San Francisco 49ers
What a year it was for the 49ers in the 2019-2020 season. After a 4-12 record in 2018, they made some adjustments and relied on a heavy running attack, backed up by a strong defense. The 49ers ended the regular season with a 13-3 record and matched up against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. However, the season did not end the way the organization or fans would have liked. But, it has to feel good to see your team rack up 9 additional wins and make it to the Super Bowl when just a year before, a division title and playoff spot was a laughable thought. Going into next season, this team should already be on everyone’s radar as a Super Bowl contending team again. The defense is on another level and has some elite superstars. On offense, head coach Kyle Shanahan can draw up crafty run plays that confuse defenses, pulling lineman and misdirecting. The 49ers could the ball five times in a row and then call out a play-action pass downfield to someone like All-Pro tight-end George Kittle. This team is loaded with weapons, but the question surrounding the offense is Jimmy Garoppolo. Can he make the big throws when the game is on the line? I believe that Garoppolo can be that guy, and will be that guy. His first season with the 49ers ended in Week 3 when he tore his ACL verse the Chiefs. This past season he threw for 3,978 yards and 27 touchdowns, which was tied for 5th best in the league. If the 49ers can get him another playmaking receiver, I think his numbers will rise, and we will see Garoppolo play at an elite level. It’s hard to say if they use the 13th pick in the draft on someone like Henry Ruggs if he was still available, or take a defensive tackle since they lost DeForest Buckner to the Colts. But if someone like Ruggs, Judy, or Lamb is still on the board, it would be tough not to pick them. The interior line is another issue that the 49ers will need to look at. Mike Person is the one spot on that offensive line that I think needs to be upgraded. We saw in the Super Bowl Chris Jones kick his butt all game, and that caused the run game to struggle. It’s no secret this team’s strengths are running the football and beating people up on defense. Nick Bosa will be a big reason why this defense is successful for years to come. The former No. 2 pick in the draft is big, fast, and strong with quick moves to get past offensive lineman, making the opposing quarterbacks hurry throws and make bad decisions. The offensive side of the ball is led by George Kittle and Deebo Samuel downfield. However, they did lose one of their top downfield receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and will be looking to fill his spot this offseason. But the 49ers are at their best when they run up and down the field with guys like Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida, and Tevin Coleman. The three combined for 1,939 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. Shanahan went with a hot hand approach – whoever was playing well early in the game was usually going to see the most carries. The 49ers are a very good team who, in my opinion, will make another deep playoff push due to a great defense and a good offensive scheme ran by Shanahan.
Record Prediction: 13-3
The Seahawks had a great season last year with an 11-5 record. Typically, that kind of record would win the division. But when the 49ers are in your division and go 13-3, that’s tough to swallow. They still made the playoffs as a Wild Card spot, beating the Eagles in the first round, but fell short in the divisional round verse the Packers. This is a team who is plagued with the injury bug. Towards the end of the season, they made a phone call to bring back retired veteran running-back Marshawn Lynch. They did so for depth but also for a morale boost around the locker-room. Lynch was such an excitement to watch when he was in the backfield, because you were ready to watch him break seven tackles and run in for a touchdown. It’s no secret that this team is carried on the shoulders of Russell Wilson. Last season, his stats were remarkable: 4,110 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, and a QBR of 69.8, which was 5th best in the league. The crazy part is he does this with the 22nd ranked receiving corp in the league, according to Bleacher Report. Besides Tyler Lockett, they were relying on guys like Malik Turner, David Moore, and rookie receiver D.K. Metcalf. I am not taking anything away from these athletes, because they stepped up and played when it mattered most. But what I’m saying is, you could tell the communication and cohesiveness between them and Wilson was rough at times, whether that was running a route or dropping a pass. But Wilson is so good that he can adapt and put the ball right on the money or keep it and break off a big run. The 2020 offseason is huge for the Seahawks. Their number one priority should be the offensive line. Wilson was at the top of the list when it came to being pressured. I think they should also consider drafting a wide receiver in one of later rounds to have one more weapon for Wilson. But the other focus for this team will be on defense, especially after Jadeveon Clowney hit free agency. All levels of the defense need help. The team is still pursing Clowney to hopefully reach a deal and be the number one pass rusher again. They also will have Bobby Wagner returning who, in my opinion, is the best middle linebacker in the game. Wagner recorded 86 solo tackles last season which was 9th best in the league. I believe the offense will be fine next season due to the greatness of Russel Wilson, but the defense has too many holes and will struggle to contain elite offenses unless they can make some big moves before the season begins. As of today this division looks to be still ran through the 49ers!
