For the last two seasons, the NFC West—and the Super Bowl, for that matter—has gone through Seattle. In 2015, that doesn’t figure to change.
They are, in short, the most complete team in football. With last season’s top ranked defense remaining more or less in tact (with Kam Chancellor’s holdout serving as the only notable, albeit likely temporary, subtraction) and the addition of Jimmy Graham to what was an efficient—but unspectacular—offense (20pts/g, just 247.8 yds/g), there’s every reason to believe the Seahawks will be able to replicate the success of the prior two seasons.
And they’d better, because this will almost certainly be the last go around with the ole band back together.
Russell Wilson’s $87.6 million extension kicks in after the this year, the likes of Russell Okung and Brandon Mebane hit the market at the same time, and while Marshawn Lynch is under contract, no one knows what his frame of mind will be from week to week, let alone year to year.
Change is coming for the Seahawks, but this season, there’s every reason to believe another deep playoff run is in their future. Expect to see the offense increasingly in Russell Wilson’s hands as Pete Carroll gives the reigns to his franchise QB, and a more dynamic O, coupled with the leagues top D, is bad news for the rest of the league.
Last Season: 12-4
This Season’s Prediction: 13-3
Last season’s Arizona Cardinals were a great story—the Cardiac Cards overcame a plethora of injuries to literally limp their way into the postseason. But can they do it again? It won’t be easy.
Last year, the Cardinals relied heavily on a bend-but-don’t-break defense that allowed the 5th fewest points in the league…but surrendered the 9th most yards. Subtract from that unit all-pro Antonio Cromartie, nose tackle Dan Williams, old warrior Larry Foote, and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and there’s little reason to believe the unit is any better this year.
The Cards will struggle to get to the passer, but may be able to stay in the top half of the league defensively if a secondary led by the overrated Patrick Peterson can bait opposing QB’s into mistakes.
Offensively, the addition of Mike Iupati helps shore up a line that has been suspect for years, but isn’t quite a cure all either. If 35-year-old Carson Palmer can stay healthy, the offense will be better, but don’t kid yourself—they wont be lighting up the scoreboard very often if at all. If they’re healthy and continue to find a way to win tight games, they’ll stay in the running, but competing for a wild card spot is their ceiling.
Last Season: 11-5
This Season’s Prediction: 9-7
San Francisco 49ers
No team maybe ever has had a worse or stranger offseason than the Niners.
Future Hall of Famer Justin Smith and longtime all-pro Patrick Willis retired, as did 24-year-old heir apparent to Willis, Chris Borland, and 25-year-old starting tackle Anthony Davis. Gone too is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher Frank Gore. Aldon Smith, the superbly talented but troubled rush specialist—viewed as the lynchpin of the D with the departure of so many others—was cut in August following yet another arrest. And oh yeah, the coach who had the team a play away from winning the Super Bowl just three seasons ago jumped ship too.
It’s been a long, strange trip for San Francisco, a team that, even with all of the aforementioned players on their roster a year ago, was not very good anyway. It’s difficult to imagine things getting any better for the 49ers and new coach Jim Tomsula, who has the unenviable task of trying to lead this team out of perhaps the most bizarre offseason in recent history. Barring Colin Kaepernick morphing into Andrew Luck-light, this won’t end well.
Last Season: 8-8
This Season’s Prediction: 4-12
St. Louis Rams
The Rams disappointed last season. Thought by many to have the best front four in the league, the Rams D slumped, allowing over 22 points and 350 yards per game—numbers that aren’t terrible, but were far from their lofty expectation. St. Louis flashed their potential in posting back-to-back shutouts of the Raiders and Redskins (okay, not exactly marquee offenses, but hey… it counts), however performances like those were few and far between.
On the other side of the ball, new quarterback Nick Foles will be tasked with doing little more than protecting the rock on the off chance the Rams actually throw it—the selection of Todd Gurley to go along with Tre Mason suggests they won’t be doing much of that—but as long as Foles can stay on the field, he’s already an upgrade over the departed Sam Bradford.
The addition of Nick Fairley—who will have to earn his playing time—makes an already stacked D-line even deeper. If the Rams defense plays up to snuff—and it better, otherwise Jeff Fisher could be in trouble—St. Louis will be a team on the rise. They’re probably a year and several offensive weapons away from being playoff contenders, but they’ll easily do enough to get out of the West cellar and should make a run at their first .500 record since 2006.
Last Season: 6-10
This Season’s Prediction: 7-9