NFL Preview: NFC West

NFC WEST

1. Los Angeles Rams                                                 Projected Record: 12-4

The Los Angeles added some of the leagues most exciting players to an already loaded roster, and they have asserted themselves as legit Super Bowl contenders. The addition of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh creates possibly the most terrifying inside combination in league history, as he teams up with All-Pro Aaron Donald to provide offenses with the impossible choice of who to double team. Los Angeles linebacking corps is still the team’s weakest unit, but a strong season from linebacker/safety Mark Barron could alleviate some of the team’s weaknesses. In the secondary, the Rams added cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib to an already stellar group of defensive backs. While Peters and Talib will need some time to acclimate and may not quite be as dominant as expected from week one, but come playoff these former All-Pros should be back to form. Offensively the Rams took a huge step forward due in large part to the pairing of quarterback Jared Goff and head coach Sean McVay. In his first season as head coach, McVay proved himself something of a coaching savant. Goff was placed in the ideal situation for a quarterback of his stature, and running back Todd Gurley compiled a league leading 2,093 all purposed yards. The Rams wide receiving corps is solid, with last year’s third round pick Cooper Kupp looking to build off his intriguing rookie season. Schematically Los Angeles alway seemed one step ahead of the opposition last season, and there’s no reason to think that will change this year. Adding more talent to an already stacked roster spells more success this season for the Rams, and a long playoff run seems in the cards.

2. San Francisco 49ers                                              Projected Record: 9-7

The pairing of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and head coach Kyle Shanahan might be the most exciting aspect of the new NFL season, with the two representing a new era in 49er football. Garoppolo is one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks, and he set the league on fire last season when he failed to lose a game in his six starts for San Francisco last season. Shanahan appears to be the next great offensive mind, and watching him duel with division rival Sean McVay will be an absolute joy for the forseeable future. The weapons surrounding Garoppolo are good but not great, and the season ending injury to running back Jerick McKinnon forces Matt Breida and Alfred Morris into featured roles. Regardless, Garoppolo has more than enough talent to elevate the average talent around him and should lead this unit to a top ten finish. This team’s biggest question marks lie on the defensive side of the ball. Free agent acquisition Richard Sherman should provide some legitimacy to an otherwise young and unproven secondary. Linebacker Rueben Foster is an absolute stud in the middle of San Francisco’s defense, and former first round picks DeForest Buckner and Erik Armstead help anchor the 49ers defensive line. In total, this team will go as far as Garoppolo and Shanahan can take them, and if everything breaks nicely this team should find themselves in the thick of the playoff race.

3. Seattle Seahawks                                                   Projected Record: 7-9

The Seattle Seahawk dynasty is certainly coming to an end, but the remains are still there of a Super Bowl team. Russell Wilson remains under center, and even with one of the league’s worst offensive line, he has enough individual talent to transcend their mediocrity and lead this unit to relevancy. The Seahawks are also lacking in skill position talent, and the injury to Doug Baldwin doesn’t help, but there’s enough ability between Tyler Lockett, Chris Carson, Brandon Marshall and others to keep Wilson sane. Rookie running back Rashaad Penny had a disappointing camp, and ultimately lost the starting job to Carson, but there’s enough promise there to think he could emerge later in the season. On the other side of the ball, the situation is dire with the exception of two future Hall of Famers. Free safety Earl Thomas and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner are two of the leagues best at their position, but they are surrounded by a lot of league average talent. Their defensive line is one of their weakest in recent memory, and it’s hard to see how current Philadelphia Eagle wouldn’t have helped this unit. The secret weapon on this team is their punter, Michael Dickson. The rookie from Texas looked absolutely dominant in the preseason, consistently placing his kicks within the opponents ten yard line. For a team that looks to struggle a fair amount on offense, having one of the leagues best punters could swing a handful of games and put this Seahawks right back in the playoff hunt.

4. Arizona Cardinals                                                  Projected Record: 4-12

The Arizona Cardinals return superstar running back David Johnson to a team that won eight games last season, yet the outlook remains bleak in Arizona. Quarterback Sam Bradford is the team’s option under center, but top ten pick Josh Rosen is nipping at his heels. The team’s offensive line looks to be one of the worst in the league, so there may be some thought that it’s advantageous to keep Rosen on the bench where he can’t get slaughtered. The Cardinals also aren’t doing whoever’s under center any help with their current crop of wide receivers. Ageless wonder Larry Fitzgerald remains a steadying presence for a unit searching for another competent pass catcher. Second round pick Christian Kirk seems promising, but the unit as a whole doesn’t project as a strength. The offense will be funneled through Johnson, and if he has another fantastic season there’s a chance he drag this team to relevance. Defensively, Arizona has a nice assortment of weapons at each level of the team. On the defensive line, Chandler Jones is one of the best pass rushers in the league and commands the attention of the entire opposing offensive line. Linebacker Deone Bucannon is one of the most versatile players around, and the perfect fit for the modern NFL. In the secondary, second year safety Budda Baker impressed in his rookie season and should have a monster season as the team’s starting free safety. In total, the Cardinals have a handful of really exciting players, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but not enough overall talent to overtake the other teams in their division.

