Our division series previews continue with the toughest division in football, the NFC West.
One can make a sizable argument for any one of these teams to win the division. The Seahawks are the reigning division champs and are looking to repeat. The Rams are welcoming fans to their brand new SoFi Stadium for the first time and they will do it by showcasing their new quarterback, Matthew Stafford. The 49ers are looking to get back into 2019 form after their 2020 season was riddled with injuries. They will have a two-headed dragon at quarterback between Jimmy Garoppolo and the young Trey Lance. Will we finally see the Cardinals take another leap in year three of Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure.
Let's get to our betting preview, with lines provided by DraftKings Sportsbook.
The favorite: San Francisco
Odds to win the division: +180
Over/under win a total: 10.5
Key Players Re-signed: LT Trent Williams, EDGE Dee Ford, FB Kyle Juszczyk, Jason Verrett
Key Additions: EDGE Samson Ebukam, C Alex Mack, RB Wayne Gallman
Key Departures: QB C.J. Beathard, RB Jerick McKinnon, RB Tevin Coleman, CB Richard Sherman
Key 2021 Draft Picks: QB Trey Lance, OG Aaron Banks, RB Trey Sermon, CB Ambry Thomas
The 49ers are expected to go from worst to first in this division. Many professional football bettors expect to return to their 2019 form, where they went 13-3 and represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.
The 49ers had an injury-ravaged campaign in 2020 where they lost starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo six games in, and defensive stars Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, and Arik Armstead all missed significant time. So what is the floor/ceiling for this 49ers team? Is the 2019 Super Bowl run the actual expectation, or was it a complete outlier?
It's worth noting that outside of that 2019 run, San Francisco hasn't won more than six games in any other season Kyle Shanahan has been the head coach. Now I know bad injury luck has played a role in that - but it’s time for Shanahan to live up to his reputation as one of the brightest minds in the NFL. We will see what happens; this team is stacked on both sides of the football.
Obviously, the big story here is that there is a little quarterback controversy. Shanahan has said both Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo would see action during the season. We can assume the veteran Garoppolo should be the starter.
Also, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh left to be the head coach for the Jets, but they replaced him with one of the best, young up and coming minds in football with DeMeco Ryans. Expect this 49ers defense to be more aggressive in sending pressure. They will need to be more aggressive getting after the quarterback because there are some questions in their secondary.
I like this San Francisco team. The 49ers also get the benefit of playing a 4th place schedule. They have the highest ceiling of any team in this division. If things break their way health-wise, the 49ers may earn a second shot in the Super Bowl.
The Pick: This is a stay away for me
Contender: Los Angeles Rams:
Odds to win the division: +190
Over/Under win total: 10.5
Players Re-signed: OLB Leonard Floyd, LT Andrew Whitworth, CB Darious Williams
Key Additions: QB Matthew Stafford, WR DeSean Jackson, P Corey Bojorquez
Key Departures: QB Jared Goff, CB Troy Hill, S John Johnson TE, Gerald Everett,
Key 2021 Draft Picks: WR Tutu Atwell, LB Ernest Jones, DT Bobby Brown III
The Rams are one of the most exciting teams to project for this coming season, as they hope to repeat what Tampa Bay did last year - and play a Super Bowl in their own home stadium. And they have the talent to get there.
The big news of course is that they unloaded an inefficient turnover-prone Jared Goff - in exchange for Matt Stafford, one of the most dynamic gunslingers in the league. Stafford has thrown for 45,109 yards and 282 touchdowns in his 12-season NFL career. And he did that playing in Detroit, where he constantly had a non-existent running game, a poor offensive line, and poor coaching. He gets one of the best play designers in the NFL, a Top 10 offensive line (in terms of pass protection), and a solid receiving duo with Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. Stafford's ability to throw the ball from Inglewood to the Santa Monica coast will open Sean McVay’s range of plays. We should see some new quirks in this Ram’s offense.
