NFC West Mid-Season Grades – Is The Entire Division On The Decline?

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The first half of the 2016 season is in the books, and we are learning something very concerning about the NFC West – there is a real possibility that there may not be a playoff team in house when the regular season concludes on New Year’s Day.

Arizona QB Carson Palmer, a MVP candidate at this time last year, looks like he lost several steps in the offseason, and just looks off in general. Say what you will about his offensive line and the lack of overall talent at receiver, but something isn’t right and his best seasons may be getting further and further in the rear view mirror. Other than David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals’ offense is a shell of what is was last year, and their elite defense has not been able to cover up the issues so far.

Then there is the curious tale of Seattle QB Russell Wilson, who showed off another gear as a passer and a runner last season, but he has suffered more than usual behind a below-average offensive line, and lacks his signature composure and confidence. Slowed by an injured ankle, injured knee, and now a partially torn pectoral, Wilson looks less and less like himself as the season wears on, and could be on the fast track to the IR. We can only hope he doesn’t turn out the way Joe Theismann did on November 18th, 1985, and you can Google the meaning behind that reference at your own risk. On defense, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett have missed time, and opposing teams are finding holes in the secondary as a result. Can the Seahawks get healthy in time to make a second half surge?

Los Angeles and San Francisco appear to be getting ready for the draft next spring, and are out of their minds if they don’t realize they are out of contention. Regardless of the QB either team starts, they just do not have the surrounding talent or coaching staff to make a real go of it this year. They should still give it their all week to week, but I would be surprised to see either team finish with a winning record after seeing their on-field product for half of the season.

First place – Seattle

4-2-1 overall, 1-1-1 Division, 2-2-1 NFC

Grade B-

Offense 23rd (29th scoring, 17th pass, 28th rush)

Defense 6th (2nd scoring, 9th pass, 5th rush)

Quarter season grade and ranking –

3-1 overall, 1-1 Conf., 1-1 Division Grade B

Offense 16th (22nd scoring, 11th pass, 20th rush)

Defense 2nd (3rd scoring, 5th pass, 6th rush)

Seattle has dropped like a rock in offensive ratings, and lost a few pegs on defense. Despite facing the most adversity during the Pete Carroll era, Seattle has shown incredible drive and resilience while only suffering two losses with a concerning amount of key players suffering injuries, contributing to a lack of overall consistency on both sides of the ball. They don’t look like playoff  contenders, but they have a winning record, and for now a hold of first place in the division. As long as they get healthy and figure out how to get more yards out of their offense  and how to fix their leaky secondary, Seattle should be fine when they get to the homestretch.

“Fine” may describe a winning team, but it does not describe a contender however, so they’ll need to fix the glitches and find their old form if they want to make some moves in the dance this year. They have the talent on their roster and coaching staff, now we’ll see if they have the physical and emotional strength to stay united as they deal with more and more pressure to return to their way of playing football.

Next game: 11/7/16 vs Buffalo

Preseason projection:  14-2, 1st in NFC West, #1 seed in NFC

Qtr season projection: 12-4, 1st in NFC West, #2 seed in NFC

Mid season projection: 10-6, 1st in NFC West, #3 seed in NFC

 

Second place – Arizona

3-4-1 overall, 1-1-1 Division, 2-2-1 NFC

Grade C+

Offense 10th (18th scoring, 8th pass, 9th rush)

Defense 1st (6th scoring, 7th pass, 20th rush)

Quarter season grade and ranking –

1-3 overall, 1-2 Conf., 0-1 DivisionGrade D

Offense 7th (14th scoring, 7th pass, 15th rush)

Defense 8th (11th scoring, 7th pass, 20th rush)

While the eye test certainly won’t tell you that Arizona is the league’s best defense, that’s certainly how they stack up on paper, which is bizarre as they are behind in scoring, rushing, and passing yards, but ahead in total yards. The games being played on Sunday’s have told the real story, and have led Arizona to a losing record, chasing the division lead, and wondering if they have what it takes to produce a winning record and earn a playofff berth by season’s end.

This team seems to lack leadership on offense, and has just enough playmakers to be dangerous on defense, but we will see what the loss of DB and emotional leader Tyrann Mathieu does to this unit. Carson Palmer is either rusty or hurt or both, but he is no longer the answer at QB. Neither is Drew Stanton, so you won’t see any benchings of Palmer, as he is capable of scoring a lot of points in the right situation, but his decision making just isn’t as sharp this year

Larry Fitzgerald may have enjoyed his final playoff experience in 2016, and that is the sad truth for the future hall of famer. WIth the trade deadline passing and no moves made, and this team not looking like a likely playoff bubble team, Fitzgerald will likely play the season out, and if Palmer is shown the door, he may follow him out of the building and into retirement.

There is still a lot of football left, but it’s hard to imagine this team catching fire and making a run of it. They could still finish as a winning team, but don’t expect a 2008 type of run, this one may look a lot more like their 2013 season when they played hard at the finish, but were sunk by their early season wreckage.

