The Los Angeles Rams enter the 2019 season as favorites to win the NFC West once again. They have won the division for 2 straight years and are reloading for another deep playoff run after falling short in the Super Bowl to New England. Jared Goff and Sean McVay plan on continuing their offensive dominance within the division that has not been able to provide a ton of competition in the past few years. The one team that has remained competitive with the Rams has been the Seattle Seahawks. This Seahawk team is still not the Super Bowl favorites of years past, as the Legion of Boom no longer exists. However, Russell Wilson is still one of the most exciting players in the league and somehow always finds a way to keep his team in games despite their weaknesses. The other two teams within the division that are really hoping to make some improvements in 2019 are the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. Arizona has a brand new head coach in Kliff Kingsbury and a rookie quaterback in Kyler Murray. San Francisco needs to show some progress in 2019 or be in jeopardy of having some major changes take place for the 2020 campaign. Kyle Shanahan enters his 3rd year as the head coach of the 49ers and has only put together a 10-22 record in his time with the team. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will need to remain healthy, as the expectation for this team ride on the shoulders of his health.
I expect a lot of the same things we have seen in recent years out of this division. Los Angeles has the best team in the division and Seattle remains a strong playoff contender. Both San Francisco and Arizona are not yet ready to contend, but with some luck and quick progression from their young guys, have the opportunity to win some games and get these franchises heading back in the right direction.
2019 Line: 5 Wins
2018 Record: 3-13 (1-7 Home, 2-6 Away)
Arizona heads into 2019 with essentially a brand new team. They have a new head coach in Kliff Kingsbury, an new Quarterback in Kyler Murray, and a new Defensive Coordinator in Vance Joseph. Aside from these major changes, expect 8-10 new starters on this team between the offense and defense. Kingsbury will bring in a brand new offensive system that will be tailored to Murray’s skillset. It should be a fast-paced and wide open scheme that allows Kyler the ability to get out of the pocket, use his feet, and make quick decisions on the move. This aggressive style of offense will match the aggressive defense that Joseph will implement on that side of the ball. Overall, this team has made a ton of adjustments, but the results might take a year or two to come to fruition, so I would expect some losses coming to this franchise in 2019.
Divisional play in 2018 was where the Cardinals found most of their overall wins. They won 2 out of their 3 games against San Francisco. However, they went 4-0 against the playoff teams; Seahawks and Rams. Based on the fact that the Cardinals are completely rebuilding and both the Seahawks and Rams are returning to push deep into the playoffs I can easily see another 0-4 record against them. San Francisco on the other hand, is a completely different story for this Cardinal team. Aside from sweeping last year, they have won 8 consecutive games against the 49ers, who are still working themselves back to relevance. Heading outside of the division they play host to Detroit (Week 1), Carolina (3), Atlanta (6), Pittsburgh (14), and Cleveland (15). Opening week against Detroit will be an important one for the progression of this team. Currently, the Lions are only a 2.5 point favorite, and may be one of the closest spreads the Cards will see outside of the division in 2019. Games against the Panthers, Falcons, Steelers, and Browns will all be extremely difficult for Arizona to break through as the key components still try to learn how the NFL game differs from college. On the road Arizona will meet Baltimore (Week 2), Cincinnati (5), NY Giants (7), New Orleans (8), and Tampa Bay (10). Baltimore and New Orleans will be the most challenging teams they play away this year as they both qualified for the playoffs in 2018. Cincinnati, New York, and Tampa Bay may not be so tough. Murray will have an opportunity to prove himself on the road against these opponents and get some wins under his belt in year one.
Arizona is going to have another tough year out in the desert. Yes, they got a number one overall pick and grabbed a franchise quarterback. Yes, they have a new coach. These may end up panning out for the Cardinals organization in the long run, but some bumps and bruises are to be expected in this first season, and they may very well be critical to the development of these young guys.
