Seahawks primed for Super year in NFC West
September 05, 2017 3:01 AM
by Bob Christ
The final installment of the NFL division previews lands us in the NFC West where Seattle enters the regular season as the odds-on choice (2-to-7) as champ for the third straight season. Only New England is a heavier favorite to win a division in 2017.
This year, though, the Seahawks’ popularity at the windows may have more to do with the relative weaknesses of its three division rivals than their overall strength.
Last season, Seattle went 10-5-1 to win the loop for the third time in four years while Arizona, San Francisco and the LA Rams went a cumulative 21 games under .500. The entire NFC West was an equally dismal 10-28-2 ATS against non-division foes.
Whereas the Cardinals and veteran coach Bruce Arians are looking to reboot after a 7-8-1 nose-dive season, the Rams and 49ers are in makeover mode with new head coaches after scraping bottom.
But as usual in this league, nothing should be taken for granted. Two years ago, Pete Carroll’s Seahawks were fresh off two trips to the Super Bowl and went off as the 1-to-4 choice in the West. They lost out to the Cardinals.
Here is how the division race figures to play out with teams listed in order of predicted finish. The odds have been provided by Westgate Las Vegas.
2-7 to win division; 8-1 to win Super Bowl: The Seahawks were one of four teams to finish 4-0 in preseason. The last time Seattle had an unbeaten summer (2013) they went on to win the Super Bowl. Of course, Detroit had a 4-0 summer record five years earlier but then had a 0-16 season.
The Seahawks should look a lot better offensively if only because QB Russell Wilson won’t be playing with foot/ankle/knee injuries. Those hurts not only kept him from doing much scrambling/rushing but also allowed defenses to concentrate on others in the ground game, which resulted in a drop from 4.5 yards a carry/141.8 a game in 2015 to 3.9 per run and 99.4 a game in 2016.
Ex-Packer RB Eddie Lacy should help. Seattle’s rush defense, behind MLB Bobby Wagner, has been stout for several years, including last season’s league-best 3.4-yard yield per carry. And, of course, CB Richard Sherman and hard-hitting safety Earl Thomas will be around to patrol the secondary after missing time or dealing with injuries last year.
Note: In the kicking game, the Seahawks will be gambling on ex-Viking Blair Walsh, who was one of the worst PKs in the league last year, missing four of 19 PATs and going only 12-for-16 on FG tries. This summer, though, he’s been on the mark, going 9-for-11 on FGs and hitting all 12 extra points. He takes over for Steven Hauschka.
3-1, 40-1: The Cardinals have one of the NFL’s most dynamic performers in RB David Johnson, who scored an NFL-high 20 TDs in 2016, with 16 coming on the ground. They also has a young, aggressive defense – but maybe it’s too young after the departure of five defenders who accounted for 71 starts last year.
Of considerable concern offensively is the durability of Carson Palmer, who at 37 is the third oldest starting QB in the league. After taking a league-high 117 hits last season, how long can he remain out of a body cast? And throw in his 14 fumbles, tied for a league high, and there’s a bubbling recipe for an offensive breakdown. Even though veteran WR Larry Fitzgerald had an NFL-best 107 receptions last year, he had a career-low norm of 9.6 yards a catch. Only eight receptions were for 20-plus yards, down nine from the year before. And on a side note, when is Arizona going to start blocking for punts? It saw two blocked last year, most in the league, and five the past three seasons.
Note: Arizona, along with Dallas, will be trying to break the Hall of Fame Game curse this season. In every year but three since 1962, the NFL has conducted the game in Canton. No team that participated has gone on to win the world title that season.
18-1, 100-1: The Rams are going to have to show a lot of improvement with the ball under rookie coach Sean McVay and second-year QB Jared Goff if they are to snap a streak of 13 non-winning seasons.
LA was so offensively inept last year it was held below 200 yards five times. All other league teams had six. And the Rams team’s norm of 14 points a game was the lowest by anyone the past five years.
At least Goff, 0-7 as a starter after taking over in Game 10, showed a little polish this summer, completing 24 of his 32 throws. Last year he hit only 44 percent in exhibitions. LA will need more from RB Todd Gurley.
After averaging 4.8 a carry as a rookie in 2015 and having 11 carries of 20-plus yards, his norm plummeted to 3.2 last year with only two 20-plus runs despite 49 more carries.
Defense has been the team’s strong suit, and with the addition of veteran DC Wade Phillips, architect of Denver’s Super defense in 2015, there’s optimism. But all is not well with DT Aaron Donald, whose holdout extended through cut day.
Note: In league history, only two teams with a streak of 10 or more non-winning seasons rebounded to have a winning record under a coach in his first year as boss of the franchise -- the 1959 Packers and 1968 Redskins, who were both coached by Vince Lombardi.
30-1, 300-1: The 49ers welcomed their fourth head coach in four years, with the ex-Atlanta OC Kyle Shanahan taking the reins along with GM John Lynch. SF is expected to have about a dozen new starters after a 2-14 season. If not for the Rams, the 49ers would have joined the 2008 Lions as the only 0-16 teams in league history, but SF was able to beat LA 28-0 and 22-21.
Brian Hoyer is the choice to take over at QB this year after a brief tenure as Chicago’s starter last year. He has a career mark of 16-15 and is the only QB in the history of the reborn Browns to have a winning record (10-6). But he’ll be going out there without the team’s leading receiver from 2016, Jeremy Kerley (64 catches, 3 TDs). He was cut Saturday.
Defensively the 49ers need work. They gave up 500-plus yards in four games in 2016, most in the NFL. SF was particularly vulnerable on the ground, giving up 165.9 yards a game, the worst rate by anyone the past six years. In fact, six RBs had their most productive game of the year vs. the 49ers.
Note: In Weeks 6-9, the 49ers have three games against teams coming off a bye – at Washington and home with Dallas and Arizona, tied for second most in NFL.