Next game: 11/13/16 vs San Francisco

Preseason projection:  10-6, 2nd NFC West, #5 seed in NFC Playoffs

Qtr season projection: 8-8, 3rd in NFC West, miss playoffs

Mid season projection: 8-8, 2nd in NFC West, miss playoffs

Third place – Los Angeles

3-4 overall, 2-1 Division, 3-3 NFC

Grade C-

Offense 30th (30th scoring, 27th pass, 29th run)

Defense 11th (14th scoring, 11th pass, 11th rush)

Quarter season grade and ranking –

3-1 overall, 3-1 Conf., 2-1 Division Grade B+

Offense 32nd (30th scoring, 30th pass, 30th run)

Defense 23rd (9th scoring, 24th pass, 17th rush)

Three straight losses, going from first to third in the division, and now looking like a sure thing for another top-10 draft pick. And you know what that means, another losing season for Jeff Fisher and the Rams.

This could mean the beginning of the Jared Goff era a bit earlier than expected, and it should mean the end for Fisher, who has not produced a winning season in four years, but he is rumored to be getting a contract extension, which makes the hot seat unlikely. What is it about Fisher and his wealth of average seasons that makes him a mainstay? If the on-field product does not improve  with the new stadium and new town, their coach may have to be shown the door. His no-nonsense style is attractive to GMs and owners, but it just hasn’t produced  the desired results in St. Louis and LA that he had in Tennessee and Houston.

RB Todd Gurley is currently in the middle of a severe sophomore slump, and unless the offensive line gets better overnight or starts driving bulldozers on the field, things aren’t going to get any better, and the Rams will have to hope they don’t crack the confidence of their two youngest but most important players.

Aaron Donald has become a superstar on defense and has nearly turned this team into a top-10 unit, but there is still work to be done as they are so far unable to outscore  the opposing team, no matter how low the defense holds them.

There is plenty of talent on the roster, but they just do not appear to have the right pieces in place or the right coaches on hand to get the most out of the players they have. Without a solid offensive line or true number one receiver, it’s going to be hard for the Rams to contend no matter how much they like Fisher, Gurley, ad Goff.

Next game: 11/6/16 vs Carolina

Preseason projection:  9-7, 3rd in NFC West, #6 seed in NFC

Qtr season projection: 11-5, 2nd in NFC West, #5 seed in NFC

Mid season projection: 7-9, 3rd in NFC West, miss playoffs

 

Last place – San Francisco

Grade D

1-6 overall, 1-2 Division, 1-5 NFC

Offense 32nd (22nd scoring, 32nd pass, 10th run)

Defense 30th (32nd scoring, 6th pass, 32nd rush)

Quarter season grade and ranking –

1-3 overall, 1-3 Conf., 1-1 DivisionGrade C-

Offense 32nd (22nd scoring, 32nd pass, 10th run)

Defense 30th (32nd scoring, 6th pass, 32nd rush)

It’s hard to find any silver lining in San Francisco right now. That isn’t a lead in to what the silver lining is, it’s just the honest truth that finding any will be difficult.

Colin Kaepernick was thrust into the starting job after Blaine Gabbert was so awful, the team may or may not have forced Kaepernick to restructure his contract so that they could play him, most likely cut or trade him in the offseason, and also not pay him when he got  hurt. Not if he got hurt, but when he got hurt.

Speaking of pain, the offense is painfully awful to watch. Whatever creative genius we expected to see here, it just isn’t happening. While the defense can slow some passing attacks, it is a busted dam when the opposing team runs the ball, and they allow the most points in the league. The good news for 49ers fans is that the season is half over, but the bad news is that it is only half over.

With needs at quarterback, running back, receiver, offensive line, defensive line, secondary, linebackers, and depth everywhere in between, this team may be in need of a 4-5 year rebuild, and that may be 4 years too long for the front office. This isn’t all Chip Kelly’s doing, but whatever magic he used in his first year in Philadelphia may not have even made the trip to San Francisco.

If you thought last year was bad, that was just the warm up.

Next game: 11/6/16 vs New Orleans

Preseason projection:  7-9, 4th in NFC West, miss playoffs

Qtr season projection: 4-12, 4th in NFC West, miss playoffs

Mid season projection: 2-14, 4th in NFC West, miss playoffs

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About Author

Casey Mabbott

Casey Mabbott is a writer and podcast host born and raised in West Philadelphia where he spent most of his days on the basketball court perfecting his million dollar jumpshot. Wait, no, that’s all wrong. Casey has spent his entire life here in the Pacific NorthWest other than his one year stint as mayor of Hill Valley in an alternate reality 1985. He’s never been to Philadelphia, and his closest friends will tell you that his jumpshot is the farthest thing from being worth a million bucks. Casey enjoys all sports and covering them with written words or spoken rants. He has made an art of movie references, and is a devout follower of 80's movies and music. I don't know why you would to, but you can probably find him on the street corner waiting for the trolley to take him to the stadium or his favorite pub, where he will be telling people the answers to questions they don’t remember asking. And it only goes downhill from there if he drinks. He’s a real treat.

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