NFC West Mid-Season Recap And Review
Sunday, November 12, 2017
CASEY MABBOTT, Oregon Sports News
If we’ve learned anything over the first half of the season, it’s that this division really is the Wild Wild NFC West. Just when we think one team is ready to run away with the division, here come two more ready for a battle! It’s week 10 and we don’t really know more than we did in week one. But it has been a lot of fun and that’s what matters. Here is what you missed over the first half of the season if you were living under a rock, or as we call them in the northwest, “tiny houses.”
Los Angeles is currently in the lead, and despite looking like the better team across the board, they have just a half game lead over second place Seattle. Arizona is still within striking distance, but that will most likely fall apart due to a variety of problems with no quick fixes. And lastly, the 49ers are still, well, the 49ers. Anyone needing further explanation, by all means, read on!
Los Angeles Rams –
The jury has convened, made a verdict, and gone home already. And what they decided I wholly agree with – These Rams for real. It keeps being said, but you don’t quite buy it, so you might be among the many saying “I’m not sure about them yet, let’s wait and see.” Well, many questioned the legitimacy of the 1999 Rams at the time (including yours truly), before they put a Super Bowl sized stamp on their season. And how did that make us all look? Not good, I’ll say it. It wasn’t good. Now that doesn’t mean they are a lock for the playoffs or the Super Bowl this year, and it’s definitely not to say that Jared Goff is Kurt Warner and Todd Gurley is Marshall Faulk and Sean McVay is Mike Martz. But….are they? There are some obvious parallels and Andrew Whitworth may or may not be playing on an Orlando Pace level, but there is not enough evidence yet to make the case that this is the greatest show on turf the redux. We are getting there though, their six wins look like this – 46-9, 41-39, 35-30, 27-17, 33-0, and 51-17. Averaging nearly 40 points per game in your victories makes it easy to root for you, it’s the 15 point average in your two losses that gives credibility right back to your detractors. If you can keep your average near 40 regardless of the result, you will earn more followers.
LA gets a “get right” game this week against Houston as though they needed one after handing the Giants their own butts and asking them politely to eat their own shorts….and is just over a month away from a second shot at Seattle in week 15. This Rams team has not a had an easy schedule so far and the sledding doesn’t get any easier, as they face some tough tests in the coming weeks, with potential playoff teams in 7 of their next 8 games including showdowns with the Vikings, Saints, and Eagles. If this team makes the playoffs, they will have earned it and then some. If they win the division, they will have finally returned to 2004 form, and it couldn’t have come any 13 years sooner, but who’s counting.
Seattle Seahawks –
So we know the Rams are good, but what do we know about Seattle? The Seahawks went 1-2, and looked bad doing it, before winning four straight, and looked just about average for most of that, other than their wild win over Houston. They are now fresh off a demoralizing loss at home to the other Washington and sit at 5-3, in the thick of the NFC playoff race but kind of without an identity. They are just a half game behind division leader LA, and a full game ahead of the 4-4 Cardinals. Seattle plays Arizona this Thursday night, and could go in to the weekend with the division lead, and hold it for a week if LA somehow gives one to Houston. Their offense has been struggling to score points, but the arrival of LT Duane Brown should make that easier, as should a healthy running back, assuming Seattle even has one. The Seahawks have a manageable schedule over their final eight games, as they face the Cardinals twice and the Falcons and 49ers once, but they also have four big games with the Eagles, Jaguars, Rams, and Cowboys. With that slate they should be able to go 5-3 or better and could make the postseason for the 6thstraight season. 10 wins could be enough to win the division, but LA could easily match that performance which would come down to the game in LA on December 17th. If Seattle can keep pace, they have a great shot at making the playoffs, and could win their 4th division title in 6 years.
We know from recent years that this is a team that makes their charge in the second half of the season, and that all starts this Thursday night with a division rivalry game on the line against an opponent they have owned in recent years. Will they get the running game going, will the addition of Brown improve the offense, and will the return of Earl Thomas bring the passing defense back to the top of the league? We’ll soon have the answers.
Arizona Cardinals –
While we wait to see if the Seahawks will emerge as the division leader or a smoldering ruin of their former selves or somewhere in between, what can we figure out about Arizona? Just about every NFL talking head was wiping drool off of their face when talking up David Johnson this preseason, only to see him lost for what might be the entire season with a dislocated wrist in week one, and that was during a forgettable performance as well.
The team survived a January 2016-September 2017 slump from Carson Palmer, and even gifted him Adrian Peterson via trade, only to see Palmer break his arm a week later. Palmer might come back this season, but don’t twist my arm asking when (too soon?). For now, Drew Stanton, Adrian Peterson, and Patrick Peterson are the guys to lead this team. You might want me to say Larry Fitzgerald, but I’m nervous he falls in to the same obscure statistical category of OGATSIHCIHIPWAGQB (Only good at this stage in his career if he is playing with a great QB) as Jordy Nelson. With half of their season remaining and big games against Seattle, Houston, Jacksonville, LA, Washington, and Seattle (again), I don’t see them posting a winning record. This team has only posted wins against Indianapolis, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, and San Francisco (again). They have navigated the easiest part of their season to a .500 record, and given their injuries and track record so far, it’s safe to say that they won’t have the same luck going forward. Stanton proved in 2014 that he can be a game manager for a team with a dominant defense, which this team just does not have. They will have to win on the arm of Stanton and the legs of Peterson, and who knows how long either of those will last. Just two games back from the division lead, and it is starting to feel like it might be a million. Maybe Green Bay and Arizona can form one mega team, but they would still be one QB shy of making a dent.
San Francisco 49ers –
And finally, there are the San Francisco 49ers. They started out 0-5, and things have only gotten worse. They did make a big and unexpected splash by trading for Jimmy Garoppolo, only to lose half of their offense to injury. They cut Brian Hoyer to make room for Jimmy G, with the intention of starting CJ Beathard in the interim. And CJ has been bad, somehow even worse than Hoyer was. He does kind of resemble TJ Miller so maybe that’s something. You chuckle when you see him take the field, and momentarily forget how bad he is. But do they dare start Jimmy G and risk injuring their potential franchise building block months before they will have to sign him to a mega deal or risk losing him to free agency? And even if he somehow stays healthy, what other players can he get the ball to without shaking his confidence?
If I were making key decisions in San Francisco there are many things I would have said no to, but I can’t fix the past. I will say with conviction that I would bench every player that matters and write this season off and get the highest picks possible. No fans in that fan base are expecting wins this year, may as well give them a better shot next year with higher draft picks. Unless Doc Brown shows up in the DeLorean with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice in their primes (unlikely), it’s time to pack it in. Kyle Shanahan is a great offensive mind, and we greatly look forward to what he and Sean McVay have in store in years to come, as we unexpectedly enjoyed round one. I don’t care how much offensive wizardry he has up his sleeve, Shanahan can’t fix this dumpster fire without a major upgrade in talent.