Football

The Wild, Wild NFC West

NFC West
Graphic by Keytron Jordan / CBS Sports

Prior to the start of the season, most NFL fans could agree the NFC West was the best division in football. A division full of offensive firepower and stingy defenses, all four of these teams are legit contenders. But, after seeing them all play Week One, the 2021 NFC West may go down as the best division in the history of football. Here’s an analysis of each teams week one, and what to expect moving forward.

Seattle Seahawks

Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Starting with last years winners, the Seahawks. Russell Wilson led this team to a decisive 28-16 victory in Indianapolis. This Colts team is seen as a fringe playoff team and the Seahawks manhandled them throughout the affair. The Seahawks backyard style of football coupled with Wilson’s desire to throw deep leads to a slew of highlight plays. They showed their big play ability and efficiency on Sunday, posting the 8th highest EPA/play in the league. New offensive coordinator Shane Waldron showed he could balance out the offense, giving running back Chris Carson 16 carries at an efficient 5.7 YPC.

Defensively, Seattle showed improvement in the small sample size. The Colts figure to be an efficient running team, but the Seahawks shut down that facet of the game. They were able to hold Jonathon Taylor and the Colts rushing attack to 3.77 YPC and a -.366 Rush EPA/Play. They made life difficult for QB Carson Wentz too, getting to him 3 times.

If Seattle can keep up performances like this, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with this season. Newfound offensive balance coupled with defensive consistency will make this team a real contender. The fact I consider them to be a top 5-7 team, and can’t confidently say they’ll win their division just shows how deep and good this division is. This next team had arguably the best performance all week.

Los Angeles Rams

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Don’t get me wrong, I expected greatness from Matthew Stafford. However, I did not expect that. Stafford’s debut was historic, as he set his single game passer rating record at 156.1. People are taking notice of how good he can be with this Rams roster, as his MVP odds jumped to second best in the NFL. Stafford led the Rams to the most complete offensive performance of week one, jumping out to a league leading .367 EPA/play. The offense was explosive and efficient, and looked virtually impossible to stop. If Stafford and the Rams can keep this up, they’re not only the favorites for the NFC West, but become legit Super Bowl contenders.

Flipping over to the defensive side of the ball, the Rams were also lights out Sunday night. Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams showed why they may be the best corner duo in the league, allowing marks of -9.7% and -10.1% CPOE, respectively. Those are great numbers, but an even crazier stat is they didn’t allow a completion of over 10 yards all game! Dalton was sacked three times, and was constantly under pressure. The defense forced two turnovers (both by Dalton), completely manhandling the Bears. This defensive masterpiece led to the sixth best defensive EPA/play for week one, and the second best defensive performance in the eyes of PFF.

The Rams proved they deserved all the offseason hype Sunday night. If they continue having performances like that one, they’ll have a top 5 offense and defense. Being that good on both sides of the ball makes this Rams team a top 3 team and Super Bowl contender.

Arizona Cardinals

NFC
The Tennessean-USA TODAY NETWORK

Usually I start with the offense, but for the Cardinals I have to talk about that defense. Not only did they put up the second best defensive EPA/play, they did it against a team that’s widely considered to have a top 10 offense. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an offense as talented as the Titans are get stymied like that. The Cardinals held rushing king of 2020 Derrick Henry to 3.4 YPC. They forced Ryan Tannehill into arguably his worst game since he joined the Titans. Chandler Jones had 5 sacks in 3 quarters! THREE QUARTERS! The dude is on pace for 85 sacks, which won’t happen, but is still insane. A secondary that was seen as a weakness held A.J Brown and Julio Jones to 7 catches 78 yards and one touchdown.

The crazy part is, they looked as good if not better offensively. Kyler Murray continues to wow with his ability to make something out of nothing and pocket presence. The run game looked good with Chase Edmonds taking over as the top dog. They bolster one of the best receiver rooms in the NFL after adding A.J Green and dynamic rookie Rondale Moore (my sleeper pick for OROY). They put up 38 points in a flash, and haven’t even come close to reaching their potential.

I can’t stress enough how huge this performance was for Arizona. Completely crushing a contender in their stadium sends a message to the rest of the league. The Cardinals seemed to be written off by a lot of people, but after this performance, they have to take notice. The fact this team was put as last in the NFC West by a lot of people, including myself, shows how insane this division is.

San Francisco 49ers

NFC Wesr
DETROIT, MICHIGAN – SEPTEMBER 12: JaMycal Hasty #23 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates a 3-yard touchdown run during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on September 12, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The 49ers probably had the worst week out of all these teams, and still put up 41 points. Jimmy Garoppolo had one of the most efficient days a QB can have, going for 314 yards on only 25 throws. Although they lost Raheem Mostert, rookie Elijah Mitchell had no problem stepping in. The offensive line mauled a sneak good Lions defensive line, creating big holes for Mitchell and keeping Garoppolo virtually untouched. Kyle Shanahan also gave a little preview as to how #3 overall pick Trey Lance will be used. He threw a TD on his first NFL snap and could be used throughout the year, and maybe take the starting position away from Garoppolo.

Defensively, the 49ers had the Lions bottled up until the last two minutes. Although they let the game get close at the end, it was a one sided affair throughout. The stout defensive line got constant pressure on Jared Goff, who didn’t have open receivers to throw to anyway. The Lions were able to run on the defense though, and San Francisco has to deal with the loss of #1 Cornerback Jason Verrett. If they want to compete in this division, they’ll have to tighten things up defensively, and possibly bring back old friend Richard Sherman.

Overall, the 49ers left a lot to be desired on the field. Even though it took a crazy comeback effort by the Lions, the game should’ve never been that close. This team has loads of talent though, and a great Head Coach in Kyle Shanahan. Because of that, I’m confident they can finish games better and bounce back this week in Philadelphia. They’re gonna have to tighten some things up to compete for the NFC West.

Standings Projection

Rams: 14-3

Seahawks: 12-5

Cardinals: 11-6

49ers: 10-7

All-Time Rank

Based on my projections, this division would be far and away the best ever. Since the NFL made 4 division per conference in 2002, there has never been a division with all winning teams. The only time anyone ever came close was actually the NFC West in 2013. This division featured the Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks and NFC runners up in the San Francisco 49ers. We’ll see how the season plays out and if the 2021 NFC West can accomplish this feat. Based on their week 1 showings, this division has a chance to make history.

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