Training camp primer: NFC West
(listed in predicted order of finish)
San Francisco 49ers
Projected 2020 record: 11-5
2019 record: 13-3
2019 summary: Kyle Shanahan’s offense took off, and the Niners’ defense was perhaps even more impressive, helping San Francisco go from 4-12 to 13-3 and the top seed in the NFC. But the defense couldn’t protect a 10-point lead in Super Bowl LIV, as the 49ers fell to the Chiefs.
Key additions: LT Trent Williams, DT Javon Kinlaw, WR Brandon Aiyuk, TE Jordan Reed, G Tom Compton, DE Dion Jordan, DE Kerry Hyder
Noteworthy losses: DT DeForest Buckner, LT Joe Staley, WR Emmanuel Sanders, RB Matt Breida, G Mike Person, WR Marquise Goodwin, TE Levine Toilolo, DT Sheldon Day
Cause for concern: There are several options at wideout, but Deebo Samuel’s foot injury creates some concern. He’s likely to miss time, putting pressure on Aiyuk — a talented rookie who is a bit raw — as well as Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor, who both missed all of last season due to injury.
Position battle worth watching: Right guard is open following Person’s release, with several possible candidates to fill it. Compton, a veteran, will likely battle Daniel Brunskill — a 2019 UDFA who held up fine at right tackle — and Ross Reynolds, perhaps with backup center Ben Garland getting in the mix, too.
Over-Under win total from PointsBet: 10.5
As great as the 49ers were last season, teams rarely improve by nine games in one season, and most who do take a step back a year later. Add in a loaded NFC West and it’s hard to take the over here, even if the Niners are division favorites.
2020 forecast: San Francisco lost some major talent, but they rebounded enough to remain among the NFC’s best teams. The standout defense is mostly intact, and Kinlaw — while not a great run defender — can help offset Buckner’s departure as a pass rusher. On offense, the line could be better with Williams’ arrival and improved health, and Jimmy Garoppolo will be two years removed from a torn ACL.
Projected 2020 record: 10-6
2019 record: 11-5
2019 summary: Russell Wilson’s heroics helped Seattle go a staggering 10-2 in one-possession games. That record was almost 11-1, as the Seahawks came up inches shy of the NFC West title against San Francisco. After one playoff win, they fell at Green Bay in the divisional round.
Key additions: S Jamal Adams, TE Greg Olsen, LB Jordyn Brooks, DE/LB Bruce Irvin, RB Carlos Hyde, C B.J. Finney, DE Darrell Taylor, WR Phillip Dorsett, OT Brandon Shell, G Damien Lewis, OT Cedric Ogbuehi, DE Benson Mayowa
Noteworthy losses: DE Jadeveon Clowney, S Bradley McDougald, DT Quinton Jefferson, C Justin Britt, G D.J. Fluker, OT George Fant, DE Ezekiel Ansah, DT Al Woods
Cause for concern: Even if Clowney re-signs (which appears unlikely), the Seahawks’ pass rush looks awfully thin. They managed just 28 sacks (T-29th in NFL) even with Clowney last year, and Irvin won’t solve things. Other veterans remain available, but Seattle might be counting on production from 2019 first-rounder L.J. Collier and the rookie Taylor, which is risky.
Position battle worth watching: Finney is expected to start at center, leaving an opening at right guard following Fluker’s departure. The prime candidates for the job are both maulers: 2019 fourth-rounder Phil Haynes, who didn’t play as a rookie, and 2020 third-rounder Lewis, who was a bully in the run game at LSU.
Over-Under win total from PointsBet: 9.5
Sportsbooks factored Seattle’s unstainable 2019 record in close games, which makes sense — the Seahawks finished with a point differential of plus-7 despite going 11-5. Still, they’ve won 10-plus games in seven of Wilson’s eight seasons (they won nine in 2017). The over is a relatively safe bet.
2020 forecast: The 49ers likely won’t be juggernauts, but the Cardinals are on the rise and the Rams remain talented. Some regression seems inevitable for the Seahawks in such a talented division, but Wilson maintains their floor as contenders to win the West. The ceiling will be determined on defense, where a terrific back-seven will hope the pass rush holds up its end of the bargain.
