NFC West 2019-2020 Season Preview – Are The Rams Too Talented For Their Division Rivals?

There are just 23 days to go until the NFL season officially kicks off on September 8th, and excitement is ramping up every minute for football to make its triumphant return to television sets across the country. 

The NFL Kickoff game takes place three days prior on the 5th, but unless you are a Green Bay or Chicago fan, your season doesn’t actually start until the 8th when the bulk of the week one games kickoff. And unless you are a Houston, New Orleans, Denver, or Oakland fan, you’ll be seeing your team live on Sunday the 8th. For the previously mentioned teams, you can find them featured in the week one exclusive Monday Night double header.

Week one in the NFC West should provide plenty of excitement, as the Rams open their season on the road at Carolina, Seattle hosts Cincinnati, San Francisco travels to Tampa Bay, and Arizona hosts Detroit. The first division rivalry game takes place in week 4 when Seattle hosts Arizona.

The Rams ran away with the division the last two years, but Seattle has been nipping at their heels and the 49ers and Cardinals look to take big steps forward this year. As defending NFC Champions, the division and conference crowns are the Rams’ to lose, but they may find themselves with their most competition since Sean McVay arrived in 2017.

To help navigate the murky waters of tea leaves inside the dusty crystal ball we’re looking at with one eye closed and not wearing contact lenses in our good eyes, let’s take a look at what we might see from each team this season.

Los Angeles Rams

2018 record 13-3, NFC West Champions, NFC #2 Seed, NFC Champions, lost to Patriots in Super Bowl

2019 strength of schedule – 27th (based on opponents’ 2018 win .473 percentage)

Key home matchups –

Saints, Buccaneers, 49ers, Bears, Seahawks

Key road matchups –

Panthers, Seahawks, Falcons

Player additions

Eric Weddle FS

Clay Matthews OLB

Darrell Henderson RB

Player subtractions

CJ Anderson RB

Rodger Saffold G

Ndamukong Suh DT

John Sullivan C (UFA)

Lamarcus Joyner FS

The Rams will be featured in six prime time games this season, with four of them coming against division rivals. Both of the Rams’ matchups with Seattle will be featured, one on Thursday Night Football in Seattle, and the other on Sunday Night Football in Los Angeles. 

Adding Weddle as Joyner’s replacement and bringing in pass rush specialist Matthews could fire up an already scary defense on paper, but until we’ve seen Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters play a full season together and stay healthy, this team will need to rely heavily on its pass rush. Credit the Rams for noticing this, and taking a chance on the aging Matthews to pair him with Dante Fowler and all-pro Aaron Donald. The NFL rule book confirmed that you can’t throw the football if you’re on your back.

That said, there are some concerns on the offensive line. Drafting Henderson to back up Todd Gurley was yet another in a long line of smart moves by GM Les Snead, but parting with Saffold and opting not to re-sign Sullivan leaves some gaps on what has been one of the best blocking groups the last two years. Perhaps their struggles in the Super Bowl had something to do with it, but I’m not convinced dumping two proven veterans who started 31 of the last 32 games is how you get better. But Snead and head coach Sean McVay have been right most of the time so we’ll go along with it.  

Despite some roster question marks, the Rams are expected to have one of the easiest schedules in the league so I could easily see this team going 13-3 again or maybe even 14-2. I don’t expect them to have the same overconfident game plans that led to their three regular season losses last year. Don’t expect McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to be outcoached more than a couple of games all year, they are two of the best in the business for a reason. If they can keep everyone healthy, especially offensive glue guy Cooper Kupp, this team can go as far as it wants to. And with QB Jared Goff still a year away from needing a contract extension, they need to win now before it’s too expensive to keep everyone around for their wide open title window.

Vegas currently has their over/under at 10 wins; I’ll take the over and bet on them to meet or exceed their 2018 season.

Seattle Seahawks

2018 record 10-6, 2nd in NFC West, NFC #5 seed, lost to Cowboys in Wild Card

2019 strength of schedule – 25th (based on opponents’ 2018 win .479 percentage)

Key home matchups –

Bengals, Saints, Rams, Ravens, Buccaneers, Vikings, 49ers

Key road matchups –

Steelers, Cardinals, Browns, Falcons, 49ers, Eagles, Rams, Panthers

Player additions

Mike Iupati G

Ezekiel Ansah DE

Cassius Marsh DE

LJ Collier DE

DK Metcalf WR

Jason Myers K

DeShawn Shead CB

Player subtractions

Earl Thomas FS

Kam Chancellor SS

JR Sweezy G

Frank Clark DE

Doug Baldwin WR

Mike Davis RB

CB Justin Coleman

Sebastian Janikowski K

Germain Ifedi

You have to go back to the 2011 season to find the last time the Seattle Seahawks finished 3rd or worse in the NFC West, which could be the catalyst behind some unreasonable expectations for this mostly unproven squad to succeed.

As the only NFL team in the NW region, Seattle will be on TV locally each and every week and are also featured in 5 prime time games this year, with three of them coming against divisional opponents.

Seattle looked really sloppy breaking in a new lineup on both sides of the ball early last year and went into their week seven bye with a 3-3 record. By week 11, they were one of the teams to watch, winning six of their last seven games en route to clinching a wild card berth. 

Now in year two of the post-Legion Of Boom era, this collection of players has the chance to show why their front office believed in them enough to trade, cut, or refuse to sign most of the guys that got them to consecutive Super Bowls from 2013-14.

