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NFL Football: NFC West Preview & Predictions

Jun 15, 2021 EST

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The NFC West turned all expectations upside down in 2020– a struggling 49ers team, the Cardinals falling below projected totals, and Seattle taking the crown. For San Francisco, the unpredictable injury bug decimated their roster to uncompetitive levels, but for Arizona, it was coaching incompetence. The division put a pair of teams in the playoffs– including the 10-6 Rams– but fell out of conversations by the NFC Divisional Round. Multiple teams sit in precarious positions for the coming season, making the NFC West one to keep a special eye on.


Looking back on the 2020 Seattle Seahawks, it might not be immediately apparent that they finished 12-4. The first part of the season featured one of the most lethal passing offenses and gaping passing defenses in history. Russell Wilson appeared to be on track for his first-ever MVP but the defense was on pace to allow the most passing yards in history by a landslide. Midway through 2020, the philosophy changed; Wilson stopped filling up scoreboards and the defense began locking down opponents. While the change secured an NFC West title for them, Seattle’s inability to score ultimately was their undoing in the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Rams may also have overproduced based on what fans remember about the season. They finished 10-6 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, but their season was ended by the Packers in Green Bay. Aaron Donald continued to prove his place in the NFL as the apex predator, picking up another Defensive Player of the Year award. Rookie Cam Akers stepped up to the plate, being the first feature back for the Rams since Todd Gurley some years ago. However, fans (and executives) grew tired of Jared Goff, who played his last game in Rams uniform.

After seeing what Kyler Murray was capable of in his rookie season, his command of the offense grew. They added superstar DeAndre Hopkins, a move that proved to be fruitful for the team all season long. Their highest high included the “Hail Murray” win over the Bills while the lowest low was a team that finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Despite possessing some of the best weapons in the league, the Arizona Cardinals flat out failed to win games. Fingers began pointing back to Kliff Kingsbury, who’s been a widely-criticized hire since Day 1.

As mentioned, the San Francisco 49ers never had a chance to follow up their Super Bowl appearance in 2019. They lost a swath of defensive starters to season-ending injuries, namely Nick Bosa (2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year) and Dee Ford. They were also without George Kittle for extended periods as well as starting back Raheem Mostert and even starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. It was brutal to watch for fans of the Niners and the NFL and the team sunk to a 6-10 last place finish. The next step for San Francisco: bury the season and move forward.


One of the biggest stories of the 2021 offseason was the blockbuster trade involving the Rams. They shipped off former No. 1 pick Jared Goff to the Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford. It was a move that indicated the Rams are in win-now mode and that Sean McVay doesn’t want blame deferred to him. A lot was lost to free agency, namely starters Austin Blythe, John Johnson, and Troy Hill. Los Angeles continues to operate in “cap space hell” but rosters plenty of talent anyway. The offense will be fun to watch this season under Stafford, who will be maximized in McVay’s system. They Rams are in a crowded race on odds tables for the NFC West favorite, currently being listed at +190.

2020 really was a season controlled by injury; oddsmakers aren’t shaken on the 49ers this season. They drafted Trey Lance third overall in the draft to compete with Jimmy Garoppolo, who’s seen by many as limited. Expected back are all the stars that lived in the season-ending IR a season ago and the Niners added some help in free agency. Veteran center Alex Mack was landed to help bolster an offensive line that struggled last season. As long as Kyle Shanahan is in charge in the Bay, the 49ers will be a relevant team. Their odds to win the division currently sit at +200.

Despite their 12-4 record last year, futures on the Seahawks continue to project a downward trend. Russell Wilson was rumored to be unhappy in the organization after Pete Carroll announced their plans to run the ball more. While that remained just a rumor, there are serious weaknesses on the roster. Ahkelo Witherspoon was the highest-profile free agent brought in this offseason, who only played 32% of snaps for the 49ers last season. Many pieces departed the team for greener pastures and the Seahawks have to work with who they have left. It’s a precarious season for Carroll, who may be facing pressure to win or leave town.

Similarly, it’s a pivotal year for Kliff Kingsbury. The Kingsbury-led Cardinals have routinely failed to meet expectations, missing the playoffs both years with him heading the team. Free agency was a success, where Arizona brought in All Pro center Rodney Hudson, All Pro edge rusher J.J. Watt, former All Pro A.J. Green, and corner Malcom Butler, among others. It’s clear that Kingsbury feels the heat on his position and the Cardinals are suddenly in win-now mode. However, they lag behind the rest of the division in odds to win the NFC West at +600.


Year Winner Record
2020 Seattle Seahawks 12-4
2019 San Francisco 49ers 13-3
2018 LA Rams 13-3
2017 LA Rams 11-5
2016 Seattle Seahawks 10-5-1
2015 Arizona Cardinals 13-3
2014 Seattle Seahawks 12-4
2013 Seattle Seahawks* 13-3
2012 San Francisco 49ers 11-4-1
2011 San Francisco 49ers 13-3
2010 Seattle Seahawks 7-9


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