Everyone uses different indicators when predicting divisional winners. There are four keys, in no particular order, that I consider when carefully calculating my NFC West 2017 predictions:
- How good is your quarterback?
- How tough is your strength of schedule?
- How many miles does your team travel?
- How many games does Vegas have your team winning?
These are not the “end all, be all” qualifications. These are the key indicators that help decide who wins and who loses. Quarterback play is extremely important in the NFL, especially when trying to make a playoff run. As teams continue to win in January, there is a direct correlation with how good their quarterback is.
The strength of schedule is also an important factor. It gives an objective base to start with and make predictions based off their opponents 2016 win/loss record. Regardless of what the popular opinion is, traveling wears on people and yes, that includes athletes. The more your team travels, the harder it is to get ready game after game. And finally, Vegas. When people involve money, everything changes. You’ve heard the phrase “Follow the money” – there is a reason Vegas is so successful. They know what they are doing.
And from there game-by-game selections are made; sometimes going against my better judgment. Additional keys to consider are home field advantage, coaching, offensive/defensive line play, and skilled playmakers.
Now that I’ve bored you with my selection process, let’s talk football. From last to first, below are my NFC West 2017 predictions.
San Francisco 49ers
In the offseason, the San Francisco 49ers hired first-year general manager John Lynch and first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan. These are two big leadership changes in an organization that hasn’t had stability since Jim Harbaugh. Seriously, the 49ers fired their head coach after he made three straight NFC Championship games.
Good organizations don’t do that.
In his first move as general manager, Lynch traded the second overall pick to the Chicago Bears and moved back one spot in the 2017 draft to select Solomon Thomas. Oh, and he received three additional draft picks. I’d say he hit the ground running.
There is more to a successful season than just a good offseason (ask the Jaguars). They have to go earn it. How well do they complete the checklist?
- Bryan Hoyer is a middle of the pack quarterback. He is a savvy veteran who has game experience. I imagine he won’t start longer than this season.
- The 49ers are ranked 20th in “strength of schedule” – second hardest in the NFC West.
- San Francisco travels the least of any divisional rival: 24,092 miles.
- Vegas has the 49ers winning 4.5 games – last in the NFC West.
Last season, they won only two games. The 49ers are in full rebuild mode and are headed in the right direction faster than most “experts” are giving them credit for. They may not find tremendous success this season, but it’s coming. Stay patient, draft a quarterback.
Los Angeles Rams
Before the preseason, I had low expectations for Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams. Then, I watched a few preseason games where he played with the confidence and poise; something I haven’t seen in him since college.
Head coach Sean McVey has opened up about putting in the time and work in with him this summer. But will it translate? Goff seems afraid to step into throws if he knows he is going to get punished. I’m not sure toughness is something you can learn.
The staple of this team is the defense. Aaron Donald is holding out and currently, shows no signs of returning soon. With him out, the Rams defense will suffer tremendously. This offense is not built to win shootout games.
How do the Rams fare with the checklist?
- Jared Goff is a young, talented quarterback. I think he takes a step forward in 2017, but only time will tell if he becomes a marquee quarterback.
- The Los Angeles Rams have the hardest schedule in the division – 18th overall.
- The Rams travel miles more than any other team in the NFL: 32,600 miles.
- Vegas has the Rams winning 5.5 games – third in the NFC West.
The Rams travel the most miles in the NFL which will tire out their bodies. Combine that with having a young quarterback, first-year head coach, and their best defensive player holding out – it appears the Rams are in for a bumpy ride if they don’t maintain their focus.
The Arizona Cardinals took a significant step back last season. What surprised me most was their poor defensive consistency. This was supposed to be a defense that rivaled the Seahawks and they disappointed last year.
Carson Palmer regressed greatly in 2016. Coming off a 35 touchdown and an 11 interception year in 2015, Palmer threw only 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2016.
Let’s review the Arizona Cardinals checklist.
- Carson Palmer is currently the second-best quarterback in this division but is trending downward quickly.
- The Cardinals have the second easiest schedule in the NFC West.
- Arizona travels the third most miles in the NFL: 30,035 miles.
- Vegas has the Cardinals winning 8.0 games – second in the NFC West.
The Cardinals have the talent to overtake the Seahawks, they just have to utilize it correctly.
This may seem obvious, but David Johnson needs more touches if the Arizona Cardinals want to win this division. There were eight games where Johnson touched the football less than 21 times; the Cardinals went 2-6 in those games.
Three out of the last four years, this division has crowned their beloved Seattle Seahawks as champions. Two of those years the Seahawks reached the Super Bowl. Since 2012, the Seahawks have averaged an 11-5 record.
Russell Wilson is the real deal and people are starting to take notice. Even with the worst rated offensive lines in the NFL, he continues to win and make plays. However, the ground game suffers tremendously because of their lack of protection and hole creation from the big boys in the middle.
If Wilson doesn’t stay healthy, this team is going to limp towards the finish line.
Let’s review the Seahawks checklist.
- Russell Wilson is the best quarterback in this division and it’s not even close.
- The Seahawks have the easiest schedule in the division.
- In the NFC West, only the 49ers travel more than the Seahawks: 24,121 miles.
- Vegas has the Seahawks winning 10.5 games – best in the NFC West.
Based on the checklist, the Seahawks are an easy pick to win the division. Even Vegas has them winning nearly 11 games, which was more than I anticipated. I don’t think the Seahawks run the football effectively and Wilson gets hurt for a few games so I don’t think they reach 11 wins.
Who do you have winning this division?