My Prediction: 4-12 (UNDER 5 Wins)
San Francisco 49ers
2019 Line: 8 Wins
2018 Record: 4-12 (4-4 Home, 0-8 Away)
San Francisco had a brutal season in 2018 as they finished with a 4-12 record. However, had quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo not gone down with a season-ending injury early in the season, the 49ers could have finished much higher in the standings. Even though, Garoppolo has not proven to be a very durable QB throughout his career, the team will be placing a lot of faith in the quarterback, as the changes made in the offseason were minimal. If Jimmy G can stay on the field in 2019, the supporting cast should allow them to have more success than their mediocre statistics showed last season. Defensively, the 49ers drafted Nick Bosa with the number 2 overall pick earlier this year, and they also added Dee Ford who comes over from Kansas City. These additions, if healthy, should allow this defensive front unit to get much more pressure on the quarterback and give the secondary some room to improve as well.
Though the 49ers overall record was pretty brutal at 4-12, their divisional record on 1-5 looks even worse. Their lone win was against the Seahawks in Week 15. They were swept by the Rams (expected) and the Cardinals (not expected). Arizona only won 3 games last season, and 2 of them came against the 49ers. Not a lot went right for the team from San Francisco. The Rams will be fully loaded in 2019 and should have the ability to sweep San Francisco this year again. Aside from the Week 15 win against Seattle, San Fran dropped the previous 10 matchups against the Hawks. Expect another tough run against Seattle this year as well. Arizona remains the wildcard for San Francisco. Their current streak against the Cardinal sits at 8 losses. If they intend to do anything in the league this year, they will have to beat Arizona at least once, if not twice. A 2-4 record in the division is not impressive, but would be an improvement from a year ago. As we look beyond the divisional games the 49ers will host Pittsburgh (Week 3), Cleveland (5), Carolina (8), Green Bay (12), and Atlanta (15). Pittsburgh and Cleveland will both be competing for the AFC North and will be tall orders for San Francisco. Carolina, Green Bay, and Atlanta will also be tough opponents as they visit the West Coast. None of these teams qualified for the playoffs in 2018, but each of them, when healthy, can compete with the leagues best. One thing is certain, the 49ers will need to bring their A-game for each matchup in their home stadium. Moving to the road games, San Francisco travels to Tampa Bay (Week 1), Cincinnati (2), Washington (7), Baltimore (13), and New Orleans (14). The first three of this group will be winnable competitions for San Fran. Tampa Bay is unproven with Jameis Winston taking snaps. Cincinnati is expected to have a down year and compete for the worst record in the league. Washington is also trying to break through a difficult division and prove to the league that they are not simply a middle of the road team, but have yet to prove anything. The last two against Baltimore and New Orleans should be much more difficult. Both teams found themselves in the playoffs in 2018, with the Saints almost making a trip to the Super Bowl. It’s hard to see San Francisco taking either of these games as we project from the preseason.
As a fan, I really do hope that Jimmy Garoppolo can stay healthy and show the league what he is truly capable of. San Francisco fans deserve to see that and not have their season dictated by injury once again. However, even with a healthy Jimmy G, this team should not compete for a playoff spot. They still need more pieces in place to make a real push to greatness.
My Preciction: 6-10 (UNDER 8 Wins)
2019 Line: 8.5 Wins
2018 Record: 10-6 (6-2 Home, 4-4 Away)
Seattle made a surprising run to their 10-6 in the 2018 season. Many people thought it would be a down year in Seattle, and they proved everyone wrong with their play on the field. On offense, Russell Wilson and his crew only turned the ball over 11 times, which led the league. Their balanced attack in 2019 should keep opponents on their heels as both the run and pass will be potent in Seattle. Defensively they ranked around the middle of the pack as they were 11th in points allowed and 16th in yards allowed. They recently added Jadeveon Clowney via trade with the Texans. This season should be more of the same which will allow Russell Wilson and the offense the chance to win some games.
