By Justin Prather, Sports Writer


Justin Prather, Sports Writer


What to Consider

Performance in last season is one of the best indicators tipping fans to where their teams are headed, and this year it was our only look before week one. That look meant next to nothing for teams in offseason flux. 

Massive overhauls for established division powerhouses (Patriots, Broncos), and continuing development for teams looking to come back from a string of less than perfect seasons (Bills, Browns, Giants, Washington) leave room for solidified squads (Chiefs, Saints, Ravens, Steelers) to more or less run their division and conference table.

The last four mentioned teams also have favorable strength of schedule this season, further securing their prospects for a postseason. The Ravens and Steelers have the first and second easiest respective paths ahead. All four ended week one with a W. While the Ravens and Steelers will have to fight for their division top spot, postseason play is a given for both.

So, after marking out a few divisions with no-brainer leaders, which division has the best competition? Looking at last season, the strength of schedule, and performance in week one as metrics, the NFC West is the division to win in 2020. 

Arizona Cardinals

Last season saw the debut of rookie quarterback Kyler Murray under the direction of new head coach Kliff Kingsbury. With both QB and coach wading into new waters, the overall performance was to be expected with a 5-10-1 record. However, Murray set a slew of rookie season team records earning him the NFL offensive Rookie of the Year from the Associated Press. 

In the offseason, Murray picked up a new passing target with the addition of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who recorded 14 receptions for 151 yards in a hard-fought 24-21 victory over division rival San Francisco this past Sunday. Murray also proved his role as a mobile QB racking up 91 rushing yards as the team’s week-one rushing leader. 

The road ahead is not easy for Arizona, though. With the league’s eighth most difficult schedule, the Cards will have to continue to build upon week-one victories and make adjustments to help Murray build a dynasty.

Seattle Seahawks

It’s taken a minute for me to warm up to Pete Carroll’s Seahawks. I was still salty about all his trash talk leading up to the 2006 Rose Bowl when his Trojans took on my beloved Longhorns. Texas’s 41-38 victory wasn’t enough to put my grudge to bed. However, Carroll has slowly cultivated a dynastic Seattle squad. It also helped to watch former Ute Cody Barton dink him in the face with a football last year.

In all seriousness, Carroll is one of the NFL’s best and his team is no different. QB Russell Wilson has recorded winning seasons every year during his previous eight years with the Seahawks. He’s a natural-born leader and keeps his offense tight. This year he picked up a solid target in DK Metcalf — who I have on good authority was picked up on waivers by Sammy Mora for her fantasy team. Seattle opened with a 38-25 win over Atlanta and showed they weren’t slowed down by a strange offseason after a tough 2019 postseason loss to Green Bay kept them out of the NFC championship game. As long as everyone remains healthy and Wilson continues to drop dimes to Metcalf, the Seahawks will be a division contender. 

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams are the most questionable of the four NFC West teams, but only because they’re hot and cold in the Jared Goff era. In 2018 they led the NFC with a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl appearance where they lost to Tom Brady’s Patriots. Last season, however, the Rams went 9-7 and lost their playoff spot with a loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

This year the Rams have room for improvement and week one showed us they were up to the task. LA has a solid backfield with Cam Akers and Malcom Brown, the latter surprising fans and analysts on Sunday with a solid rushing performance in their 20-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. If head coach Sean McVay can keep the momentum moving forward, the Rams could see a repeat of their 2018 season.

San Francisco 49ers 

It was a tough week for the Niners, but they shouldn’t be counted out in NFC West. QB Jimmy Garoppolo performed better on paper than Kyler Murray. In the backfield, RB Raheem Mosart performed well but shined as a passing target downfield recording four receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown.

In the wake of a week-one loss, the triumphs of the Niners 2019 season should not be overlooked. With a 13-3 record, division and conference titles and a close Super Bowl loss to AFC favorites Kansas City, San Francisco has proven they are here to play and could easily turn around and take the division again. The only thing standing in their way, the fourth hardest schedule in 2020.


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