NFC West Preview for 2016

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The Arizona Cardinals were great until the NFC Championship game and I think their biggest flaw is that they don’t have an every-down running back. Not having a good run game to alleviate the pressure off of Carson Palmer really hurt because when you are throwing the ball a lot or even running the ball often, you are essentially a one-trick pony.

To me the Cardinals need better balance in 2016 and need to start thinking about who the future replacement is for Palmer, who is 36 years old. As long as Palmer is healthy, Arizona has a great coach in Arians and a good defense, so I think they will be fine. They will contend again in 2016 and should win the division a second straight year – after all, Seattle is their only competition in the NFC West.

The Cardinals have the talent to win 13 games, but will they have the legs to finish the season with five of seven games on the road? Their finish will determine their possible playoffs seed in the NFC. The Cardinals’ back-to-back playoffs berths earned four prime-time games this season, including a Monday Night Football matchup against Todd Bowles and the New York Jets.

The Seattle Seahawks had an off year last year, but I think they’ll have a bounce-back year in 2016. Whether that is a third trip to the Super Bowl in four years remains to be seen, but getting the “Legion of Boom” back together is complete with re-signing Byron Maxwell. Most importantly Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor are back healthy, so the defense should return to Super Bowl form.

The only concerns I have for Seattle is who is going to shoulder the load in the run game with Marshawn Lynch retiring? Can the O-line protect Russell Wilson? And lastly, can they find a role for Jimmy Graham to be as productive as he was in New Orleans? There’s no question though that the Seahawks have a chance to be title contenders in 2016.

Based on last year’s records, the Seahawks have the fifth toughest schedule. But they face just one returning playoff team in the first nine weeks of the season and have a chance to get off to a hot start. Russell Wilson played the best football of his career during the second half of 2015, and the Seahawks’ defense led the NFL in fewest points allowed for the fourth consecutive year.

The Rams may have moved from St. Louis, but the team still has the same issues. The Rams have only one legitimate threat on offense in Todd Gurley. Gurley will be very exciting to watch next year and he will certainly be rookie quarterback Jared Goff’s best friend for a couple of years. The O-line is still problematic, they don’t have a legitimate number-one wide receiver, and Jeff Fisher can’t make up his mind on who he wants at quarterback.

There’s no question that Goff is starter material, but is he ready? Let’s not forget in March, coach Fisher said Case Keenum was the starter, but you don’t trade what the Rams traded to draft Goff and not name him the starter. I think it is going to be hard for the rookie quarterback to have an immediate impact due to what is around him offensively, but he will have a solid running back and a solid defense. Jeff Fisher in 21 years of coaching has 15 seasons of .500 or worse and I don’t expect that to change. If he survives another mediocre season, which he probably will, he should consider going on the show “Survivor” – he might win that.

The Rams’ bold move to land Goff might pay off in due time, but I just can’t see it being this year as they still lack the weapons in the passing game and on the offensive line to translate to immediate postseason success. Subtracting four starters on defense and the many moving parts of the first season in Los Angeles will make it difficult to reach .500.

If Colin Kaepernick says he wants a trade out of San Francisco and that he wants to go to the Cleveland Browns, you know you are in for a long season. Chip Kelly is the new head coach and although his system worked in Philly for two of his three years, the biggest issue is that he didn’t know how to manage NFL players. It was always HIS way, and the players just had to go with it – Not exactly a recipe for success. Once the Niners let go of Harbaugh, I knew they were heading back into irrelevancy.

The rebuilt 49ers figure they have more depth than last season and having the league’s toughest strength of schedule will put that theory to the test, and early. A short week to start the season – opening at home on Monday Night Football against the Rams, followed by trips to Carolina and Seattle – could be an early-season killer, just like last year. Or, it could be a sign of improvement. But this seems to be a less-talented team than last year’s 5-11 squad.

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About Nathan Johnson

Nathan Johnson is a sports management/communications major at the University of Tennessee aspiring to be a college football insider. He grew up in Iowa having a strong passion for the Big Ten Conference.