NFC West betting preview: Can the 49ers repeat?
The NFC West looks to be competitive again this year, with three teams expected to be in the hunt for playoff spots.
The San Francisco 49ers, the runner-up in Super Bowl LIV, will look to win the division again and return to the big game. The Seattle Seahawks will attempt to dethrone them, but questions surround whether they can continue to ride Russell Wilson enough to paper over the holes in their roster.
The Los Angeles Rams will look to rebound from a season where they just missed out on the playoffs, while the Arizona Cardinals will look to continue their improvement and spoil some seasons.
Let’s go over each of the four teams in the NFC West ahead of the 2020 season.
San Francisco 49ers
2019 record: 13-3, defeated in Super Bowl LIV
Key additions: TE Jordan Reed, LT Trent Williams, WR Dee Ford, DT Javon Kinlaw, WR Brandon Aiyuk
Key departures: DT DeForest Buckner, WR Emmanuel Sanders, RB Matt Breida
The 49ers rode their outstanding defense and powerful rushing attack all the way to the Super Bowl, where they ran into an offensive juggernaut — Patrick Mahomes.
San Francisco rewarded quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with a contract that pays him $10 million more per season than anybody else on the roster. He will be expected to improve on last year’s performance, when he put up solid numbers, even though he was blitzed at the highest rate in the NFL. Garoppolo should be helped by the run game, and while the loss of Breida and his 5.1 yards per carry means a bit less depth, the 49ers have been impressed with Jerick McKinnon (who has missed two years with an ACL injury) in workouts.
The defense needs to fill the hole left behind by standout defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who was traded to the Colts in the offseason. Former first-round pick Soloman Thomas will be expected to take a step forward, and they took Javon Kinlaw in the first round this year to help fill the gap, as well.
Richard Sherman turned 32 in the offseason, and it will be interesting to see if age begins to catch up with him.
Those defensive questions put more onus on the passing game to step up. George Kittle is one of the best tight ends in the game, but Garoppolo will need more production from the wide receiving corps.
Three of the last four Super Bowl losers missed the playoffs the following season. The good news is 49ers open with a relatively easy schedule.
2019 record: 11-5, lost to Green Bay in Divisional Round
Key additions: S Jamal Adams, WR Quinton Dunbar, TE Greg Olsen, WR Phillip Dorsett
Key departures: DE Jadeveon Clowney, LT George Fant, DL Quinton Jefferson, G Chance Warmack (COVID opt-out)
The Seahawks got a terrific, near-MVP season from Wilson last season, and it led them on a decent playoff run. But Wilson played behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league, which got worse this offseason, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked it 28th this year.
Wilson will be forced to play at an even more super-human level, as his line tries to stop the likes of Aaron Donald, Nick Bosa, and Chandler Jones six times in division play. The hope is that his receiving corps will help out, with DK Metcalf expected to take a big step forward and with the additions of Greg Olsen and Phillip Dorsett.
The Seattle defense ranked 22nd or worse in nearly every category last season, but the addition of Jamal Adams via a trade should help. It will likely be a one-year rental, but he is a key addition for a team that lacks pass rushing, and he should see plenty of time on the field.
Age is also a problem for the defense, and in a very competitive division, it remains to be seen if the Seahawks will be able to repeat last season’s stellar play.
Los Angeles Rams
2019 record: 9-7, missed playoffs
Key additions: RB Cam Akers, DE Leonard Floyd
Key departures: RB Todd Gurley, OT Chandler Brewer (COVID opt-out), LB Cory Littleton, DE Dante Fowler Jr., LB Clay Matthews, WR Brandin Cooks
The biggest change for the Rams was their move to cut Todd Gurley and his giant contract, which, along with the Brandin Cooks deal, has them hamstrung.
The good news is that they drafted Cam Akers, who should be the focal point of the rushing attack. He will hopefully be helped by a rebound in play from quarterback Jared Goff, but with the loss of Cooks, his options are not as strong, which puts more pressure on receiver Cooper Kupp.
The defense is still anchored by Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, which is a pair any team would love to have. However, the pass rush will have to fill the production lost from Dante Fowler Jr. and Clay Matthews, and the decision to not re-sign Cory Littleton was one that left many scratching their head.
Unfortunately for the Rams, the bad contracts have limited their options so much that 2020 might be a season they have to endure to get to better financial times. With the personnel losses, they are likely going to come up short of the playoffs again.
2019 record: 5-10-1, missed playoffs
Key additions: WR DeAndre Hopkins, LB Isaiah Simmons, OT Josh Jones, DT Jordan Phillips
Key departures: OT Marcus Gilbert (COVID opt-out), RB David Johnson
Someone should be arrested within the Arizona organization, for the theft that was the DeAndre Hopkins-David Johnson trade. In one move, the Cardinals dumped the albatross that was Johnson’s contract, and gave young QB Kyler Murray one of the best weapons in the NFL.
The move takes pressure off Larry Fitzgerald and gives Murray a pair of targets he should do plenty with. Murray threw only 20 touchdowns last year, a number that should improve, but his 5.8 yards per carry will make teams pay attention to what he’s doing before he throws to his main men. If his offensive line can improve on the league-high 48 sacks it allowed last year, this offense could take a massive step forward.
The additions through the NFL Draft should help, as well. Isaiah Simmons was a steal, and Josh Jones was a third-round pick who could have gone in the first. The addition of Jordan Phillips will help with the transition to the 3-4 defense and should see the Cardinals improve a defense that kept most of its key players.
The Cardinals will not be good enough to make the playoffs, but look for them to push the Rams for the third spot in the division.