Gee, one of these things is not like the others, am I right? When I look at the NFC West, I see four teams with playoff hopes and three teams with a realistic shot at taking the division. The Cardinals have everything they need to succeed this season, but they also had most of everything they needed to succeed last season. And then, Kyler Murray got injured and Kliff Kingsbury got exposed as a hack, and it all went to shit.
The Cardinals therefore head into this season seemingly dead on arrival, waiting to underachieve just enough so that Kingsbury is shown the door so that they can try again next year with a real coach. Unless Kingsbury has learned to diversify his offense and make actual adjustments, this is the Cardinals’ destiny. It’s a shame and it’s a waste of the considerable talent this team has to offer – again, this team should be a shoe-in for a Wild Card, if not a serious threat to the division, by all rights – but I don’t know if this ends with anything other than 7-8 wins, no playoffs, and a hard reset for the coaching staff.
On a personal note, this is why I’ve started to roll my eyes whenever a team hires a new head coach and touts them as an “offensive guru” or something similar. Yes, there are plenty of great offensively minded head coaches out there, but at least half the time these guys’ whole offense is a bunch of dump-offs to running backs in the flat and wide receiver screens. Wide receiver screens are the worst play in the sport, and I find it delightful when a coach who relies on them too much is forced to pay the price.
Max Points: 7
Predicted Finish: 4th
Los Angeles Rams
Speaking of actually great offensively minded head coaches, Sean McVay shut me right the fuck up last season after I predicted certain doom for the Rams. Instead, chained to the disintegrating remains of Jared Goff’s ability to the read the field, and relying on a committee of somewhat anonymous running backs after Todd Gurley’s departure (poor guy), they easily earned a Wild Card which they immediately cashed in to knock off the Seahawks at home in the first round. Their defensive performance was every bit as impressive, despite its stars-and-scrubs construction.
McVay has conclusively earned (or rather, re-earned) the benefit of my doubt, and in trading Jared Goff away for Matthew Stafford the Rams have removed Goff’s albatross contract and upgraded at quarterback, killing two birds with one cliché, or something like that. For Stafford’s part, he is now in the best situation he’s ever been in, by miles and miles and miles. Not only is this the best offense he’s been part of from a total roster talent standpoint, McVay is clearly the best play-caller he’s ever had, too (shout-outs to Jim Bob Cooter). This will be the scariest Rams’ offense since 2018 as long as Stafford stays healthy.
But what about the defense? Last season, Brandon Staley led Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and a bunch of guys to glory, but he’s gone now, picked to be head coach of the Chargers as a uh…”reward”. His replacement is Raheem Morris, one of the All-Time Good Defensive Coordinators Who You’d Never Want As Your Team’s Head Coach. They’re in good hands and should be fine, but as ever this comes with the caveat that injuries to either Donald or Ramsey could leave the whole unit too thin to be effective.
The NFC West looks to be the toughest division in football by miles, but since they come closest to having acceptable answers to their many questions, they’re the team to beat.
Max Points: 13
Predicted Finish: 1st
San Francisco 49ers
There’s two kinds of people in this world. There’s the kind of person who believes that there’s two kinds of people in this world, and there’s everybody else.
Ahem. I apologize for those remarks. What I meant to say was there’s two kinds of people in this world. There’s the kind of person who believes Kyle Shanahan is a great coach, and there’s the rest of us, standing around and scratching our heads and wondering just what, exactly, is the BFD with the guy. I’m sorry, but at the end of the day Shanahan has had one winning season after four seasons at the helm of the 49ers. Yes, you can explain away all three of those losing seasons. In the first, the team was talent-deficient and obviously starting a rebuild. In the second, an initially promising campaign was derailed when Handsome Jimmy G. was lost for the season. In the third, just about the entire team cycled on and off the injury list.
To say that most of the 49ers’ struggles aren’t Shanahan’s fault is fair, I suppose, but to that I must re-iterate, for like the fifth time in this series, that life isn’t fair and neither is football. Any other coach with a similar record would be sitting on a scorching hot seat, regardless of the surrounding circumstances. Shanahan’s job is secure as can be, especially now that he needs to be in the building to shepherd the development of Trey Lance, obviously. I don’t get it. He may be a great play caller with an innovative offense, but there was a time – one not so far removed from our own, mind – where fucking Mike Martz was also both of those things. Who gives a shit?
