1st Place- Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
The Seattle Seahawks are still a top two team in the NFC and may even be the best above the Green Bay Packers. However, this one game slip in record from last season to now is due to the development in the rest of the NFC. The Seahawks also play in one of the best divisions in the NFL in the NFC West. The St. Louis Rams, and the Arizona Cardinals will be very good teams this season and they will make it hard for the Seahawks to win 12 games again.
However, the Seahawks will still be a dominant team. Their defense will most likely be the NFL’s best again. The offense will also most likely receive a small boost from Russell Wilson, although I don’t think he will be as effective as some expect. Wilson is best when throwing the ball deep down the field, and Graham’s game won’t play to those strengths. His sheer skill will create a slight uptick in the offense’s production though.
2nd Place- Arizona Cardinals (10-6)
The Arizona Cardinals are a very solid team. They’re not flashy, but they will always find a way to win games. They’ve got one of the best coaches in the NFL in Bruce Arians and one of the grittiest defenses in all of the NFL.
This season, the Cardinals will sport a secondary that will be missing Antonio Cromartie. However, now that Patrick Peterson has taken charge of his problems with diabetes, he can be expected to have a bounce back season. Last season, the Cardinals ranked 29th in pass yards allowed per game. Even though Patrick Peterson and free safety Tyrann Mathieu will likely improve, the defense most likely won’t improve on that ranking much.
Their run defense on the other hand finished 13th in in the NFL in yards allowed per game. With the offseason acquisition of Sean Weatherspoon and the development of young talent Alex Okafor, the Cardinals rush defense figures to see a slight bump in production.
Possibly the most surprising stat for the Cardinals’ defense is that they were fifth in the NFL in points allowed with 18.7. Even after the departure of Todd Bowles, I expect the Cardinals to be about the same defensively as they were last season.
Their offense will be the same as it was last year when Carson Palmer was healthy. There are quite a few injury prone players and no real star. However, we know that the offense will be good enough. If the defense can remain top 10 in points allowed, the offense will be good enough to lead the Cardinals to a wildcard berth.
3rd Place- St. Louis Rams (8-8)
The Rams are often misconstrued as a team based purely on defense. Their defense was actually only 19th in passing yards allowed, 14th in rushing yard allowed and 16th in points allowed per game. So as you can see, their defense isn’t actually as good as some may think. Granted, they are an extremely tough group. Their linebackers also look very promising as young star Alec Ogletree looks to have the best year of his career.
On this offensive side of the ball, things have never looked more promising. Their offensive line remains more or less the same and they have done nothing but gain talent. Quarterback Nick Foles may not have as much potential as Sam Bradford, but he is much more reliable.
Their wide receivers have another year of experience under their belt as well. Perhaps the most exciting part of the Rams young offense is their explosive running back tandem. Second year back Tre Mason will welcome rookie Todd Gurley into the backfield as they look to terrorize defenses around the league. Mason’s quickness combined with Gurley’s strength will make a perfect duo.
The Rams only problem in recent years has been their lack of experience. As their talent continues to progress, the team will only get better. They are a playoff-caliber team stuck in a division with two other elite NFL teams which is why they can’t finish any higher than 8-8.
4th Place- San Francisco 49ers (3-13)
The San Francisco 49ers got worse in the offseason, but not as bad as their record suggests. I went into this expecting the Niners to come out with six or seven wins, but that’s not how it worked out.
The Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks are all better teams than the 49ers, which makes it hard for them to be good. This is also be their first year under new head coach Jim Tomsula as well.
The Niners lost a lot of key defensive players including Chris Borland, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis. Their front seven has always been the key to their defense and now it’s just depleted. They will still have a couple of good players, but not enough to make up for their porous secondary.
On offense, the Niners lost Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati from the offensive line. Colin Kaepernick already has problems with decision making and taking away his two best offensive lineman is not going to help.
The loss of Frank Gore is also nothing to laugh at. Carlos Hyde could be an amazing replacement, but he hasn’t proven himself yet, so I can’t assume that he will be as good as Frank Gore.
The Niners have some good pieces. They just need to fill in the holes in the rest of their lineup to return to their former glory. Especially considering how good the rest of the NFC West is.