We’re on the cusp of the 2021 NFL Season. Before we get there, it’s time to prepare by looking at each of these divisions and the prospects for the season. Next up is the NFC West, where there has been plenty of wheeling and dealing this off-season.
Last season the NFC West featured a tight bunch at the top, with two teams making the playoff field. The division figures to be another tight battle leading many to ponder whether the West can produce three or even four playoff teams in 2021.
Los Angeles Rams
2020 Record: 10-6
Key Additions: Matthew Stafford, QB, DeSean Jackson, WR, Tutu Atwell, WR, Sony Michel, RB
Key Departures: Jared Goff, QB, Malcolm Brown, RB, Josh Reynolds, WR, Gerald Everett, TE, John Johnson, S
Key Question: With Stafford in town, is it Rams to the moon?
Since Sean McVay arrived as a coach, the Rams have been a force to deal with in the NFL. McVay turned around former No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, even getting the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2018. But it appeared by the end of 2020 that the relationship soured. Despite the No. 1 overall defense, the Rams struggled to make the playoffs and struggled to score in the playoffs. This off-season, McVay traded one former No. 1 overall pick for another as he traded Goff to the Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford. The hope is that upgrading at quarterback will be the tonic needed to push the Rams to the Super Bowl again. Those hopes took a hit during the off-season as second-year running back Cam Akers was lost for the season with an Achilles injury. The Rams added Sony Michel from the Patriots and returned Darrell Henderson, Jr., but it will likely put more pressure on the pass offense and defense to hold up as the Rams look to make a move in the competitive NFC West.
2020 Record: 8-8
Key Additions: J.J. Watt, DE, A.J. Green, WR, James Conner, RB, Rondale Moore, WR, Zaven Collins, LB, Matt Prater, K
Key Departures: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Patrick Peterson, CB, Dan Arnold, TE, Kenyan Drake, RB
Key Question: Is the third year the charm for Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray?
The Cardinals had highs and lows in 2020. The high came early against Buffalo, with the Hail Murray from Kyler Murray to DeAndre Hopkins creating one of the moments of the season. But the Cardinals weren’t consistent, finishing 8-8 and missing out on the playoffs thanks to a tiebreaker with the Chicago Bears. This off-season, the team worked on adding pieces to try and push things a step further. Kliff Kingsbury made a big bet he could partner with Murray and get the Cardinals into the post-season. Entering year three, with pieces in place, the pressure is on to achieve that goal.
San Francisco 49ers
2020 Record: 6-10
Key Additions: Trey Lance, QB, Wayne Gallman, RB, Alex Mack, C, Trey Sermon, RB
Key Departures: Josh Rosen, QB, Nick Mullens, QB, C.J. Beathard, QB, Jerrick McKinnon, RB, Tevin Coleman, RB, Richard Sherman, CB, Kendrick Bourne, WR
Key Question: When is it Trey Lance time?
The 49ers struggled with injuries in 2020. Coming off representing the NFC in the Super Bowl in 2019, the 49ers dropped right back to the bottom of the competitive NFC West in 2020. That led to Kyle Shanahan making a change, spending a lot of draft capital to move to the No. 3 pick and draft Trey Lance. Lance played for small school North Dakota State but had a heck of a 2019. He threw for 2,786 yards and 28 TDs, rushing for 1,100 more and 14 additional TDs. His 2020 college season was essentially wiped out due to COVID, but his work as a sophomore was enough to make him a highly prized draft prospect. The 49ers still have Jimmy Garoppolo, so the question all off-season has been who starts. It’s a question that still isn’t answered definitively, though Shanahan has hinted at a desire for Lance to learn behind the veteran at times this off-season. Still, the pressure is on for the 49ers to turn their talented roster into a playoff contender, which could well mean turning to Lance sooner rather than later.
2020 Record: 12-4
Key Additions: Gerald Everett, TE, Aldon Smith, DE, D’Wayne Eskridge, WR
Key Departures: Carlos Hyde, RB, David Moore, WR, Shaquill Griffin, CB, Jacob Hollister, TE
Key Question: What happens if Russ isn’t cooking?
The 2020 Seahawks embraced a new philosophy—Let Russ Cook. The moniker was meant to lift up the idea that Russell Wilson, the team’s franchise quarterback, was finally going to be set free. And that worked early in the season, but the Seahawks seemed to struggle down the stretch, ending the season with a loss to the Rams in the Wild Card game. This off-season, the Seahawks’ new Offensive Coordinator Shane Waldron is embracing a more ground-based philosophy. Chris Carson is back healthy, while the passing game should be held down by returning veteran receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. The challenge is whether the Seahawks have enough on offense and defense to make a playoff run again in the uber-competitive NFC West.
NFC West Prediction
Despite the loss of Akers, I like the Rams to be the class of the division again. The Rams have a stout defense and a good offense around Stafford. I think they have the pieces to win the division, but I also suspect the NFC West will be loaded. It’s one of two NFL divisions and the only one in the NFC that I expect to have all four teams over .500. I think that means a trio of NFC West clubs in the playoffs, too.
Los Angeles Rams: 12-5
Arizona Cardinals: 10-7
San Francisco 49ers: 10-7
Seattle Seahawks: 9-8
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL Fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton Network.