I don’t know why I’m salty about this. Generally speaking, I believe it’s best for teams to be patient with coaching staffs, especially ones tasked with complete rebuilds like Shanahan’s. I also believe it’s best to hold coaches accountable only for that which is under their control, and I also get worked up when people rag on coaches without considering the circumstantial bullshit that those coaches have had to deal with. Kyle Shanahan is the only coach who gets the benefit of the doubt that I would like to see extended to pretty much every coach this side of Matt Patricia, and here I am complaining about it.
It’s time for me to stare of into the middle distance and seclude myself with my thoughts, that I may approach an understanding of why I gotta be like this. But before I go, I think I’m supposed to say something about what I think of the 49ers prospects for this season. And that eats a lot of ass, because how am I supposed to say what I think of the 49ers prospects for this season without knowing how many key injuries they will suffer? If they stay healthy, they’ll make the playoffs somehow. I don’t like them for the division – both the Rams and Seahawks have fewer questions hanging over them – but they don’t need to finish first in this woebegone conference. If they don’t stay healthy, Shanahan’s gonna fold faster than Superman on laundry day (shout-outs to Bart Simpson), like he always does when shit goes sideways.
This is part of why I keep getting my hopes up when rumors of the 49ers trading for Kirk Cousins. Not only do I want that asshole off my team, I think the Cousins and Shanahan are made for each other. They can only succeed when everything goes exactly right. Ah fuck, I got all salty again. Excuse me while I retreat, that I may struggle with what it means to be in solitude.
Max Points: 8
Predicted Finish: 3rd (Wild Card)
Can you imagine what in the actual fuck could possibly possess a quarterback to want to be traded to the fucking Chicago Bears!? Because I sure can’t! If you’re a superstar quarterback who is unsatisfied with your club’s approach to offense and offensive infrastructure, what kind of deeply misguided thought processes would lead you to think that you would be in more favorable circumstances if you played for the Bears!?!? I’m left speechless, in no small part because I highly doubt I can make a joke about the Bears’ decades-long offensive futility that hasn’t already been made. It’s a good thing the McCaskeys don’t actually give a shit about the team, because if they did they’d mandate running the T-Formation every snap. There, that’ll do. I tell ya, star athletes are just like us. They’re total morons with no clue what’s happening around them.
But for whatever reason, cooler heads seem to have prevailed. Russell Wilson is still here, ensuring that the Seahawks’ floor remains shockingly high relative to the state of the team. The Seahawks have remained a perennial playoff fixture in the years since the Legion of Boom’s dissolution. This is partly because, easy as it is to clown on Pete Carroll for being himself, his defenses can only get so bad; last year’s justifiably maligned unit still ranked a decidedly not terrible 16th in defensive DVOA. However, it’s mostly because Russell Wilson is a miracle worker. His weapons have improved (D.K. Metcalf is a monster), Chris Carson is good enough at his job to restore the Seahawks’ run game to above average, and Brian Schottenheimer has been deposed as offensive coordinator, so the threat for the Seahawks to break back into the league’s upper echelon remains.
But, with the exception of Schottenheimer’s presence, all of that was true last year, too (and, for that matter, the year before that). The Seahawks have been stuck at the level of non-contender playoff team for years, and I’m not sure I see any real reason to believe the Seahawks’ ceiling is markedly higher than it has been since 2016 or so. They spent huge amounts of draft capital to acquire Jamal Adams, and are now paying him similarly; both of these transactions suggest the team views him as the solution to their woes in the secondary (broadly construed; obviously, Adams adds a lot of value as a box safety and pass rusher), but as great as he is, he’s only one guy. Bobby Wagner is still damn good, but he isn’t getting any younger, and linebackers have never been known for their longevity. Pete Carroll will almost certainly continue to insist on running the ball more than common sense dictates. And their division remains brutally competitive.
While this all sounds like doom saying, it’s really not. The Seahawks are an obvious playoff team, and while I do have trouble envisioning them returning to true contender status, I have even more trouble envisioning them crashing out of a seven-team playoff field entirely, especially in a thin conference. Wilson would have to miss at least a couple of months, and even if he does, Geno Smith is far from the worst backup out there. I look forward to being baffled at their inevitable first round exit.
Max Points: 11
Predicted Finish: 2nd (Wild Card)
AFC South / NFC South / AFC East / NFC East / AFC West / AFC North / NFC North
9 thoughts on “The New Parents’ Guide to the 2021 NFL Season – NFC West”