Predictions are fun right?
No matter what sport we’re talking about, there’s no doubt that you or someone you know made a bold prediction regarding your favorite team.
Here, I’ll be doing the same.
The NFC West is about as interesting of a division as it gets. While most are under the impression that the Los Angeles Rams will dominate in 2018, the San Francisco 49ers will be better than people think, whereas the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals will have to answer many different questions.
A division in which there is no shortage of starpower, it won’t be a surprise to see this be one of the more tough divisions in football in the very near future.
Enough of the chit-chat let the prediction making being.
We’ve already examined the NFC South
1. Arizona Cardinals: Josh Rosen won’t see action until Week Ten ?
The biggest question surrounding the Arizona Cardinals for the 2018 season is when will Josh Rosen make his first NFL start?
Even with Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon on the roster, the Cardinals will have to start Rosen at some point this season. But why week ten?
And keep in mind, for Rosen, the NFL has changed in the sense that teams are now willing to be patient when it comes to rookie quarterbacks. Just a decade ago, if a quarterback was drafted at some point in the top-ten, it would mean that he’s penciled in to be week one starter months before the season even began.
The goal here, as with any rookie quarterback is to bring them along slowly, making sure that they understand the NFL game, but also making sure that they do not get too overwhelmed.
Sure there are exceptions to the rule with guys like Carson Wentz, but aside from Wentz, nearly every quarterback drafted in the first-round over the last two seasons has sat on the bench before seeing any real action.
After week eight, the Cardinals will not play another game for 14 days, giving the coaching staff and Josh Rosen plenty of time to prepare. While it may be somewhat risky having Rosen start week ten on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s completely necessary as the team needs to see what they have in Rosen.
For Rosen, things will not be as bad as they seem due to the offensive core he has around him with guys like David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
It may be easier to start him earlier, but the goal should be for Rosen to first watch and learn, study what NFL games really are, and then go out and have a chance to execute.
The last quarterback the Cardinals drafted in the first-round of the NFL Draft was Matt Leinart in 2006, who started eleven games. While Rosen probably won’t start as many, it’s fair to expect him to start eight games for the upcoming season.
2. Los Angeles Rams: The defense, not the offense will be a difference maker in how the 2018 season turns out
For the first time in over a decade, you can finally put the words “Rams” and “Super Bowl Contenders” in the same sentences without getting a weird look from someone.
Everyone knows the level of talent the Rams added this offseason: Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Brandin Cooks, and Ndamukong Suh.
Even general manager Les Snead admitted in a pre-draft news conference that his goal was to be aggressive in the offseason, citing the Philadelphia Eagles 2017 offseason as an example that eventually led to a Super Bowl title.
After finishing 11-5 last year, the Rams have similar aspirations: A Super Bowl Championship.
We all know what the Rams did on offense a year ago, averaging 5.8 yards per play. With Todd Gurley and Jared Goff back and Brandin Cooks being added to the receiving core, the offense could have the same impact as it did a year ago, but it’s on defense where the impact of the Rams offseason will truly be felt.
Considering the number of new faces that will be on the Rams defense in 2018, however quickly this unit gels together will determine how far this team goes. Gel together quickly and you’ve got a complete team that’s got championship expectations on both sides of the ball. However, if it takes time to figure things out, this team will still be in the playoffs, but the offense will only carry them so far.
Guys like Aaron Donald and LaMarcus Joyner will be leaders, while others like Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh will be there to make plays.
Plain and simple, the defense is the key to this team playing in Atlanta in February. For this star-studded defense, the key won’t be who makes plays, but all the pieces coming together. If all goes well, the sky is the limit for this team.
3. Seattle Seahawks: The offensive line will be Seattle’s biggest problem in 2018
The arrow for the Seattle Seahawks appears to be pointing sideways. With the changes the team has made on defense this offseason, everyone knows it will be a rebuilding year for this team.
However, they still have an MVP-caliber quarterback in Russell Wilson to keep them in games. But even Wilson might not be enough this season.
While the offense averaged 22.9 points per game last season, Russell Wilson was still seen running on numerous occasions.
And it all starts with the offensive line. Last season, Wilson was sacked 43 times and lost 322 yards due to sacks. And this season, it’s fair to expect the same. Of the eight draft picks the Seahawks had in the 2018 NFL Draft, just one of them was used on an offensive lineman. And while Wilson can run, he can’t run from pass rushers forever.
Without a doubt, the Seahawks could have addressed their offensive line woes early in the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, in the three rounds, they passed on selecting guys like Will Hernandez, Austin Corbett, James Daniels, Braden Smith, Connor Williams, and Orlando Brown, all of which have the potential to be effective starters down the road.
Compared to other franchise quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, Wilson seems to be on his back way too much. In 2016, Rodgers was sacked just 35 times the whole season. Similarly, Brady was sacked just 35 times in 2017.
For a team that’s allowed that’s allowed 84 sacks over a two-year span, things don’t look as if they’ll be better for this team in 2018. Sure Seattle traded for Duane Brown in October last year, but Brown is aging and has shown that he clearly won’t be in this team’s long-term plans.
To avoid another sack-filled year in 2018, the Seahawks offensive line will need to have a miracle year.
4. San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers will be a sleeper in the NFC
As soon as Jimmy Garoppolo started last year, things began to click for this team. After defeating the Chicago Bears in his first full start, he led this team to a perfect 5-0 record in the month of December, finishing with a record of 6-10.
In week 16 last year, the 49ers defeated the Jaguars 44-33, in a statement win where Garoppolo tossed two touchdowns while rushing for a third, proving that this 49ers team is about as tough as it gets.
Now, heading into 2018, this team is going to be better than most expect. On offense, the team added versatile Jerick McKinnon in free agency, a player who averaged 8.3 yards per reception in 2017 catching 75 percent of his passes. The addition of McKinnon will allow for head coach Kyle Shanahan to have a versatile weapon that can be useful in critical situations.
On defense, the team’s biggest addition is cornerback Richard Sherman, who although is coming off of an Achilles injury, has proved that he still has enough left in the tank to be a solid contributor.
The front seven also looks like it’s on the rise. Last season, the although they had just 30 sacks, 2016 and 2017 first-round picks DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas continues to improve, while linebacker Reuben Foster looks as if he’s got the makings of being a top linebacker after having 59 tackles a year ago.
In the draft, with the ninth overall pick, the team selected Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, who’ll anchor the left side of the offensive line for years to come. With second-round pick Dante Pettis joining an underrated receiving core that already includes Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon, the 49ers have an offensive core that is set for the future.
While the NFC may be loaded, the 49ers proved that they could stay afloat as they lost five games last season by a total of just thirteen points.
Mark my words when I say this: Don’t be surprised if this team surprises in 2018.