Divisional play for the Seahawks in 2018 yielded average results. They finished 3-3 against divisional opponents, sweeping Arizona, splitting with San Francisco, and getting swept by the Rams. In 2019, the Seahawks will look to take care of business against the new-look Cardinals, continue their winning ways against San Francisco, and break through and grab a game from the Rams. Going 4-2 within the division will be a win for this team, but if they can sneak up and take 5 out of 6, they may have a shot at knocking off the Rams from the top of the division. Outside of the regular divisional teams they host Cincinnati (Week 1), New Orleans (3), Baltimore (7), Tampa Bay (9), and Minnesota (13). At first glance, the most winnable games of this set will be Cincinnati and Tampa Bay. Cincy is going to lose a lot of games this year, and Tampa Bay is still working on putting all the pieces together. Games against New Orleans, Baltimore, and Minnesota will prove to be more challenging. New Orleans could be one of the best teams in the league and they will come into Seattle with no fear of the 12th man and the Seahawk team. Baltimore and Minnesota are not quite elite, but will pose a threat to Seattle. Grabbing 3 or 4 wins at home against these teams will set Seattle up in 2019 to compete for the division and/or a wildcard spot. Away games consist of Pittsburgh (Week 2), Cleveland (6), Atlanta (8), Philadelphia (12), and Carolina (15). Now these games, will be much more difficult for the Seahawk team to overcome. Pittsburgh and Cleveland look to be very competitive in the AFC and will be very protective of their home turf. NFC South opponents Atlanta and Carolina are rebounding and both play very well at home. Finally, Philadelphia has been tough for several years in a row and will not give Seattle any breaks as they take the trip to the East coast.
Seattle has the potential to make deep playoff runs and they certainly have the potential to compete with the Rams for the division. They will have to get through a tough slate of road games in 2019, and not getting past some of them may prove to be costly as the season winds down.
My Prediction: 11-5 (OVER 8.5 Wins)
Los Angeles Rams
2019 Line: 10.5
2018 Record: 13-3 (7-1 Home, 6-2 Away)
Head Coach Sean McVay and Quarterback Jared Goff head into 2019 with the mentality to recreate what they were able to accomplish in 2018. The offense was extremely potent as they were able to average 32.9 points per game en route to a trip to the Super Bowl. Their offense was stifled in the title game, but the 2019 Rams are determined to not allow that to happen again. Most of the pieces are still in place from last year’s team, so the offense should remain one of the best in the league. Former Packers superstar Clay Matthews joins the defense to help this unit make improvements on their 20th ranking a season ago.
This Rams team in 2018 had very few weaknesses as they cruised through the regular season and the NFC side of the playoffs. Their divisional play highlighted their strong team as they finished 6-0 sweeping all 3 other teams. Expect more of the same in 2019 as they should pounce on both the Cardinals and 49ers and take all 4 games barring any significant injuries. Seattle will pose a threat, but if they are even able to split the series with Seattle, they can manage to still take the division title with strong play outside of the division. Speaking of play outside the division, the Rams will face the following teams at home this year: New Orleans (Week 2), Tampa Bay (4), Cincinnati (8), Chicago (11), and Baltimore (12). New Orleans will be a huge game early on as it sets the stage for a rematch of last season’s controversial NFC Championship game. The Saints will be out for revenge after the blown call of the century. The next two against Tampa Bay and Cincinnati should move in favor of the Rams, as they should outmatch both the Bucs and Bengals. Chicago and Baltimore wrap things up, as the Rams match up against a couple great defenses. McVay will need to conjure up some offensive magic to break through against these two opponents, but the Rams have the weapons to do so. Their road schedule will be no walk in the park for the defending NFC champs. They face Carolina (Week 1), Cleveland (3), Atlanta (7), Pittsburgh (10), and Dallas (15). All five road trips will feature competent opponents that can knock off the Rams. I do not expect to see the Rams stumble in all of the games, but don’t be surprised if they take an L in 2 or 3 of these matchups.
Los Angeles has high expectations. They flipped a team that was a perennial bottom-feeder into one of the best teams in the league. Sean McVay has his work cut out for him in 2019 with a schedule filled with tough opponents. Recreating a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl trip will be near-impossible, but nobody on the roster feels that way. They will be a very good team once again, but I don’t see a complete repeat of what we saw a season ago.
My Prediction: 11-5 (OVER 10.5 Wins)