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GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 16: Aaron Donald #99 of the Los Angeles Rams participates in warmups prior to the NFC Divisional Playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on January 16, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Rams 32-18. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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2021 NFL NFC West Preview

We’ve finally reached the finish line.

After weeks of research, team and player profiling, as well as carefully predicting which unknown players could make a jump onto the NFL scene, the division preview series is finally coming to an end.

I’ll be honest, this was a taxing process. Staying up until the wee hours of the morning just so I can make sure each specific detail is to my liking, constantly revising different portions of each preview so it’ll be perfect for each reader, I’ll tell you this wasn’t an easy few weeks.

But we’ve pushed through and have made it to the last one. I hope my previews helped each reader gain a little bit of knowledge about each and every division, while potentially giving them a little push to watch more football around the league instead of solely focusing on their favorite team.

That’s if the reader is a one team viewer in the first place but you get the point.

We’ve covered the AFC and NFC East, AFC and NFC North, AFC and NFC South, and more recently the AFC West. If you’ve caught on to the pattern, then you should know exactly where we’re heading next to close everything out. The NFC West is our last division subject to close analysis, so let’s make it count.

2020 Standings

1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)

2. Los Angeles Rams (10-6)

3. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)

4. San Francisco 49ers (6-10)

Overview of 2020 for the NFC West

Over the past decade or so, the depth of competition in the NFC West hasn’t been a highly entertaining topic to discuss among NFL fans and enthusiasts alike. However, that was far from the case in 2020, as we saw the overall extent of team talent in the division take the league by storm.

The Seahawks rode their high flying, explosive pass friendly offense to a 5-0 start, consistently scoring a barrage of points each game, while also boosting Russell Wilson’s reputation as an MVP candidate. It was a stark contrast to the run first offense we’ve seen Pete Carroll force on this organization ever since his arrival 2010, a welcome change since Carroll’s last attempt at making the run game the star of the show turned this Seahawks offense into a lethargic, stagnated mess.

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ stellar offensive display ultimately led the team to a 12-4 record and another division title, while also adding another accolade to Wilson’s likely Hall of Fame career. Their late season offensive flaws were exposed during a playoff loss to the division rival Los Angeles Rams, but the outlook for this team still looks positive even if the defense can’t find its footing. Look for the Seahawks to be competitive once again and push for a second straight division title in a crowded NFC West.

In southern California, Sean McVay’s Rams fought tooth and nail to retain their status as a respectable side in 2020. On one hand, the defense played out of their minds, finishing the season near the top of the league in an impressive number of defensive categories. On the other hand, the offense was a mess week to week, with Jared Goff being one of the main reasons why.

That same inconsistency and drop off in performance from the offense to the defense was why it was so hard to watch the Rams each and every week. You never knew which team you were going to get every Sunday/Monday/Thursday, which was extremely frustrating in its own right. Nonetheless, the team fought through their struggles to reach the playoffs, winning a road playoff game against the Seahawks before ending their season with an uninspiring loss in the divisional round against the Green Bay Packers.

I for one never want to watch the 2020 Rams ever again, as doing so caused me to even question my own love for the game of football. Luckily for us, we probably won’t have to do so for the foreseeable future due to the addition of Matthew Stafford.

Further north, the theme for the 49ers’ 2020 season was the injury bug. So many impact players on both sides of the ball were bit by the bug, that it almost seemed like the team was cursed. Those injuries persisted throughout the season, giving Kyle Shanahan a limited amount of options to work with week to week, and making the team finish with their worst record since 2018.

It was a failure of a season by normal standards, but 2020 was far from normal for the 49ers, so I think they’re just fine letting 2020 fall by the wayside and quietly moving on to the 2021 season.

As for the Cardinals, if I ramble on about my issues with the team itself, we’ll be here for hours. So to keep things short, I’ll briefly explain what went wrong for the team in 2020. Kliff Kingsbury refused to adapt schematically in 2020, which led to the offense sputtering during the team’s late season playoff push. If Kingsbury simply adapted schematically, I think we would’ve seen a more consistent Cardinals offense last season, along with a likely playoff berth.