Record Prediction: 10-6
Los Angeles Rams
The LA Rams may have had the most disappointing season compared to all other teams. Coming off the 2018-2019 season where they were competing for a super bowl championship, last season ended with a 9-7 record and a third place in the division. A lot of the blame goes to the offense, in my opinion. According to PFF analytics, the Rams had the second worst offensive line in the league. Jared Goff was one of the highest pressured quarterbacks in the league last season. His numbers were not the best. He did throw for 4,638 yards, but had 16 interceptions which ranked tied for 28th in the league. His QBR was 48.5, ranking 23rd in the league. Numbers like that will be hard for the Rams to compete again in the NFC West. But, you could say his numbers were down because the offensive line could not keep him protected in the pocket. This team has a great offensive minded coach in Sean McVay, who is one the brightest coaches in football right now. But this offseason will be the toughest one yet for the young 34-year-old head coach. After cutting former all pro Todd Gurley early this offseason, it leaves the team with a hole to fill in the backfield. Do they stick with Darrell Henderson, a young promising back that they traded up for in the third round of the 2019 draft?Or do they take a running back early in this years draft? I think they should give the job to Henderson for now to see what he can do. The Rams were also having issues with keeping Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks healthy. Cooks had issues with concussions last season, and Kupp had knee problems. Although Kupp didn’t miss games, he had a nagging injury that noticeably affected his production, especially towards the end of the season. But when everyone is healthy, this team is loaded with weapons out wide. Kupp and Cooks are just two examples, because they also have Robert Woods, Tyler Higbee, and Gerald Everett. When you have this many great pass catchers to cover, it makes it very difficult for the opposing defense. As for the Rams defense, they still have former Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald causing havoc on opposing teams’ offensive line and quarterbacks. There is a reason the NFL voted him the number one player in the league. He is fast, strong, and creative when it comes to rushing the quarterback. He is the heart of the defense but will need help since they lost Dante Fowler Jr. and Cory Littleton, two main pieces on this defense. I think if they can replace Fowler Jr. and Littleton and get someone who can play opposite side of All Pro Jalen Ramsey, this defense will be great again. But the main focus for the rest of the offseason for the Rams will be on the offensive line. Without improving the line, they will have deja vu all over again!
Record Prediction: 7-9
The Arizona Cardinals could be one of the most interesting teams this season. With a young up-and-coming star like Kyler Murray, this team could shock a few. This team is loaded with talent. Let’s start with the guy who will be turning 37 this season and has over 17,000 receiving yards in his career, Larry Fitzgerald, one of the all-time greats who is still competing at a high level, even in his upper 30s. The Cardinals also made an incredible trade with the Texans to bring over top receiver DeAndre Hopkins. With him, Murray has another weapon that he can target. The offense will need to improve their offensive line. They have the weapons, they just need to be able to protect Murray so he can allow plays to develop and get the ball out to his playmakers. The trade for Hopkins did come with a price by losing David Johnson. But in my opinion, was not a hefty price considering the return. Johnson has a major issue with staying healthy, and his production has not been good. Plus, losing him means more snaps for Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds. Drake ran for 817 yards and 8 touchdowns last season, while Edmonds had 303 yards on the ground with 4 touchdowns. Both are young running backs and if the line can pave them a little lane, they can be through it and off to the races in seconds. I believe this offense is going to put up a lot of points this coming season, but there’s potential for them to have issues on defense. Last season, the Cardinals had the worst ranked defense in the league. They need help at all levels of the defense, which means they may need to take someone in the draft like Derrick Brown if he slips to them or Javon Kinlaw. Both guys are top prospects and would be a major upgrade on a defensive front that struggles. The remainder of the offseason will be focused on defense and offensive line for the Cardinals, because they’re already loaded with offensive weapons ready to light up the scoreboard.
Record Prediction: 7-9
The NFC West looks to be a tough division where all games should be relatively close. If you look at the 49ers, they have it all: a great offense, defense, and special teams. They will mostly likely win the division with a 13-3 record and will be a tough team to beat in the playoffs. The Seahawks will do what they always do – late game heroic wins by Russell Wilson. The Rams offensive line will still be the issue this season, and they lost too many key defensive components. Look for them to have a similar season like 2019. Last the Arizona Cardinals. Talk about a team loaded on the offensive side. Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury are going into their second season together, and have added big time star DeAndre Hopkins to the mix. Look for them to score in abundance, but other teams will too on them due to a poor defense. The Cardinals are on the verge of becoming a contender in the league again, once they figure out the offensive line troubles, and defense.