Predicting the NFC West

The Footballguys staff looks at how the NFC West will end up in 2021

Links to discussions of other divisions:


Let's dig a little into the NFC West. Who takes this division? How many wins do you predict for each team?

NFC West Team
Vegas Win
Totals
Staff Predictions
Avg Place
1st-Place Votes
2nd-Place Votes
3rd-Place Votes
4th-Place Votes
Los Angeles Rams
10.5
1.8
6
1
2
1
San Francisco 49ers
10.5
2.3
3
2
4
1
Seattle Seahawks
9.5
2.6
1
4
3
2
Arizona Cardinals
8.0
3.3
0
3
1
6

Note: Vegas Win Totals are taken from VegasInsider.com.

Ryan Weisse

I like this division a lot for 2021. Just about every team is improved, either through the draft, free agency, or trades.

Seattle did the least to improve but they also won the division last year. Their offense returns all of its firepower and their defense should still be formidable. Looking over their schedule, it appears that they will take the division again with a 13-4 record.

My second-place team is a bit of a dark horse, at least according to the Vegas projected win totals. The Arizona Cardinals look poised to put together a run this season. Their offense got better with A.J. Green and James Conner and their defense has great pieces from front to back. They should show a lot of growth this season and finish 12-5, landing one of the wild card spots for the NFC.

The San Francisco 49ers should improve just based on the guys they’ll be getting back from injury. They’ve beefed up their offensive line, but there are still questions at quarterback, at least for this season. They’ll likely miss the playoffs but 10-7 is a respectable record.

Finally, the Los Angeles Rams may have made the biggest splash in the offseason, landing Matthew Stafford, but they lost some key pieces on defense and their schedule is doing them no favors. It looks like an 8-9 record will put them in the cellar.

Jason Wood

I'll bet the under on the 49ers aggressively. Kyle Shanahan may be the most overrated coach in football right now. Sure, he went 13-3 and lost a Super Bowl in 2019, but in his other three seasons, Shanahan won six or fewer games. And for all the talk of his offensive genius, the 49ers have ranked 20th or lower in three of his four seasons. Yes, Jimmy Garoppolo's injuries have handcuffed the offense from being at its best, at times, but an offensive guru should be able to do better than the bottom third of the league 75% of the time. I'll put the 49ers at 7-10, and that's only if Trey Lance is a quick learner.

Put me down for the Rams winning this division. Yes, they lost a few key pieces on defense but that unit was so far and away better than the rest of the NFC it will be hard for the unit to fall out of the Top 5 regardless. And on offense, I'm of the mind swapping Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff is the NFL's best positional upgrade of the offseason.

Seattle is always a threat as long as Russell Wilson is healthy, and the addition of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron helps in two ways. One, it should push the offense into the new millennium. Two, it gives the Seahawks an inside edge on scheming against the Rams.

Finally, Arizona is a paper tiger until they prove otherwise. I won't be surprised if Kliff Kingsbury is on the hot seat in 12 months.

  • LA Rams -- 11-6
  • Seattle -- 10-7
  • Arizona -- 7-10
  • San Francisco -- 6-11

Anthony Amico

This is the toughest division in football. The Rams have consistently been one of the best teams in the league with Jared Goff under center, and have now made (presumably) a meaningful increase to Matt Stafford. It is difficult to find holes on this team right now.

I am not nearly as pessimistic on the Niners as Jason is. The team leader in pass attempts in Shanahan's non-Super Bowl seasons were Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard. I have no problem cutting the team slack there. Moreover, I believe firmly in Trey Lance and what he can do for this team. San Francisco finished almost two full wins below their Pythagorean expectation in 2020, indicating they were quite unlucky.

