In the eighth installment of my 2020 NFL Record Prediction series, which will span 9 parts, I’ll be evaluating the uber-competitive NFC West.
Note: These predictions are meant to reflect not just which team is better in a duel of two coteries, but who I feel the likely winner will be based on circumstances and situations.
Feel free to bookmark these articles as the year unfolds; as always, you are welcome to comment your own predictions as I go along, or even ask for justification for specific game outcomes!
Week 1: Arizona Cardinals (L, 0-1)
Week 2: at New York Jets (W, 1-1)
Week 3: at New York Giants (W, 2-1)
Week 4: Philadelphia Eagles (W, 3-1)
Week 5: Miami Dolphins (W, 4-1)
Week 6: Los Angeles Rams (W, 5-1)
Week 7: at New England Patriots (W, 6-1)
Week 8: at Seattle Seahawks (L, 6-2)
Week 9: Green Bay Packers (W, 7-2)
Week 10: at New Orleans Saints (L, 7-3)
Week 11: Bye
Week 12: at Los Angeles Rams (W, 8-3)
Week 13: Buffalo Bills (W, 9-3)
Week 14: Washington Football Team (W, 10-3)
Week 15: at Dallas Cowboys (W, 11-3)
Week 16: at Arizona Cardinals (W, 12-3)
Week 17: Seattle Seahawks (W, 13-3)
The 49ers absolutely flipped the script in 2019, going from a measly 4-12 all the way to 13-3 thanks in large part due to drafting stud defensive end Nick Bosa at #2 overall and the return of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from a torn ACL.
Garoppolo’s comeback certainly sparked San Francisco to some extent; after all, he was 6-2 with the 49ers prior to 2019. Though he passed for close to 4,000 yards, 27 TDs and 13 INTs during the 2019 regular season, his playoff averages were mediocre at best with 142.3 yards/game, 0.66 TD/game and 1 INT/game.
In reality, what more so galvanized this team was the emergence of an absolutely vaunted defense. In just one year’s difference, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s unit surrendered 64.8 fewer yards/game, 7.8 fewer points/game and had 20 more takeaways. San Francisco’s front 7 was arguably the best in the league, as Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Dee Ford combined for 33 sacks.
After Kyle Shanahan’s second Super Bowl meltdown, though, the 49ers aren’t without obstacles in 2020.
To start, the contingent must deal with the stereotypical “Super Bowl Hangover.” For what it’s worth, the last two Super Bowl losers have not fared well early on the following season. The Los Angeles Rams started 3-3 in 2019 after faltering to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, and the Patriots themselves began 2-2 in 2018 after losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.
Additionally, San Francisco had to offset the loss of Buckner, a 1-time Pro Bowler who is 26 whom general manager John Lynch packaged to the Colts. Lynch and Shanahan are hoping stout rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw can perform well in his stead.
On top of that, the 49ers are absolutely paper thin at wide receiver. 2019 rookie and Super Bowl star Deebo Samuel will likely miss the first few weeks with a broken foot, and 2020 draftee Brandon Aiyuk is questionable for Week 1 with a hamstring strain. Lynch signed veterans J.J. Nelson and Tavon Austin to help fill the void, but both were just placed on IR.
But the 49ers’ defense, not to mention world-class tight end George Kittle, a phenomenal offensive line and solid rushing tandem of Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman, is simply too good to let this team fail.
Though I predict them to lose Week 1 as they incur a locked-and-loaded Cardinals team, the 49ers should hit their stride thereafter en route to the #2 overall seed in the NFC.
Week 1: at Atlanta Falcons (W, 1-0)
Week 2: New England Patriots (W, 2-0)
Week 3: Dallas Cowboys (W, 3-0)
Week 4: at Miami Dolphins (L, 3-1)
Week 5: Minnesota Vikings (W, 4-1)
Week 6: Bye
Week 7: at Arizona Cardinals (L, 4-2)
Week 8: San Francisco 49ers (W, 5-2)
Week 9: at Buffalo Bills (L, 5-3)
Week 10: at Los Angeles Rams (L, 5-4)
Week 11: Arizona Cardinals (W, 6-4)
Week 12: at Philadelphia Eagles (L, 6-5)
Week 13: New York Giants (W, 7-5)
Week 14: New York Jets (W, 8-5)
Week 15: at Washington Football Team (W, 9-5)
Week 16: Los Angeles Rams (W, 10-5)
Week 17: at San Francisco 49ers (L, 10-6)
The Seahawks’ 2019 season ended in heartbreak. Superstar quarterback Russell Wilson did all he could by passing for 277 yards and rushing for 64 more, yet Seattle still could not defeat the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round.
There’s no doubt that Wilson is one of the premier gunslingers in the league, if not the second best. The Wisconsin product has thrown a whopping 66 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions since 2018, good for a TD-to-INT ratio of 5.5.
The only issue for Seattle has been surrounding the 6-time Pro Bowler with talent on offense, and Pete Carroll’s team now has plenty of that in elite receiver tandem Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, running back Chris Carson, and tight ends Greg Olsen and Will Dissly.
Since the formidable “Legion of Boom” that ended rather unceremoniously in 2018, defense has not been Seattle’s specialty. However, general manager John Schneider provided a boost prior to the 2019 opener by trading for Jadeveon Clowney. But Clowney proceeded to post just 3 sacks, 13 quarterback hits and 17 hurries, all of which were significant drop-offs.
What complicates things for the Seahawks is that Clowney has left after just one year: per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the outside linebacker joined Mike Vrabel in Tennessee. That spells trouble for Seattle's front 7, which ranked 31st with just 28 team sacks last year.