Projected 2020 record: 8-8
2019 record: 5-10-1
2019 summary: Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray took their lumps in their first NFL season, including a six-game skid in the middle of the season. But the offense certainly showed flashes, boosting expectations for Year 2, including some MVP buzz for Murray.
Key additions: WR DeAndre Hopkins, DT Jordan Phillips, LB Isaiah Simmons, LT Kelvin Beachum, OT Josh Jones, LB De’Vondre Campbell, OLB Devon Kennard
Noteworthy losses: RB David Johnson, OT Marcus Gilbert (opt out), DT Rodney Gunter, TE Charles Clay, DE Cassius Marsh, WR Damiere Byrd, DT Zach Kerr
Cause for concern: The Cardinals have gone from horrendous to adequate along the O-line, but questions remain. D.J. Humphries was overpaid on a new deal and has a lengthy injury history, and Gilbert’s opt out might force Jones to start right away at right tackle. Beachum was signed for insurance, but this could go poorly, especially with a QB in Murray who scrambles so often.
Position battle worth watching: Simmons is far too talented to keep off the field, but where will he play? Arizona is starting him at linebacker, but it already has two expensive veterans there in Campbell and Jordan Hicks. Simmons could dabble on the edge but is better off in space, where he can chase and cover or blitz from distance.
Over-Under win total from PointsBet: 7
Most signs point to improvement, as Murray could blossom with a full year under his belt and Hopkins on board. The question is how high the Cardinals can climb with two or three very good teams alongside them in the division.
2020 forecast: Hopkins’ arrival was massive. Not only will he become Murray’s go-to target, but he moves Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk into complementary roles while allowing Kingsbury to use more 10 personnel if he desires. The offense could erupt, but will the defense hold up its end? With talent at all three levels, Vance Joseph’s unit could be the difference in nabbing a wild-card spot.
Los Angeles Rams
Projected 2020 record: 6-10
2019 record: 9-7
2019 summary: The defending NFC champs opened 3-0, but a three-game skid quickly revealed problems. Jared Goff regressed, and the defense had a few embarrassing performances, leading to coordinator Wade Phillips’ departure as the Rams narrowly missed the playoffs.
Key additions: RB Cam Akers, OLB Leonard Floyd, WR Van Jefferson, DT A’Shawn Robinson, OLB Terrell Lewis, S Terrell Burgess
Noteworthy losses: RB Todd Gurley, WR Brandin Cooks, OLB Dante Fowler, LB Cory Littleton, S Eric Weddle, LB Clay Matthews, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, K Greg Zuerlein
Cause for concern: Just 18 months removed from a Super Bowl berth, the Rams’ roster has significant holes. A load of talent departed this spring, and rookies Akers, Jefferson and Lewis might be counted on immediately to step up. The linebacking corps is very thin, both inside and out, which could make new D-coordinator Brandon Staley’s transition bumpy.
Position battle worth watching: Brian Allen should start at center, but both guard spots are open. Austin Blythe has the edge at right guard, but 2019 fifth-rounder David Edwards will contend. At left guard, Austin Corbett will likely battle fellow 2018 draft pick Joseph Noteboom. It’s also possible that 2019 third-rounder Bobby Evans pushes Rob Havenstein at right tackle.
Over-Under win total from PointsBet: 8.5
Faith in Sean McVay and the Rams remains relatively high, but the decline to 9-7 last year was no fluke, and the talent level has slipped since. With two surefire contenders plus the rising Cardinals in the division, it’s not hard to imagine L.A. posting a losing season.
2020 forecast: The Rams’ fortunes will depend on whether McVay and Goff bounce back from an uneven season, but the infrastructure is critical. The O-line seems unlikely to return to its 2018 level. On defense, having the NFL’s best player in Aaron Donald sure helps, but there isn’t much pass-rush help around him. If things break right, the Rams could be contenders, but they could also wind up last in the division.
–Field Level Media