Seattle is an enigma to me. Pete Carroll is determined to run the ball on offense despite having one of the best quarterbacks in football, but I'm not sure the Seahawks are good enough on defense to play that way for four quarters most weeks. Seattle is the opposite of the Niners in terms of Pythagorean wins. They won 12 contests with an expectation of only 9.6

I'm still buying the Cardinals. Maybe Kliff Kingsbury isn't what he was billed as, but Arizona still maintains a pass-heavy, fast-paced approach with one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. The team continued to strengthen their defense in the draft and will finally have a dynamic slot player for the Air Raid in Rondale Moore.

  • LA Rams - 12-5
  • San Francisco - 11-6
  • Seattle - 9-7
  • Arizona - 9-7

Jason Wood

If we're going to mention Pythagorean records in defense of the 49ers, let's also point out they were two games over their Pythagorean projection in the 13-3 season.

Anthony Amico

Eleven wins is still a great season! I think it is fine to say that Shanahan may not be as good as pundits say he is -- these things are typically difficult to suss out, and not as cut and dry as we make them seem -- but it feels like an extreme leap to go from that to the Niners way under-performing their talent (-4.5 wins vs the posted total) as a result of the coach.

Sigmund Bloom

The NFC West gets the AFC South and NFC North this year, so that will include Houston, Jacksonville, and Detroit, three of the worst teams in the league, and if Aaron Rodgers is dealt then that will make their overall schedule even easier, with few truly tough draws outside of the division, giving this group a good chance to capture two of the NFCs wildcards, if not all three.

My win projections (with their other three games)

  • ARI - 9 (Car @Dal @Cle)
  • LAR - 12 (TB @NYG @Bal)
  • SF - 13 (@Phi @Cin Atl)
  • SEA - 10 (@Pit NO @Was)

Notice that San Francisco gets by far the easiest draw of the three games that aren't shared by the rest of the division, and that should be enough to give them the edge in a group of teams that always beat up on each other in divisional games. There will be two wildcards out of this division and the third could/should come down to tiebreakers barring severe quarterback injuries.

Andy Hicks

Stability at head coach and quarterback in the NFC West is remarkable compared to the rest of the NFL. Only Los Angeles made a change at quarterback, Trey Lance expectations aside.

Losing is the quickest way to shake things up. All sides here have realistic expectations of making the playoffs. Reality is likely to crash at least one if not two of these teams.

As Jason mentioned, Kyle Shanahan’s record as head coach warrants closer scrutiny. Is he overrated? Did he build nicely before last year's injury-ravaged season? This year we will get a better idea.

For the Rams, Is Sean McVay a great coach? Has he relied heavily on his coaching staff, particularly on defense? The addition of Matthew Stafford adds more questions than it answers for me.

In Arizona, is Kliff Kingsbury all sizzle and no steak? Does Kyler Murray make the next step in his evolving journey as a starting quarterback?

Seattle had a rough offseason with Russell Wilson and the team having disagreements about how to get better. Pete Carroll isn’t getting younger either. Wilson has pulled this team out of a jam so many times. Eventually, his luck has to run out.

Each of these teams has viable routes to implosion or success this year. The range of variables is extreme.

  • San Francisco 4-14 wins, prediction 13-4
  • Arizona 6-12 wins, prediction 11-6
  • LA Rams 5-15 wins, prediction 9-8
  • Seattle 7-13 wins, prediction 7-10

Jeff Haseley

The NFC West may be the toughest, most difficult to predict division in the league. I can make a case for each team reaching nine wins. The team that hits ten may likely wear the division crown. Like Sigmund shared, the NFC West plays the NFC North and AFC South with three additional games on the schedule. Looking at those additional games, San Francisco has the easier schedule of the other three, so they get the nod from me as the odds-on favorite to win the division.

Three additional games

  • ARI (Car @Dal @Cle)
  • LAR (TB @NYG @Bal)
  • SF (@Phi @Cin Atl)
  • SEA (@Pit NO @Was)

The other three teams could go any which way, but I have a feeling Seattle and the Russell Wilson factor will come alive with Los Angeles and Arizona not far behind. The divisional battles will be vital for each team. A road divisional win could be absolutely huge in the grand scheme of things, and to a lesser degree, conference wins. The division, but perhaps more likely the wild card berths, could come down to Week 18 with Seattle at Arizona and San Francisco at Los Angeles.

