something out of them instead of Tom Cable who was finally canned after a few years of issues up front. The run game will apparently continue to be by-committee. Rashaad Penny was a bit of a reach in the first round, but has the upside to potentially give them a true bellcow back for the first time since Marshawn Lynch temporarily hung up the cleats. The defense will still be an area of question. Can Shaquill Griffin be a new Richard Sherman? Can the front seven get into the backfield? What's the deal with Earl Thomas? The Seahawks are in a rebuild, but they have enough talent there that if anyone could unseat the Rams, it's them. Just don't expect it.

Arizona Cardinals - I don't know what it is about the Cardinals, but I always want to see them do well. Maybe it's the Browns fan in me where seeing another perennial loser crawl out of the basement gives me hope. The Cardinals always seem to be a team with potential, and yet they never meet it save for a couple seasons every 8-12 years. Larry Fitzgerald is just a likable player coming into the twilight of his career, a definite Hall of Famer, but one who tends to get overlooked because he's been stuck on some bad teams; but like Joe Thomas and the Browns, there's a lot to be said for his loyalty. Enter Steve Wilks this season as the Cards' new head coach. An interesting hire, Wilks' only head coaching experience has been with Division II Savannah State in 1999, and holding the title of Assistant Head Coach in Carolina over the past three seasons. Even coordinator jobs have been limited for him: 2017 in Carolina, 2002 at FCS East Tennessee State, and 1995-1998 at Johnson C. Smith and Savannah State. Sam Bradford is talented but can't stay healthy: I don't expect to see anything change this year and we'll see Josh Rosen on the field sooner than later. David Johnson will be the key to the offense; if his 2017 injury returns, it will be a long season in the desert. On defense, the secondary is its usual strong self with Patrick Peterson, Budda Baker, and Deone Bucannon holding down the fort. The front seven needs big things from Chandler Jones and a couple of young potential stars in Haason Reddick and Robert Nkemediche. Wilks has his hands full; I don't see a playoff spot for the Cardinals, but it'll be interesting to see what a new defensive-minded coach brings to the table with their youngsters on that side of the ball after five years of Bruce Arians.

San Fransisco 49ers - Blah blah blah Jimmy Garoppolo blah blah blah. We get it, the Great White Hope has arrived to cleanse them of the scourge of the evil anti-America Colin Kaepernick (it's sarcasm, relax folks). I just don't think he's that good. Sure, he was there to rattle off five wins in five starts. But why get excited over a one-point win against a Bears team that was in the midst of a midseason tailspin, a ten-point victory over a Texans team that had already long-since checked out after Deshaun Watson's injury, and a Rams team that had benched all of its starters? Sure, I can give him credit for the Titans and Jaguars wins, but still. Six touchdowns to five interceptions? Garoppolo brings a competent quarterback to the 49ers-- and really that may be all they need-- but he's far from the can't-miss star that everyone seems to be crowning him. Similar to my comments about the Browns coming off a 0-16 season: when your previous options were C.J. Beathard and Brian Hoyer, anything is an improvement. The 49ers should have a solid defense and at least a potentially serviceable quarterback instead of the fungi they had to start 2017. But questions of Garoppolo's ability to string that success longer, combined with a running game that now lacks Carlos Hyde, and the fact that their head coach is still Kyle Shanahan makes me expect to see another 6-10 season at best, an angry owner, and possibly the fifth head coach in six seasons to start 2019.

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