NFC West: Questions, Concerns and Odds Entering Camp

The Los Angeles Rams were the NFC West champs in 2017 and the lone entry from that division to make the playoffs last season. Let’s preview what should be a hotly contested division this season and reveal what the oddsmakers are saying about all four teams.

Los Angeles Rams (2017 season record: 11-5) – In 2017, Jared Goff turned into the premier passer that the Rams believed they had drafted first overall in 2016. The California Golden Bears product made huge strides from his rookie to his sophomore campaign and the Rams are counting on that progression to continue. One weapon Goff will not have at his disposal is wideout Sammy Watkins, but it should be noted that there was something missing between this pass/catch combination. Although Watkins did have eight receiving touchdowns last season he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards and trailed three other LA receivers in terms of targets and receptions. He will be replaced by speed merchant Brandin Cooks, whom the Rams acquired via a trade with the New England Patriots. Todd Gurley could be the NFL’s best all-round back and just got paid like it.

Defensively, the Rams made several splashes in the free agent waters by signing Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, and Aqib Talib. Both Suh and Peters come with their fair share of baggage while Talib should be a solid veteran presence in the defensive backfield. However, it should be noted that Talib is 32 years old and the decline is steep for DBs in the NFL – here’s looking at you Darrell Revis – so the drop in production could come hard and fast this year or the next for the five-time Pro Bowler. A quick click over to Sportsbook Review, the one site to turn to for all things sports gambling and featuring the latest lines from the best online sportsbooks, tells us that the Rams are favored to return as NFC West kings at -135, tied as the second choice with Green Bay at +600 to win the conference, and the fourth choice at +1100 to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at season’s end.

San Francisco 49ers (2017 record: 6-10) – The Jimmy G Era has arrived for its first full season with the Patriots’ former backup under center. Jimmy Garoppolo, a former second-round pick, played like a sure-fire No. 1 overall in winning the final five games of the regular season for San Francisco. The first thing the Niners did was spend their ninth-overall pick in the draft on massive Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey and then struck their second-round pick on University of Washington’s speedster Dante Pettis. Both selections were designed exclusively for Garoppolo with the former to keep him upright and the latter to provide a field-stretching target. The 49ers watched their starting running back Carlos Hyde sign with the Browns but signed Minnesota’s Jerick McKinnon to replace him. McKinnon will be used as another tool of the passing game which gives Garoppolo another target coming out of the backfield.

San Francisco is hoping to get some of the old Seahawks’ swagger with the signing of Richard Sherman patrolling their defensive backfield and will be relying on former first-round pick DeForest Buckner to continue to anchor the defensive line. According to the odds we see at the best online sportsbooks over at Sportsbook Review, the 49ers are the second choice to win the division at +320, +1100 to win the conference, and +2450 to return a Super Bowl championship to the Bay Area.

Seattle Seahawks (2017 record: 9-7) – Pete Carroll’s crew was on the outside looking in on the postseason for the first time in six years after finishing the 2017 season with a 9-7 record. Plenty of housecleaning was done with new defensive and offensive coordinators, led by Ken Norton Jr. and Brian Schottenheimer, respectively. Seattle’s first-round draft pick Rashaad Penny is poised to take the reins as the top tailback this season with Mike Davis, Chris Carson, and J.D. McKissic returning to the Seahawks’ backfield with Eddie Lacy as the odd man out. The biggest issue for Seattle was an offensive line that could neither bust open holes for the running backs nor provide ample pass protection for quarterback Russell Wilson. That glaring deficiency remains, as the only attempt to fix it in the draft was in the fifth-round with Ohio State tackle Jamarco Jones. Other than that, it will be incumbent upon Wilson to get open and find a target not named Doug Baldwin as he is the only top receiver left after Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson signed with the Packers and Redskins, respectively.

The Legion of Boom is suddenly a region of doom for the Seahawks as Richard Sherman is now a 49er, Kam Chancellor is retired, and Earl Thomas is demanding a trade. The news doesn’t get any better on the defensive side of the ball with the departures of Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Sheldon Richardson. The oddsmakers understand all of this which is why Seattle is the third choice of four to win the NFC West at +425, middle of the pack to win the conference at +1800, and near the bottom third to win the Super Bowl at +5000.

Arizona Cardinals (2017 record: 8-8) – The Cardinals were hoping to remedy their emergency at quarterback when they traded up to draft Josh Rosen of UCLA. Sam Bradford is in the dessert now but his eggshell frame cannot be counted on to withstand the rigors of an NFL season. The Cards are crossing their fingers that Bradford can hang in for enough of the season to keep Rosen on the sidelines and learning from a mentor who can be a click below the very best when healthy. But the main spoke on the offensive wheel is running back David Johnson, who was injured in Week 1 last year with a broken wrist. If he does return to his 2016 form, he will be amongst the most dynamic running backs in the game. Speaking of the running game, Arizona signed former Giant Justin Pugh to anchor the offensive line and drafted Michigan center Mason Cole in the third-round to create holes for Johnson while providing protection for Bradford/Rosen. In addition, look for added depth at wide receiver with second-round pick Christian Kirk of Texas A&M to assist the aging Larry Fitzgerald.

The defense took some key losses in the offseason with the departures of Tyrann Mathieu, Tramon Williams, Tyvon Branch in the secondary and nose tackle Xavier Williams signing with the Chiefs. Needless to say, the oddsmakers are skeptical of the Cardinals and are dealing them at +1900 to win the division, +6500 to win the NFC, and +14000 to win the Super Bowl.

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