My take...

  • SF 11 wins (division)
  • SEA 9 wins (wildcard)
  • LAR 8 wins
  • ARI 8 wins

Jeff Tefertiller

I will take the Rams. I see Stafford as a monstrous upgrade over Goff, and McVay does as well. The Seahawks have an aging team with big holes that Russell Wilson seems to cover up deftly. The 49ers are a solid team that will need strong play from the quarterback position to win the division. In Arizona, I see many good-to-great pieces but am unable to have faith in the coaching staff to win big ball games. Let's remember, Kingsbury was unable to be competitive in college with Mahomes at QB.

  • LAR: 11 wins
  • SEA: 9 wins
  • SF: 8 wins
  • AZ: 8 wins

Chad Parsons

I am really pumped for the Rams this season. Jared Goff was not as poor as most will paint him now removed from the Rams environment, but I view Matthew Stafford as an upgrade. I'm excited for what Stafford's arm talent can do with a strong run game and the schemed openings from Sean McVay for Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp specifically.

  • 12 wins: Rams
  • 10 wins: 49ers
  • 9 wins: Seahawks
  • 7 wins: Cardinals

A key watch within the division is the progression as a passer for Kyler Murray. While he has been electric as a runner, the true breakthrough for the Cardinals will be if he takes multiple steps ahead (and the Cardinals in general) as a pure pocket passer. I have my doubts it occurs to a significant level where Murray is viewed as a top-8 to top-10 passer in the NFL, which is what it will take to finish first or second in this stacked division.

Jordan McNamara

I think it is curious the Rams and the 49ers have the same over/under. The Rams had a point differential of +76 last year while the 49ers had a point differential of -14. The Rams added an established quarterback with top-eight MVP odds, while the 49ers return Jimmy Garoppolo from injury and drafted rookie Trey Lance. In evaluating their priors and their offseason, I don't understand how the market is treating these two teams the same.

  • Rams: 12 Wins
  • Seahawks: 11 wins
  • 49ers: 9 wins
  • Cardinals: 9 wins

In reading the comments of my colleagues, I'm reminded how entertaining this division is, particularly regarding the debates about the quality of the coaches. There are strong arguments for and against all four coaches in this division, with Kingsbury being the most under pressure at the present.

Pat Fitzmaurice

This has to be the NFL's most fascinating division, right? I don't think any order of finish would shock me.

Arizona is probably the NFC West's most fascinating team. The Cardinals' defense has been a multi-year road construction project, but they've finally taken away the traffic cones -- this could now be one of the better defenses in the league. But what if it's Kliff Kingsbury's offense that keeps this team from winning the division?

Injuries crushed the 49ers last year, so their 2020 win total is largely irrelevant. It's going to be interesting to see how Kyle Shanahan manages the quarterback transition. Does Jimmy Garoppolo keep the baton away from Trey Lance if the 49ers can get out to a 4-0 or 3-1 start? (Their first four opponents: Lions, Eagles, Packers, Seahawks).

The Rams probably have to be considered the favorites, and it'll be fun to watch Matthew Stafford run Sean McVay's offense. But as heavily as this team leans on its stars -- Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Andrew Whitworth, et al. -- is it more fragile than other Super Bowl contenders?

Pete Carroll isn't my favorite guy, but I have to give him credit for keeping the Seahawks competitive even as the Legion of Boom aged and split apart. Still, it feels like this team is on the way down, and the dissolution of the Carroll/Russell Wilson marriage may be at hand.

  • Rams: 12-5
  • Cardinals: 11-6
  • 49ers: 10-7
  • Seahawks: 8-9

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