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Landing spots for Dez Bryant

The Dallas Cowboys released wide receiver Dez Bryant on April 13, and he remains unsigned for variety of reasons, some known and some not. It’s highly unlikely that Bryant is jobless come kickoff (91 days), but who will employ him?

Let’s take a look.

Green Bay Packers

Jordy Nelson left for Oakland in free agency, leaving a huge hole in the Packers’ receiving corps. However, Green Bay drafted three wideouts, but a veteran presence might be good to have.

Bryant lacks the leadership skills the Packers are looking for, plus Randall Cobb is still around. They also brought in pass-catching tight end Jimmy Graham. Bryant’s role in Green Bay could be minimal, which we all know he would dislike.

Los Angeles Rams

This was my prediction in April. I still like it.

The Rams have definitely been offseason winners, especially on defense with the additions of Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib.

They did however, lose Sammy Watkins, taking away from an already thin group of receivers. Bryant can easily fill in for Watkins, and Los Angeles has shown no hesitation in acquiring guys with big personalities.

New England Patriots

As of today, this one makes the most sense.

Danny Amendola walked and Julian Edelman was just handed a four game suspension for PED use.

The Patriots have a history of taking players we forgot about and turning them into Pro-Bowlers. We haven’t exactly forgotten about Bryant, but you get the idea.

Dallas Cowboys (not really)

I don’t know why this idea is floating around, but it is. If this happens, I’ll eat Campbell’s tomato soup straight out of the can.

Where will OBJ play in 2019?

 

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has voiced his desire to be the highest paid at his position in the NFL. The Giants, however, seem to be hesitant to make that happen. They’re said to be shopping him in exchange for two first round picks.

It’s unlikely he gets traded, and if the Giants don’t want to pay him, someone will. Let’s take a look at some potential destinations.

Dallas Cowboys

Dez Bryant has more or less fizzled out, but hey, at least he caught that ball three years ago.

Jason Witten is somehow still a top five tight end despite being 68 years old, but that age thing will become a problem soon.

Cole Beasley isn’t bad, but he’s not a great WR1.

Enter Odell. Jerry Jones is no stranger to overpaying for commodities like big TV’s or Tony Romo. What’s stopping him from shelling out the cash for Beckham?

Los Angeles Rams, maybe even this year

The Rams are scary now, especially on defense. They’re one of the favorites, if not the consensus pick to win the NFC.

Now take this time to think about an offense featuring Todd Gurley and Beckham. *shivers*

The New York Daily News reported that the Rams are very interested in trading for Beckham, but they’re being careful not to say anything to avoid tampering charges.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns have had a busy offseason, including the addition of Jarvis Landry. Landry took to Twitter to try and recruit Beckham to Cleveland. The two played together at LSU and remain friends. A Beckham-Landry duo would take a lot of pressure off of whoever is playing quarterback for the Browns in 2019.

Miami Dolphins

Okay, so this one is for my own own amusement. Hear this:

Both Landry and Beckham play out their contracts and head to Miami together in free agency.

We all know how Beckham feels about South Beach, now he can play there with his best friend.

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Broncos’ No-Fly Zone takes hit as Talib traded to Rams

Another crucial piece of the Denver Broncos’ dominant defense that won the team its third Super Bowl is on its way out of the Mile High City.

NFL Network’s James Palmer reported Thursday evening that the Broncos traded cornerback Aqib Talib to the Los Angeles Rams. The return to Denver is a fifth-round pick in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

Talib will now join a good, young Los Angeles team coming off of a 2017 postseason appearance. The Rams have also already acquired former Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters earlier this offseason.

Last season, Talib picked off one pass in 15 games, a pass that he returned 103 yards for a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2. The pick-6 capped off a 42-17 beatdown in front of the Broncos’ home crowd. He also forced one fumble, recorded one sack and deflected seven passes.

The trade shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Denver was rumored to have been shopping Talib, according to a piece published by 9News’ Mike Klis, and Talib reportedly wanted to sign with the New England Patriots if he were released. Now that Talib is out of the picture, more opportunities should arise for younger members of the Broncos secondary, like Justin Simmons and Bradley Roby.

The Rams appear to be following in the footsteps of recent title-winners, such as the Broncos in Super Bowl 50 and the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, by assembling a dominant defense to complement a powerful Jared Goff-led offense that ranked 7th in the NFL last season, according to NFL.com. Their current defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, occupied a pivotal role in Denver’s success in 2015.

Rams, Chiefs to play in Mexico City

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced at a press conference on Wednesday that the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs will play in Mexico City in 2018.

“Over the past two seasons, we have seen the extraordinary passion that exists for NFL football in Mexico,” Goodell said.   “We are excited for another memorable event at Estadio Azteca … in 2018.”

This game, featuring the Rams as the home team, will be the third played in Mexico City since 2016. It is one of four international games on the 2018 NFL Schedule, the other three being in London. The date and time of the game will be announced with the rest of the 2018 schedule.

“It is great to be participating in the NFL’s international games again and working with the league to grow the game abroad,” Rams owner Stan Kroenke said. “Mexico has one of the largest NFL fan bases in the world and we are excited to bring Rams football to the millions of fans there.”

Because the Rams are technically the home team, they will only play seven games at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum next season.

The Oakland Raiders played in the past two games in Mexico City, taking on the Houston Texans in 2016 and New England Patriots in 2017.