In a division where defense usually dictates who comes out on top, the 2016 NFC West may have a different feel to it. Seattle’s Legion of Boom defense has lost pieces over the years and those players who remain have gotten older; Arizona plays a tough style of defense but they go as far as that offense will take them; the Rams and Jeff Fisher are tough divisional opponents for anyone in the West, but that defense is not top tier in the NFC; and San Francisco has Chip Kelly running things — how defensive-minded can they be out there?
Look for the team with the most explosive offense to run this division. I expect all the defenses in this division to take a step backwards.
David Johnson will have a difficult time reaching the 1,000 yard rushing plateau; but he will amass 1,700 total yards from scrimmage.
Everyone expects the second year RB to have an incredible year. Johnson had explosive games — mostly receiving and returning — in 2015 that grabbed everyone’s attention. But it wasn’t until the end of the season that Johnson got the bulk of the carries, due to injuries to Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson. In only two games, Johnson carried the ball over 20 times and in only three did he surpass the 90 yard marker in rushing.
Head coach Bruce Arians and the coaching staff have said they will rotate their backs and plan to divide up time between the three. But Johnson’s game is much more versatile than either Ellington’s or C. Johnson’s — he can catch the ball and collect yards after the catch. However, he’s not a running back that’s going to make his money by running in between the tackles; Johnson will cut outside and get to the edge as much as possible.
Quarterback Carson Palmer will utilize Johnson’s pass catching ability along with the slew of other receiving weapons he has — Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Michael Floyd, and J.J. Nelson. Whatever Johnson’s able to do on the ground might be gravy. This offense may be good enough without a 1,000-yard rusher to win the NFC West. And possibly much more.
The defense’s streak of 4 straight seasons of leading the league in points against will come to a crashing halt.
Pete Carroll’s defensive coaching staff has taken a few hits over the years since their Super Bowl victory in the Meadowlands over the Denver Broncos. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley left to be the head man in Jacksonville; and Dan Quinn departed a year later to rebuild the Atlanta Falcons. All the while, the Seattle defense has remained as dominant as ever. But it’s hard to stay at the top — and the Legion of Boom have been at the top for a while.
The biggest reason for a decline in the Seahawks defense in 2016 will be their offense. Not following? Well, if the Seattle offense struggles — and it looks like that could happen — then the pressure on the defense increases. Reasons for the offensive struggles: (1) the offensive line is horrendous — ranked 27th in efficiency in 2015; (2) Russell Wilson doesn’t exactly have the greatest receiving weapons — Doug Baldwin overachieved in ’15 and Jimmy Graham remains MIA; and (3) Marshawn Lynch has retired and Seattle’s backfield features 5 players who’ve got less than a full season of experience, combined — three haven’t played a single snap yet in the league.
If Seattle’s defense is able to maintain it’s reign on their perch, then this team will be very very good. But I’m not convinced the 2016 version is anything like the previous years’.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams return to LA is full of ups and downs, but in the end Jeff Fisher will have them at .500.
If you’ve watched any of this season’s episodes of the HBO series Hard Knocks, then you know that this Rams team has the potential to be quite entertaining. The problem is their entertainment value comes mostly from their personalities, not so much their play on the field.
Rookie quarterback Jared Goff will undoubtedly take over at some point and the team will get to see what their future looks like. They know what they have in running back Todd Gurley and can be assured he is going to be their workhorse for years to come. Head coach Jeff Fisher is at home in Southern California and will likely be given a couple years to make this transition from St. Louis become successful.
But the West is tough and the Rams just aren’t good enough to really compete. However, they will play good enough defense when they need to — especially in the division against Seattle and SF — and should start to become more consistent on offense as the season wears on, as Goff becomes more and more comfortable. But the ups and downs probably all even out in the end. There’s definitely opportunity for growth and success in 2017.
San Francisco 49ers
Colin Kaepernick will start the majority of games for the Niners and will finish among the top 10 QBs in most major statistical categories.
I know, I know — Blaine Gabbert this and Blaine Gabbert that. The former Missouri Tiger filled in admirably in 2015, as the 49ers were undergoing many changes offensively and defensively. Gabbert started 8 games and threw for 250 yards per game while averaging just over one touchdown in each.
In 2016, more changes have arrived in the Bay Area — and they come in the form of new head coach Chip Kelly. Since Kelly’s arrival from Philly this past winter, the talk has been all about how much the innovative, offensive-minded Kelly likes Blaine Gabbert — even though most of us with half a brain see what seems like a perfect marriage in Kelly and the other quarterback in SF, Colin Kaepernick. After 3 straight NFC Championship games (2012-14) and one Super Bowl appearance (and one Michael Crabtree catch away from winning that Super Bowl), the 49ers shouldn’t have to think back too far to remember how good Kaepernick can be. He’s got an arm that makes me think of Ken Griffey Jr’s swing with a baseball bat — fluid, loose; he’s got imagination and creativity — something Chip Kelly appreciates; and he’s got the ability to run, run, run — just ask the Green Bay Packers.
Kaepernick’s “dead arm” has put the QB competition on hold for most of training camp and the preseason, but it appears Kaep is ready to get back on the field as the preseason wraps up. If he performs how we all know he can, there won’t be much of a competition. And if he and Kelly can have the type of player-coach relationship that Kaepernick had with former coach Jim Harbaugh, expect the QB to win Comeback Player of the Year.
Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.