NFC West (2014 Finish: Seahawks, Cardinals, 49ers, Rams)
Overall: I nailed this division not only in my rankings but in the reasons why. Let’s see how I do this year, when this division is not nearly so clear-cut.
2014 Record: 12-4 (Pythagorean Wins: 11.9)
2014 Division Rank: 1st (My prediction: 1st)
2014 Injury Rank: 18th
2015 Age Rank: 12th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 1st (5th / 1st / 19th)
It’s hard to have a dynasty in this day and age, but the Seahawks are doing a great job. Nevertheless, with all the turmoil of this offseason it’s safe to say the cracks are starting to show. The have benefited from Russell Wilson’s minimal salary cap hit, which has now passed. Other players are also looking to increase their salaries, and Kam Chancellor is even holding out. They’re also older than they have been over the last 4 years.
Despite such cracks, this team is still very good and will win a division that has regressed after being the best in the NFL.
The defense will fall off some, especially if Chancellor’s holdout is a long one, but will fall from being the best in the NFL to merely a great one in the 5th or so range.
The key to their offense in 2015, to me, is not the production of Jimmy Graham but that of Drew Nowak. Who? The Seahawks acquired Graham by trading away Max Unger, one of the top 5 centers in the NFL. Nowak is Unger’s replacement. Graham is a fantastic player, possibly the 2nd best TE in the NFL right now, but if Nowak plays poorly this offense will drop off.
Overall, I see this team dropping to 5th or 6th in the NFL in DVOA. Great, but not dominant. Still more than enough to win the NFC West, but maybe not to get home field advantage throughout.
2014 Record: 11-5 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.3)
2014 Division Rank: 2nd (My prediction: 2nd)
2014 Injury Rank: 17th
2015 Age Rank: 22nd
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 22nd (23rd / 7th / 21st)
This is a hard team to predict. They were extremely lucky, in terms of Pythagorean wins, but the discrepancy probably stems from their injuries at QB.
With Carson Palmer back, it’s hard not to look at this team and see a team that could very well win the division. There’s talent on the offense and it’s a good defense.
However, it has a huge Achilles heel. I do not like their offensive line. If they cannot protect Palmer then this team will regress to 9-7 or so and out of the playoffs. If they’re better than I think, then the race for the division will be decided Week 17 in Phoenix in a fantastic matchup between the Seahawk and the Cardinals, with the loser one of the wildcards.
I’m not optimistic, though.
Los Ang… er… St. Louis Rams
2014 Record: 6-10 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.1)
2014 Division Rank: 4th (My prediction: 4th)
2014 Injury Rank: 13th
2015 Age Rank: 1st
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 18th (27th / 9th / 7th)
Yeah, sorry about that, fans of the Rams. I think they’re almost gone. If it’s any consolation this is a team that has been mismanaged for years and I don’t see that changing.
I really do not like their pick of Todd Gurley at 10th in the 1st round. I’m not a big fan of drafting RBs in the 1st round anyway, and I think Zac Stacy and Tre Mason are pretty good.
Now, the did do something I really like. I’m a bigger fan of Nick Foles than I am of Sam Bradford. Bradford is probably more talented, but Foles has been pretty good while Bradford has not.
The real problem, though, with that 27th ranked offense is that none of their high-round offensive line draft picks have worked out well. They clearly know how to rank defensive line players, and Aaron Donald might be the best DT in the NFL this year, but their investments in the OLine have not paid off.
I see a moderate improvement in the offense to somewhere around 20th, and this team will probably be around 8 wins. Not enough to get inthe playoffs, but some progress.
San Francisco 49ers
2014 Record: 8-8 (Pythagorean Wins: 7.0)
2014 Division Rank: 3rd (My prediction: 3rd)
2014 Injury Rank: 28th
2015 Age Rank: 8th
2014 DVOA Overall (O/D/ST): 11th (16th / 5th / 24th)
Wow. I’m not a big fan of saying things like “this is the worst of something ever,” because that usually suffers from recency bias. However, it’s hard to think that this offseason has to rank among the worst ever for NFL teams.
Now, I will say that despite the losses of Patrick Willis and all the rest the front 7 will be better than most people think. However, this defense is going to seriously drop off to about average. The offense may pick up a bit of the slack, but I’m really not a fan of Colin Kaepernick.
This team will not fall off much, but they were luck to win 8 games last year, and I think 6-10 is their eventual result.