It's been another exciting season in the NFL. At the beginning of each year, each team/fanbase has a slue of expectations for their team whether you're in the middle of a rebuild, seeing how rookie talent pans out or plotting for contention in the playoffs. Regardless of the team, expectations always change. Injuries, free agency and coaching changes all play a role in how a team re-evaluates their priorities, and there's never a shortage of any of those three in this league. Here's how the NFC West faired this season.
The Rams were, by and large, a favorite to come out of the NFC to make a shot at the Super Bowl. They started the season explosively and didn't lose their first game until a Week 9 35-45 slug fest against the New Orleans Saints, another favorite in the NFC. The Rams ranked in the top five in the entire NFL for major offensive statistics (PTS, YDS, PASS YDS, and RUSH YDS) and their defense was equally dominating.
It's hard to imagine that the wheels would begin to fall off after their Bye Week. In the faces of stout defenses like Chicago, the offense began to show cracks while their defense began letting up massive numbers to teams that really had no business doing so. A mystery injury to Todd Gurley throughout the end of the season into the postseason could have been the end of the Rams' season had it not been for the resurgence of CJ Anderson.
The season ended in a disappointing loss to the New England Patriots in one of the most criticized Super Bowls in recent history. It's difficult to say whether or not the Sean McVay coaching tree took a hit after that loss. Wade Phillips and his crew held strong against the Patriots, only allowing one touchdown the entire game. But the offense faltered for most of the second half of the season.
The question now is whether or not the Rams can hold their crew together long enough to continue to compete for a Super Bowl. Key players such as Andrew Whitworth, Aqib Talib, and Marcus Peters will all be unrestricted free agents in 2020. Both CJ Anderson and Ndamukong Suh are both free agents this offseason and both played integral roles in the offense and defense respectively.
At the beginning of this season, there were many who counted the Seahawks out as a serious contender with very little chance for a playoff berth, myself included. The team was very deep in rebuild mode. After trading away key defensive players such as Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett and then trying to find a new offensive identity, it's difficult to imagine the Seahawks to bounce back the year after.
The Seahawks found a lot of success in their young offense and was able to surround Russell Wilson with a competent core. Running backs Chris Carson, Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny was second in the league in rushing attempts, lead the league in rushing yards and lead the league in rushing yards per game. In addition, receivers Tyler Lockett and David Moore performed amicably while Doug Baldwin continued to show sparks of brilliance down the field.
Expectations are going to be higher for the Seahawks next season as we've seen the team in its current state can already make it into the playoffs.
The San Francisco 49ers had to have been one of the most hyped up teams heading into this season. In a highly confusing move to most, the Patriots traded away their backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers where he proceeded to win out in his last five games. He came back to Earth slightly once the season began and he performed amicably. I was optimistic, but I also drafted him in my fantasy football team so that probably swung my opinion slightly. But ultimately his season was over due to an ACL injury. After that point, the 49ers essentially put the season up as a wash and planned for a future where Garoppolo is healthy.
That plan might include Antonio Brown. As mentioned earlier, the Steelers and Browns have reached a tumultuous period in their relationship, so much so that the Steelers have reportedly been shopping Brown around for potential trades. Not one for subtlety, Brown has dropped multiple "hints" that he'd like to land in San Francisco. Theoretically, a 49ers offense with a developing Jimmy G, emerging star TE George Kittle, and the NFL-leader in receptions last year with Antonio Brown could find themselves a competitor in the NFC West.
The only thing that's been consistent with the Arizona Cardinals is Larry Fitzgerald. Ever since the Super Bowl, the Cardinals have lost in the divisional round, the wild card and the conference round in all three of their postseason appearances since 2009. They've also had losing seasons in six of those years.
if they're in a rebuild, I'd consider this one of the longest rebuilds in NFL history. From a front office perspective, I'm not entirely sure what direction the team thinks its headed in. With the 10th pick in this year's draft, the Cardinals selected Josh Rosen as their quarterback to replace Carson Palmer. Given the choice, I don't think the Cardinals would have chosen him given all the QBs that had entered the draft but with the 10th pick, it's hard to work around the situation given to them.
The coaching staff has also been questionable at best. They fired their offensive coordinator Mike McCoy after a 1-6 start and much had been said how he had used their star talent running back David Johnson and the development of Josh Rosen. Having fired both the offensive coordinator and head coach, it'll be interesting to see what Kliff Kingsbury and Mike McCoy can make of this team.