Russell Wilson and Chris Carson are proven commodities on offense, but that’s about where the list of players you can count on abruptly ends. With Baldwin retiring, the passing game will have to lean on Tyler Lockett, who has never caught 60 passes or eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving as the second option. Granted, this has and will continue to be a run-first team; so Lockett won’t have to put up all-pro numbers, but he’ll have to deal with the opponent’s primary cover corner for the first time in his career, and we’ll see how he responds. Luckily he should only have to man WR1 duties as long as it takes rookie Metcalf to develop his game to the NFL level. 

Swapping Sweezy for Iupati should be a wash, and not re-signing Ifedi should remove about 200 false starts from their weekly gameplan.  The amount of time I lost watching that dude pause the game multiple times each week….well I’m never getting it back.

I think this team will continue to overachieve, even if it doesn’t stack up with the elite contenders on paper. The guys on this roster like to prove their doubters and detractors wrong, so to give them a head start, I’ll say on the record that I’m not expecting them to unseat the Rams any time soon. That said, they will prove a lot of people wrong by winning games they are supposed to win and winning some games they probably should lose. And in the end, they’ll be a playoff team and put up quality numbers even if they lead the league in three and outs.

Vegas currently has their over/under at 8.5 wins, with one of the easier schedules and a slightly improved roster.

I’ll take the over and bet on them to meet or exceed what they did last year.

San Francisco 49ers

2018 record 4-12, 3rd in NFC West, did not qualify for playoffs

2019 strength of schedule – 11th (based on opponents’ 2018 win .510 percentage)

Key home matchups –

Steelers, Browns, Panthers, Seahawks, Cardinals, Packers, Falcons, Rams

Key road matchups –

Tampa Bay, Rams, Washington, Cardinals, Saints, Seahawks

Player additions

Nick Bosa DE

Deebo Samuel WR

Jalen Hurd WR

Kwon Alexander MLB

Dee Ford OLB

Jordan Matthews WR

Tevin Coleman RB

Jason Varrett DB

Player subtractions

Pierre Garcon WR

Cassius Marsh DE

Alfred Morris RB

The 49ers will be featured in four prime time games this year, with three of them coming against division opponents. Personally, I think four prime time games is four too many—feel free to fight me on this. QB Jimmy Garoppolo has unquestioned talent and leadership, but his injury history in an offense so far devoid of quality playmakers has me more than a little nervous. 

If Jimmy G goes down, this team has nothing to show a national audience. 

But the schedulers have made our bed, and now we all have to sleep in it. 

Drafting Joey Bosa’s kid brother Nick was a great choice, and along with trading for former Kansas City pass rusher Dee Ford should improve an already good pass rush. Adding Varrett to a secondary featuring Richard Sherman was a smart move, even if Varrett hasn’t started an entire season since…well…he hasn’t done that yet. In fact he’s only played in 5 games the last two seasons, but don’t worry folks, he’s looked great when he’s on the field! Ditching Garcon and Morris makes sense; neither was a great fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense and it showed more than ever last year after Garoppolo went down with a season ending knee injury.

We don’t know what to expect from RB Jerrick McKinnon since he’s never played for the team before, nor has free agent signee Tevin Coleman. It’s tough to say what either player will do, but at least Coleman performed very well for Shanahan when they were both in Atlanta two years ago.

While the top level of this roster is very good, it’s the depth that is extremely concerning. The 49ers can’t afford a single injury to a starter or the whole ship could go down, that’s interesting management.

Vegas currently has their over/under at 8.5 wins. I’ll take the under as 8 wins would double their 2018 season and I don’t like their chances to do much more than that given their schedule. But if Jimmy G can stay healthy, I can see them winning half of their games.

Arizona Cardinals

2018 record 3-13, 4th in NFC West, did not qualify for playoffs

2019 strength of schedule – 12th (based on opponents’ 2018 win .508 percentage)

Key home matchups –

Detroit, Carolina, Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco, Rams,

Key road matchups – Giants, Saints, Buccaneers, 49ers, Seahawks, Rams

Player additions

Kyler Murray QB

Byron Murphy CB

Robert Alford CB

Charles Clay TE

Terrell Suggs OLB

Jordan Hicks MLB

JR Sweezy G

Player subtractions

Josh Rosen QB

Antoine Bethea FS

Jermaine Gresham TE

The Cardinals have just one prime time game this year, which will take place week nine on Halloween night in San Francisco on Thursday Night Football. Although I don’t want to see the 49ers in a primetime game—especially if Jimmy G doesn’t play—I’m actually excited to see this Kliff Kingsbury-Kyler Murray offense in action. And if the Cardinals don’t play well, at least we only have to watch them three times this year (including two games against Seattle).

Other than swapping Rosen for Murray, this team didn’t make many personnel changes that jump off the page. Adding Sweezy was a good move to give their rookie QB more protection and to open running lanes for David Johnson, but beyond that I will wait with baited breath to see what comes of the defense in Vance Joseph’s first year as defensive coordinator. Joseph had a good run as DC in San Diego before taking over as head coach of the Broncos two years ago, but couldn’t get the same success as Wade Phillips despite a similar overall talent level.  

Larry “Legend” Fitzgerald is most likely playing out his final year on an unofficial retirement tour, but it should be very entertaining to watch him take part in a wide open offense for the first time since he had HOF’er Kurt Warner throwing passes to him in 2009. We’ll also see if this season marks a big leap forward for second year receiver Christian Kirk, who developed a great rapport with Rosen before they were suddenly on opposite seaboards to start their second seasons.

Vegas has their over/under at 5.5 wins, and I think that sounds about right. 

WIth a tough schedule and a lot to prove, I’ll take the under and bet on them to get to five wins, which would nearly double their 2018 total. 

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About Casey Mabbott 245 Articles
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.