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NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West
Even with a star-studded offense and a defense led by two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, Los Angeles was stunningly disinterested in the Rams on the biggest stage in sports.
Free agents, on the other hand, continue to flock to Tinseltown. Clay Matthews and Eric Weddle — names worthy of Hollywood billing by NFL standards — join a somewhat overrated defense, and given their advanced age, may or may not shore it up.
Sean McVay alone should keep the offense prolific with or without the ambiguously hurt Todd Gurley, and the schedule plays heavily in L.A.’s favor.
If NFC title favorites, such as New Orleans and Chicago, fail to live up to expectations, the Rams might indeed “kick the son of a b—- in” after all. But I expect a lesser regular season record and at least one fewer playoff win than last year.
Full disclosure: I made these selections before the Seahawks traded for Jadeveon Clowney, so I fully recognize his impact is probably worth another win or two, and could alter the playoff picture in the NFC.
But what’s done is done. Seattle’s defense is far from its Legion of Boom glory days, so the Clowney deal was a desperation move to shore up a D-line entering 2019 with first-round rookie L.J. Collier hurt along with the chronically-injured newcomer Ziggy Ansah. Jarran Reed sitting out the first six games (suspension) and Frank Clark playing elsewhere certainly do not help matters.
But as has been the case in Seattle in the four years since their last Super Bowl appearance, the Seahawks are only as good as Russell Wilson makes them. The O-line isn’t the liability it once was, and Brian Schottenheimer’s run-dominant offense should help take some of the pressure off Wilson. But Doug Baldwin’s retirement leaves Tyler Lockett and rookie D.K. Metcalf as the top targets, thus making the passing game still very reliant on Wilson to make the majority of the plays.
The Seahawks should be a factor in the wild-card race in December, and could step up and reclaim the division if the Rams suffer a Super Bowl hangover.
Between his five (5!) interception practice and 0.0 passer rating in his preseason debut, even if Jimmy Garoppolo is healthy, he’s not playing especially well in his return from last year’s season-ending knee injury.
While I doubt he’ll be that bad in the regular season, it signifies he’s not good enough to be the savior of a team that has just 10 wins in two years under Kyle Shanahan. Furthermore, Jimmy G remains more valuable in theory than he is on the field, where he’s started only 10 games in his NFL career.
That said, Tevin Coleman reunites with Shanahan to lead a deep RB group, and the offensive line should accommodate some level of success on that side of the ball. Just don’t expect this unit to be mistaken for the division-rival Rams.
Enter second overall pick Nick Bosa and Dee Ford to the defensive line and free agent Kwon Alexander as an underrated addition to their linebacker corps. There’s a chance this is the year the Niners make the jump they’ve been teasing since acquiring Garoppolo, but it’s more likely their competitive division will keep them near .500, thus delaying the big Jimmy G payoff yet another year.
For the first time in 60 years, the Cardinals picked first overall in the NFL draft.
They will probably do it again in 2020.
Kliff Kingsbury looks the part of Sean McVay 2.0 (and maybe, sorta met him once) but I suspect he’s more like the second coming of Steve Spurrier: a college coach with a trendy offense likely to get blown up by NFL defenses. Except Spurrier was a proven winner in college, while Kingsbury couldn’t even crack .500 with Patrick Mahomes.
In the pros, he gets top pick Kyler Murray. Some say he is a generational talent. Some say he’s too small to be an effective pro. All we know is they couldn’t get the presnap hand claps right in the preseason.
Former Denver head coach Vance Joseph takes the reins of the Cardinals defense, which gave up on Robert Nkemdiche and will rely on Terrell Suggs to bring some sizzle to a unit playing without its best player (Patrick Peterson) for the first six games. Murray and a healthy David Johnson might put up some numbers, but Arizona won’t win many games.