NFC West preview: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks
By David Currie
Last Updated: 02/09/19 1:56pm
The wait is nearly over and the new NFL season is almost upon us!
The league's 100th year begins on Thursday, September 5 when the Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers, live on Sky Sports.
Before then, it's time to assess 2019's contenders.
We are previewing all eight divisions, and here you can find our views on the NFC West and cast your vote on who you think will win below...
Los Angeles Rams
Head coach: Sean McVay
Key man: It's crazy to think there are question marks surrounding Todd Gurley going into the 2019 season. This is a man who tallied 21 touchdowns last year, but also the very same man the Rams abandoned in the postseason.
Gurley had only 30 carries over their Super Bowl run, 10 of those for just 35 yards coming in the big game itself, seemingly troubled by a mysterious knee injury. Which version of the running back will we see in 2019?
Major additions: It has been a quiet offseason in Los Angeles but, considering their aggressive moves in free agency only 12 months ago, their roster still looks stacked.
The most notable addition to an already stellar defense is former Green Bay Packer, Clay Matthews, while safety Eric Weddle is another decent veteran pickup from the Baltimore Ravens. Also, they have added the Blake Bortles as back-up quarterback. Yeah….
Last season: Oh so close. The Rams looked every bit the best team in football on their way to a league-leading 13-3 mark, tied with the New Orleans Saints, who they would defeat in a thrilling NFC Championship game. However, the Super Bowl itself proved a damp squib, with the explosive L.A. offense forced to punt nine times and a record-low three points.
Prospects: Not likely to be the cakewalk to the Super Bowl that last year proved to be. That they were so convincingly beaten by the New England Patriots in the season showpiece in Atlanta means some are sleeping on the Rams in 2019, but coaching savant McVay is sure to engineer another successful season.
Prediction: 1st (11-5)
Head coach: Pete Carroll
Key man: Russell Wilson. The Seahawks quarterback finally got the big-money deal his superb play for seven seasons in Seattle so deserved, but whether he is worth an NFL-leading, four-year, $140m deal is another matter. One thing Wilson likes to do though, is prove the doubters wrong.
Major additions: Wilson has a new toy to play with at wide receiver in D.K. Metcalf, one of the much-hyped Ole Miss duo, along with A. J. Brown - who ended up with the Tennessee Titans.
Metcalf was a snip in the second round, picked 64th overall, and could well have an immediate impact - pending his return from minor knee surgery. He might need too to, with the ever-reliable Doug Baldwin having retired in the offseason.
Of course, the blockbuster addition of 2014 No 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney could help Seattle return to their dominant days on defense.
Last season: The 2018 season was expected to be a down year for the Seahawks, but Pete Carroll's team dumbfounded the critics once more, riding a promising, youthful roster to a 10-6 finish and into the playoffs. Admittedly, the dream then ended early with a Wild Card defeat to the Dallas Cowboys, but the postseason (and possibly more) beckons once more.
Prospects: The Seahawks are arguably only bettered by Bill Belichick and a certain defending-champion New England Patriots for their consistency over the last decade. Seattle have only failed to make the playoffs once in the last seven seasons, and even then - in 2017 - they finished a more than respectable 9-7.
Prediction: 2nd (10-6)
San Francisco 49ers
Head coach: Kyle Shanahan
Key man: Jimmy Garoppolo. Jimmy G could do no wrong 18 months ago when leading a woeful 49ers side to a 5-0 finish in the 2017 season - seeing him to seven wins in his first seven NFL starts.
But, with an underwhelming start to last season before an injury in Week Three ruled him out for the rest of the year, and some ropey preseason action since - throwing five consecutive interceptions in a training session - the pressure is now truly on the $27.5-m-a-year man to deliver.
Major additions: The 49ers have desperately looked to bolster a defense that forced only seven turnovers in 2018! That's 10 fewer than the second-worst team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Edge rusher Dee Ford and his 13 sacks and seven forced fumbles from last year with the Kansas City Chiefs is the most obvious man to fix their problems, as is second overall draft pick Nick Bosa. The pair will cause a fair few sleepless nights for quarterbacks across the country.
On the offensive side, watch out for second-round pick-up Deebo Samuel, who could quickly standout from a thin-looking receiving corps. The San Francisco backfield looked stacked with the addition of former Atlanta Falcon Tevin Coleman at RB, but a second season-ending injury in two years for Jerick McKinnon puts a dampener on things.
Last season: San Francisco's season ended as soon as Garoppolo was lost to a rather innocuous-looking sprint down the sideline against Kansas City. A mini Nick Mullens-led revival ultimately brought four wins, but well short of the double digits that many had tipped them for preseason.
Prospects: A sub .500 record will be considered a disappointment by many, especially considering San Francisco have added some exciting pieces to a unit tipped by many to be dark horses last season. But the 49ers have yet to convince they can truly compete with the big boys and, until they do so, this is a middling NFL team at best.
Prediction: 3rd (7-9)
Head coach: Kliff Kingsbury
Key man: There can be absolutely no doubt about it; the No 1 overall pick from the 2019 NFL Draft, Kyler Murray. The dual-threat quarterback is not only the key man because of his undoubted talent - last year's Heisman Trophy in college - but also because the Cardinals wanted him so much that they were willing to deal away their first-round-drafted QB from only 12 months prior, the now-Miami Dolphin, Josh Rosen.
Major additions: Murray was the first in a bumper haul of 11 draft picks for Arizona. Fourth-round wide receiver pick-up Hakeem Butler, from Iowa State, seemed a steal, only for a broken hand in preseason to put his rookie year in jeopardy.
Of their work in free agency, the arrival of Baltimore Ravens stalwart Terrell Suggs was the biggest surprise, with the 36-year-old linebacker arriving on a one-year deal. Cornerback Robert Alford, from the Atlanta Falcons and tight end Charles Clay, formally of the Buffalo Bills, are other notable additions.
Last season: An NFL-worst 3-13 finish. The Cardinals, in their first year since 2012 without the hugely successful Bruce Arians at the helm, were always expecting 2018 to be a down year, but nowhere near as disastrous as it proved. So much so it cost rookie head coach, and scapegoat, Steve Wilks his job.
Prospects: They will be better. Not by much, but Murray's presence alone - paired with better use of 2016 first-team All-Pro running back David Johnson - is likely to propel the Cardinals to at least a couple more wins.
Prediction: 4th (5-11)
Get NFL news on your phone
Want the latest NFL news, features and highlights on your phone? Find out more