But that didn’t happen, so now we’re left examining what if scenarios and the virtual unknown that we’ll simply have to accept. Aside from Kingsbury’s shortcomings, the Kyler Murray-Deandre Hopkins connection was an absolute force, which symbolized as a bit of a consolation prize considering the circumstances.

Best Offense for 2021

Los Angeles Rams- With the addition of Matthew Stafford, I think we’re set to see a clinical offensive show explode in the greater Los Angeles area.

Take Stafford and mix him together with the skill position depth the team currently possesses, an offensive line that should keep him off the ground, along with a generational leader in Sean McVay, and you might be witnessing the budding process of a beautiful football flower.

It sucks we’ll have to wait until September to see if the flower completed its budding process without any issues, but good things come to those who wait.

Best Defense for 2021

Los Angeles Rams- This was a tough call since the 49ers also possess a defense that can stand toe to toe with the some of the best football has to offer. But San Francisco’s secondary depth worries a lot, so I’m not really comfortable giving this title to them until I see some sort of improvement in their secondary.

Los Angeles lost a couple of secondary pieces in John Johnson and Troy Hill, but they still have plenty of starpower and depth to help offset those losses. Jalen Ramsey is still one of the best cornerbacks in football, Taylor Rapp had a really good 2020, there’s a lot to like with this Rams defense.

Losing Brandon Staley hurts as well, but I think Raheem Morris is a suitable option to keep this defense playing near its impressive level from last season.

Best Head Coach for 2021

Sean McVay- Some of you might prefer Kyle Shanahan and that’s okay. But I’m a big supporter of what McVay has done so far with the Rams organization and what I think he’s going to do there in the future.

He’s a modern day offensive genius that’s made every playcaller across the league scramble to copy what he’s done schematically, while also starting a new trend of coaching hires that match his own personal profile. Did I mention he’s done all of this by the ripe age of 35?

What a career he’s had so far.

Potential Breakout Player to Watch for Each Team in 2021

Seattle Seahawks- TE Gerald Everett

Everett never made a real impact in Los Angeles, often finding himself second on the depth chart behind Tyler Higbee. But now Everett’s in Seattle and has a real chance to finally find his footing, potentially as a first option tight end. No tight end on the roster looks as promising as Everett in terms of production, so it really feels like the ex-Ram has the opportunity to finally make a name for himself.

Los Angeles Rams- TE Tyler Higbee

Higbee has been great over the last couple of seasons, but he hasn’t really been recognized as one of the best tight ends the league has to offer. I think that’ll change this year, mostly due to Matthew Stafford’s arrival as the team’s newest starting quarterback. There’s a lot of quality receiver depth around Higbee that might cut into some of his targets, but I believe he’ll assert himself as a high priority receiving target regardless of the other weapons surrounding him.

Arizona Cardinals- LB Isaiah Simmons

Simmons found himself on the sideline more often than not during his rookie season, mostly due to his struggles acclimating to the league and the Cardinals’ staff simply not knowing where to play him. But I don’t think that’ll be the case in 2021, especially if the staff can finally pinpoint where they want Simmons to play. If Simmons can find his proper position and increase his playing time, I think he’s going to give this Cardinals defense another athletic weapon to use on the defensive side of the ball.

San Francisco 49ers- WR Brandon Aiyuk

Before injuries claimed Jimmy Garoppolo as one of its victims, Aiyuk was putting together a nice rookie season. Now in year two, Aiyuk should take on more of a role in this 49ers offense, therefore putting him in a prime position to break out. Deebo Samuel is the unquestioned WR1 in San Francisco, but Aiyuk has a chance to take the next step and dominate as this team’s WR2.

Who Wins the Division?

Seattle is still a threat, San Francisco is getting a good bit of its impact performers after injuries derailed their seasons, and Arizona is expected to improve after an 8-8 finish last season.

But despite all of that, I’m still picking the Rams to win the division.

I think the McVay-Stafford partnership has a chance to take over the league this year, with the suffocating defense acting as the cherry on top. This team should be a Super Bowl contender along with the likes of Green Bay and Tampa Bay in the NFC, which should spell excitement for football fans across the world.

I’m really excited to watch the Rams this fall and I hope you are too.



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