Delving deeper into Seattle’s defense presents some solace, as their secondary is truly reminiscent of 2013-17. Carroll has two great corners at his disposal in Shaquill Griffin and recently cleared Quinton Dunbar, not to mention outstanding chess piece Jamal Adams.
Some are confident that the Seahawks will win the NFC West, possibly with ease. I’m far more tepid, as they lack star power other than 5-time All-Pro Bobby Wagner and Adams on defense. Further, Wilson & Co. have gone just 10-8 against their division foes since 2017, a concerning record considering the division’s overall power this season.
Yet Wilson can certainly put the team on his back, much as he did last year. Acquiring Adams from the Jets should lift some of that freight, as I project Carroll’s unit to obtain the 6th seed in the NFC.
Week 1: at San Francisco 49ers (W, 1-0)
Week 2: Detroit Lions (W, 2-0)
Week 3: Washington Football Team (W, 3-0)
Week 4: at Carolina Panthers (W, 4-0)
Week 5: at New York Jets (L, 4-1)
Week 6: at Dallas Cowboys (L, 4-2)
Week 7: Seattle Seahawks (W, 5-2)
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: Miami Dolphins (W, 6-2)
Week 10: Buffalo Bills (W, 7-2)
Week 11: at Seattle Seahawks (L, 7-3)
Week 12: at New England Patriots (L, 7-4)
Week 13: Los Angeles Rams (W, 8-4)
Week 14: at New York Giants (L, 8-5)
Week 15: Philadelphia Eagles (W, 9-5)
Week 16: San Francisco 49ers (L, 9-6)
Week 17: at Los Angeles Rams (L, 9-7)
The optimism in the Arizona desert is almost as high as its scalding average temperature.
After not breaking the .500 threshold the past 4 seasons, I project the revamped Cardinals to break out big time in 2020.
At the core of Kliff Kingsbury’s team is an electric offense spearheaded by 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray. Murray’s rookie year was not sensational, per se—he only threw for 3,722 yards, 20 TDs and 12 INTs, but he certainly showed flashes of promise.
The hype is real after general manger Steve Keim pried DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans—in fact, the team extended him just today. Murray is flanked by star-studded weaponry in Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella and Kenyan Drake; many expect him to make a proverbial “jump” in his second campaign, and he very well could make the Pro Bowl.
On defense, too, the Cardinals added arguably the best and most versatile defender in the Draft via Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons, who is slated to suit up at inside linebacker for Arizona. Simmons, who is truly pervasive on defense, could easily win Defensive Rookie of the Year and is joined by stars Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson. Look for burgeoning defenders Bryon Murphy, Jr. and recently extended Budda Baker to also defend The Bird’s Nest.
Can the upstart Cards upstage NFC West leviathans like the 49ers and Seahawks? It’s certainly possible, though their playoff contention likely rests on their Week 6 clash in Dallas, a matchup I have them losing.
Arizona could certainly finish better than I project by winning more than 1 of their last 3 games. Even if they don’t make the playoffs in 2020 as I surmise, they should easily play come January in the next few seasons.
Los Angeles Rams
Week 1: Dallas Cowboys (W, 1-0)
Week 2: at Philadelphia Eagles (L, 1-1)
Week 3: at Buffalo Bills (L, 1-2)
Week 4: New York Giants (W, 2-2)
Week 5: at Washington Football Team (W, 3-2)
Week 6: at San Francisco 49ers (L, 3-3)
Week 7: Chicago Bears (L, 3-4)
Week 8: at Miami Dolphins (L, 3-5)
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: Seattle Seahawks (W, 4-5)
Week 11: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (L, 4-6)
Week 12: San Francisco 49ers (L, 4-7)
Week 13: at Arizona Cardinals (L, 4-8)
Week 14: New England Patriots (L, 4-9)
Week 15: New York Jets (W, 5-9)
Week 16: at Seattle Seahawks (L, 5-10)
Week 17: Arizona Cardinals (W, 6-10)
Just 2 years off of an NFC title, Sean McVay’s team has regressed mightily. Los Angeles is looking to replace veteran offensive players like Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks via rookie running back Cam Akers and wide receiver Van Jefferson. Factor in Jared Goff posting a quarterback rating 14.6 points lower than in 2018, and the Rams’ offense may still be a work-in-progress despite the presence of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.
On the other side of the ball, too, L.A. has been hit hard with losses. McVay no longer has Cory Littleton, Dante Fowler, Jr., Clay Matthews, Nickell Robey-Coleman or Marqui Christian. In fact, this defense has few that stand out like the Rams’ new “bone” away jerseys aside from Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.
Playing in scintillating SoFi Stadium should provide a desperately needed morale boost, as the Rams have won the majority of their games on the road in recent years.
Lowest Percentage of Overall #NFL Wins Coming At Home (Since 2016)— Bradley Locker (@Bradley_Locker) September 2, 2020
1. #Rams (45.9%)
2. #Chargers (48.4%)
3. #Falcons (48.6%)
4. #Patriots/#WashingtonFootballTeam (52%)
6. #Chiefs/#Cardinals (52.2%)
The first two teams are hoping @SoFiStadium will help change that percentage. pic.twitter.com/tGUGaH2x6P
Yet disappointment seems inevitable for this group in arguably the best division in football. In fact, I can already hear famed “Hard Knocks” voice Liev Schrieber narrating a sit down between Goff and general manager Les Snead discussing the Cal product’s long-term future with the franchise.
Final NFC Standings
Projected 2021 NFL Draft Order
Note: The Washington Football Team and the Jacksonville Jaguars each ended 2-14, but Washington had an easier strength of schedule (SOS) and thus earns the #1 overall pick. Though the Bengals and Giants both finished 5-11 and with an SOS of .527, Cincinnati beat New York in Week 12 and thus gains the higher selection.