To wrap up the season, me and SI NOW Associate Producer Steve Raum discussed the NFC and AFC West via podcast, like we did for every division leading up to the season. So, as I’ve done for every division, I want to write a short article outlining my most important thoughts for each team in the NFC and AFC West.
Arizona Cardinals (13-3 last year)
The Cardinals season ended in disappoint after getting blown out by the Panthers in the NFC Championship game. They were dominant on both sides of the ball, but a knee injury to the hybrid stud safety Tyrann Mathieu in December was a big hit to their Super Bowl dreams; It showed in the title game when the Panthers put up 49 points against the Cardinals.
The Cardinals look to bounce back in a season that’s truly Super Bowl or bust with Carson Palmer at the helm, a 36-year-old QB in prime position to win his first Super Bowl title. More importantly, though, is the man on the sidelines. Bruce Arians has coached the Cardinals to three straight 10-win -or -more seasons since taking over as head coach.
As long as Arians is coaching, Palmer is the QB, and Mathieu stays healthy, this team has big things written all over them. But that’s asking a lot from two players who have dealt with multiple serious knee injuries in their career. The Cardinals are stacked, but have to keep their stars healthy to make a Super Bowl run.
Seattle Seahawks (10-6 last year)
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks got off to a slow start before dominating through the air in their last eight games. They started 2-4 before winning eight of their last 10 going into the postseason.
The offensive line is a serious concern, and probably the only one you can find on the team. Their defense is and has been stacked for four straight seasons, a primary reason for their success over those last four years (four straight 10-win seasons). Russell Wilson makes up for it with his incredible play-making ability, and I think he’s a true MVP candidate this season. I like the Seahawks to regain their dominance at the top of this division before facing Cam Newton and the Panthers in a playoff rematch.
Los Angeles Rams (7-9 last year)
The Rams are moving to Los Angeles, but they’re still going to stink. They haven’t won eight games since 2006, yet Jeff Fisher seems to miraculously have stability at the head coaching position.
There’s not much to say about the Rams besides the fact that they have Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald, two players that will make the Rams fun to watch on both sides of the ball.
Nonetheless, if you couldn’t tell, I expect another disappointing season for the Rams.
San Francisco 49ers (5-11 last year)
The Niners are another team that will likely disappoint this year, but Chip Kelly taking over as head coach makes them an interesting watch. So does the QB battle, where Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick have been battling for the starting job all preseason long.
They were terrible on offense last year. Will Chip Kelly help improve that and maintain a coaching job in the NFL? If he can’t, he may get the boot fairly quickly. His coaching style puts him on a short leash.
Denver Broncos (12-4 last year, Super Bowl champs)
The Broncos are coming off a Super Bowl victory, but are losing their quarterbacks in the process. Trevor Siemian will be faced with a tough task in week one, and we’ll probably find out a lot about him and this team right off the bat.
The defense is still elite despite missing tank DT Malik Jackson, but something about this team coming off a Super Bowl win in Peyton Manning’s final season rubs me the wrong way. I expect them to be in the mix, but won’t be surprised when they’re watching the playoffs from the couch.
The Broncos have won five straight division titles. That streak ends this season.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5 last year)
So who will win the division? Maybe the Chiefs, who had an incredible year last year after losing five straight games from weeks 2-6. They then won 10 straight into the playoffs before beating the Texans to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Chiefs were incredibly efficient on offense, and had an elite defense. They’ll miss Justin Houston for a big chunk of the season, but Marcus Peters is going to be one of the best defensive backs in the game. I think the Chiefs have another good season headed by Alex Smith, and they’ll win 10 games and return to the playoffs again. BUT, I don’t think they win the division.
Oakland Raiders (7-9 last year)
The Oakland Raiders are returning to the playoffs for the first time since losing in the Super Bowl in 2002.
I love this Raiders team and think they’re ready in Jack Del Rio’s second year as head coach. Derek Carr will make the next step, Amari Cooper will be a big time receiver, and their defense will be drastically improved. Their offensive line is among the better groups in football, and they’ll run the ball more to open up passing lanes for Carr and company.
The Raiders season over/under total is 8.5. Jump on the over while you can. The Oakland Raiders are back.
San Diego Chargers (4-12 last year)
The Chargers had a terrible season, and it started up front. Their offensive line was a mess, and it led to Philip Rivers putting this team on his back (no surprise). I think they’ll be better this year and compete in big games. If not, though, Mike McCoy will see the door and get fired in the middle of the season.
I don’t think the Chargers have a shot at this division, but they may ruin another team’s hopes by competing in big division games.