NFC West

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by jeff beyel

NFC West Preview (In Predicted Order Of finish)

The Rams and coach Kenny Main have ruled the PAFL for several years now and season 8 promises to bring more of the same.  The reality is Los Angeles has benefitted mightily from having consistently good players who do not suffer major injuries or decline.  QB Tom Brady, much like the Cincinnati Bengals’ Drew Brees, has endlessly performed year after year allowing LA to focus on other key elements.  While Brady may have aged a bit, the talent he is surrounded with will surely enhance his stats. RB Alvin Kamara is a supreme back with awesome pass catching ability while ageless WR Julio Jones and TE Travis Kelce provide incredible firepower.  Add in veteran Davante Adams and the Ram attack is near impossible to stop. Tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Ron Stanley form, easily, the best tandem in the league ranking #1 and #2 at the position! C Frank Ragnow and G Andrew Norwell help to complete one of the top lines in all of football. Overall, few, if any teams, can match the supreme talents assembles by Main and there is little chance that any team in the West can unseat them.

   The defense is not quite as strong as seasons past but it still ranks among the elites.  DL Arik Armstead is rated #4 in the league, LB Don’t’a Hightower checks in at #11, and DB Tyrann Mathieu stands at #5 so you get the picture here.  With the Rams likely to put up 30+ virtually every game, the D will not need to be fantastic but the unit, as a whole, will rank in the top 5.

The Chargers are not a threat to the Rams but they have given the defending champs fits in their head-to-head matchups. Coach Hank Heinzant has done a wonderful job slowly making the Bolts relevant but now it remains to be seen if they can finally take the next step and make the playoffs.

   Young QB Daniel Jones should be the starter but there are some doubters out there who are beginning to think he might not be the guy in San Diego.  Heinzant has been scouring for his franchise signal caller ever since he has taken the reins but has shown little patience on waiting for that talent to develop having moved a number of QBs out.  The team has a solid stable of backs in Josh Jacobs, who Heinzant drafted, and David Montgomery. The receiving corps is a question mark with only Courtland Sutton possessing true starter credentials. The offensive line is actually pretty good with all-world G Quenton Nelson steadying the group. Nelson was yet another Heinzant draftee and he gets help from yet another drafted asset in the form of fellow G Elgton Jenkins giving San Diego a powerful interior road grader look for Jacobs and Montgomery to run behind.

   The defensive line has some pass rush ability but the line backers are not quite strong enough to stop the run on a routine basis.  Marshon Lattimore and Levi Wallace bolster a secondary that was a strength of the team a season ago and should be good enough to limit most passing attacks.

The Arizona Cardinals were one of the truly “Feel Good” stories a season ago under head coach Dan Oakes.  They are hoping to repeat their efforts of last year and certainly have enough talent to do so. QB Patrick Mahomes will soon replace the Rams’ Tom Brady as the best signal caller in the division giving hope to the fans who call the desert their home. RBs Aaron Jones, James Connor, and Benny Snell form a powerful trio although Connor and Snell are injury concerns.  The Cards lack a true alpha receiver but Michael Gallup, Sterling Shepard, and Corey Davis are adequate although, like the backfield, health will be a worrisome spot. Arizona is virtually devoid of any tight ends and might be seeking some help there soon. C Ben Jones, G Brandon Brooks, and T Alejandro Villanueva give the Cards 60% of an outstanding line and they might be just good enough to move an unbalanced group.

   The defensive line is deep and diverse but does not have a bell cow presence there. Anthony Barr and David Mayo are solid line backers while pass rush specialist Bruce Irvin will need to perform. Carlton Davis is the best player in a secondary that will probably be under siege in the rugged West.

The one high flying Falcons have had their wings clipped in recent times.  Coach Bill Howell took over a program that was on the verge of decline when ex-coach Rick Main headed off to Philadelphia.  QB Matt Ryan remains as a vestige of the long gone vertical passing barrages Falcon fans had become accustomed to. Ryan can still sling it but Atlanta has nearly zero talent available at the receiver position in a situation that could quickly dissolve to a critical status.  RBs Mark Ingram and LeSean McCoy can both really play but will likely be tasked with spanning a bridge too far. The offensive line is aging in spots and does not boast an elite talent there.

   Dexter Lawrence, Ifeadi Odenigbo, and pass rusher Vic Beasely have some skill and KJ Wright is the top line-backer in the house but the Falcon front seven will be sorely tested this year.  As limited as the front may be, the Atlanta secondary has no such issues. S Jamal Adams is the best in football and his running mate, Devin McCourty, helps form the top safety duo in the league. Casey Heyward is the #3 rated CB in the business giving Howell some real pieces to work with here.

 

Final Analysis:  The Rams have utterly dominated football with back-to-back titles, the first and only undefeated season in league history, and being the league’s all-time winningest franchise on their resume.  They should win a third straight title easily and make it back to a fourth consecutive title game!  The Chargers and Cardinals should battle for the silver medal but it is no guarantee that either will be good enough to get to the post-season with Dallas, Carolina, Philadelphia, Green Bay, Chicago, and Minnesota all with playoff caliber rosters.  Atlanta simply does not have enough weapons at wide receiver to seriously threaten.