On defense, the Rams ranked first in weighted DVOA last season. They arguably have the best defensive lineman in the league in Aaron Donald and the best cover corner in Jalen Ramsey. Defensive coordinator Brandon Staley is gone, but new coordinator Raheem Morris has a lot of talent at his disposal.
Stan Kroenke spent billions of dollars at Sofi Stadium to host playoff games and Super Bowls. This season, I think that’s what the Rams are going to do.
The Pick: LA to win the division +190 AND LA to win the Super Bowl +1400
Contender: Seattle Seahawks
Division odds: +275
Over/Under Win Total: 10
Key Players Re-signed: RB Chris Carlson, WR Tyler Lockett, IDL Poona Ford
Key Additions: TE Gerald Everett, RG Gabe Jackson, CB Ahkello Witherspoon
Key Departures: TE Jacob Hollister, WR David Moore, CB Shaquill Griffin
Key 2021 Draft Picks: WR D'Wayne Eskridge, CB Tre Brown, OT Stone Forsythe
It’s crazy to think how a team can have Russell Wilson as their quarterback and be slated to finish third in their division. That’s how stacked the NFC West is. While the Seahawks are slated third here, you can make the case they are legitimate title contenders— after the Seahawks seesawed between two extremes last season.
During the first half of the season, the offensive was on fire, ranking in the top spot in DVOA through the first eight weeks, with Wilson cementing himself as the favorite to win the MVP. However, during those eight weeks, their defense was among the worst in the league.
When the defense finally began to improve, they had a Top 10 DVOA over their last six games, which was the point when the Seattle offense began to slow down. Much of that was due to head coach Pete Carroll’s request to run the ball more often, and Wilson was throwing down the field at far less clip and a more inefficient rate.
SO what it comes down to is getting both sides of the ball playing well simultaneously. The Seahawks figured out how to use Jamal Adams effectively as a blitzer. And when Wilson is giving on the opportunity to throw the football - good things happen.
Seattle does not have the same talent depth of the Rams or the Niners. But they have the best quarterback in the division by far! Having Russell Wilson gives you a chance to win every single game. We are going to see how far Russ can take this team again.
The Pick: No bet, too many unknowns outside of Russell Wilson
Division Odds: +650
Over/Under Win Total: 8.5
Key Players Re-signed: LG Justin Pugh, LB Jordan Hicks, EDGE Dennis Gardeck
Key Additions: DE J.J. Watt, WR A.J. Green, C Rodney Hudson Key Departures: RB Kenyan Drake, DB Patrick Peterson, TE Dan Arnold
Key 2021 Draft Picks: LB Zaven Collins, WR Rondale Moore, CB Marco Wilson
It seems that the Cardinals are the roster that should be primed to make the biggest jump out of all these teams. The problem is, they are stuck behind the other three teams listed above. The Cardinals started 5-2 to begin last season. Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury looked to be the next, great, young coach/qb duo in the NFL. But a 3-6 slide in the final nine games forced the Cardinals to miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.
In terms of last season, the offense really began to slow down after the 20-17 loss against the Patriots. Bill Belichick created a design to stop the Kyler Murray express. He used safeties as linebackers and had 5-6 DB’s on the field at all times and pressed wide receivers to take away the Cardinals quick passing game. Over time, the Cardinals were not as efficient. This season, the Cardinals need to run the ball downhill when teams present lighter boxes. The addition of James Connor should help that.
With all the attention on the offense, I’m interested in seeing this defense's growth. The Cardinals finished 10th in defensive DVOA last season despite not having Chandler Jones for the final ten games. This year, Jones is back after off-season trade chatter and so too is do-it-all safety Budda Baker. They now add JJ Watt to clog the front seven, and they also drafted athletic linebacker Zaven Collins out of Tulsa. Former top defensive prospect Isaiah Simmons has shown a lot of promise in camp, and he may make a huge defensive impact next season. The Cardinals schedule is extremely tough but this team has the talent to make some noise.
I can see the Cardinals surprising everyone and winning this division.
Bet: Cardinals over 8.5 wins AND win the division +650