Updated: Jul 26
After another egregiously long offseason, football and the NFL are almost back (I have to say NFL because sadly the USFL exists and it's on TV). Welcome to Happy Hour Sports, the best place to get sports insight after the workday. This is my first post working for this incredible organization and I could not be more excited to start with them. I will be breaking down the NFC by division, starting with the NFC West. My counterparts (@AndyHHSports and @RickHHSports) will be providing their breakdowns of the AFC, and college Power 5 here at Happy Hour Sports as well, so be on the lookout for all of those articles. We are committed to providing you with the best possible content around the sports we love, so please like, share, follow and all that good stuff with the links at the top (or bottom on mobile) of the page. So, without further ado, let's get into the NFC West!
My goal here is to lay out the foundation of each division, what has happened over the offseason, and how I think the year will play out for each team. I will also provide some of my best bets for the season and where I think we can make some money, because who does not want that (bets are bolded if you’re just here for picks). We all love sports betting here, and we win a lot (thanks @RickHHSports), so there’s another reason to follow.
2021 Final NFC West Standings
The NFC is objectively a worse conference than the AFC this year. It’s fairly obvious, but let’s take a quick look at the top 5 QBs in each conference, just so I can prove it to you (this is my subjective, but correct, top 5):
Yes, Jalen Hurts will be a top 5 quarterback this year in the NFC. I am an unbiased Philadelphia Eagles fan, and you can all understand that more when we get to the NFC East. However, just look at the contrast between the two conferences, the top 5 of the AFC would run circles around the aging greats of the NFC. Not to mention, 3 of the top 5 in the AFC are in the same division! With all this being said, the NFC can still come out on top, once the AFC beats each other up.
In the NFC West, we have the reigning super bowl Champion Rams, who have replaced nearly half their team, but kept the greatest defensive player ever (sorry Lawrence Taylor). We also have the Kliff Kingsbury led Cardinals who always seem to come out of the gates hot then fall apart. We have the 49ers who will have yet another great defense, but their quarterback is unproven. Finally, we have the Seahawks who have officially entered a rebuild by trading Russel Wilson.
The NFC West is objectively the hardest division in this conference. Outside of the Seahawks any of these teams could take the division, and I would not be surprised to see 3 playoff teams again come out of this division. They will be beat up on each other, but who will take the cake? Keep reading to find out:
Los Angeles Rams:
2021 Record: 12-5
2021 Outcome: Super Bowl Champions
2022 Win Total: 10.5, -110
Key Losses (some, not all):
Von Miller, OLB
Darious Williams, CB
Robert Woods, WR
Andrew Whitworth, LT
Johnny Hecker, P
Sebastian Joseph-Day, NT
Key Gains (some, not all):
Bobby Wagner, OLB
Allen Robinson, CB
Logan Brus, RG
Joseph Notenboom, LT
Coleman Shelton, OL
The Los Angeles Rams come hot off of an incredible season for them. There is no place to go since they sit atop of the NFL throne; the question is, can they do it again? To put it simply, no. I do not think they can repeat. However, that does not mean I don’t think they will be able to compete at the highest level in the NFC.
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The key takeaways from the Rams (unfinished) offseason are the resigning of Aaron Donald and the looming threat of losing Odell Beckham Jr (the good old defense vs. offense cliche). Let’s start with Aaron Donald. The best defensive player of this era, and maybe of all time, significantly impacts this defense in the most positive way possible. As the old saying goes defense wins championships and it is still going to be difficult for offenses to deal with Donald, even as he ages. Here are the important numbers to back this up:
“Since Super Bowl XXXIV, 13 out of 21 champions had a higher defensive rating than their opponents based on yards per game, with 12 of 13 victors having a lower offensive ranking than their competitor. In fact, since the turn of the twenty-first century, four Super Bowl champions had both a lower ranking offense and defense than their opponent. Over the same time span only four Super Bowl champions had a superior offense in comparison to their opponent. Since Super Bowl XXXIV, champions had an average offensive rank of 11.38 and defensive rank of 7.19 and the runner-up had an average offensive rank of 6.71 and defensive rank of 9.32. When comparing the averages, the runner-up more often than not had a higher average ranking if defense and offense are weighted the same. While a super powered offense greatly increases a team’s odds of making the Super Bowl, the big game is often won by the team with the higher-ranking defense.”
Quote per Northwestern University: https://sites.northwestern.edu/nusportsanalytics/2020/12/15/does-defense-win-championships/
In addition to these stats, let’s not forget the Rams are losing another key defenseman in Von Miller. Yes, they signed Bobby Wagner, but Bobby is 32 and can't run sideline to sideline like he used to be able to. The Rams still hold Jalen Ramsey as well, so I expect this defense to remain solid.
I love Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp, but the unknowns behind Odell Beckham worry me as newly signed Allen Robinson is not the downhill threat that Odell was. Although, I do love the pickup. Even though they also lost Andrew Whitworth, they will still have a top third offensive line that their dynamic running backs will do wonders behind. The offense can still clearly compete at a high level, and with the best coach in the game today, really the sky's the limit for the Rams.
All things considered, I think the Rams can still win their division. The thing that plagues the Rams for me is the difficulty of repeating as Super Bowl Champions. It has happened 8 times in the Super Bowl Era. History is my favorite way to predict what is going to happen, so I think they will end up falling short in the playoffs, maybe even at the NFC Championship Game. They are a dominant team in the West and in the NFC, but history says their repeat is unlikely.
DJ’s Best Bet: Rams to win division +125 | FanDuel
Rams Projected Record: 12-5
San Francisco 49ers:
2021 Record: 10-7
2021 Outcome: Lost in Conference Championship to Rams
2022 Win Total: 9.5, -145
Key Losses (some, not all):
Tom Compton, OL
Laken Tomlinson, OL
Jaquiski Tartt, S
K’Waunn Williams, DB
DJ Jones, DL
Key Gains (some, not all):
Charvarius Ward, CB
Drake Jackson ( R ), DE
Ray Ray Mcloud, WR
The San Francisco 49ers enter the 2022 season as a question mark in the NFC West. During an unexciting offseason, amidst the Deebo Samuel controversy, they lost some key players in their offensive line and defense. They managed to upgrade their special teams play with the signing of Ray Ray Mcloud, but I am not sure he will manage to make an impact outside of that.
Similar to the Rams, the 49ers make their money on the defensive side of the ball. DeMeco Ryans, the defensive coordinator for the 49ers, put a show on display during the 2021 NFC Championship game that proved the 49ers are here to stay. A terrible offensive second half for the 49ers offense is why they were not fighting for the Lombardi Trophy, but we will get into the offense shortly. The 49ers defense is terrifying. If Nick Bosa can stay healthy he will be pushing for a defensive player of the year award, and the addition of Charvarius Ward helps to round out the secondary. If I was a betting man, which I am, I would highly consider taking some unders when the 49ers are playing. Only in the first half of the season, however, because the problem for their defense is the lack of depth.
AP Photo/Roger Steinman
It's the 2022 season now, so who cares about what's happened in the past, right niners fans? Let’s be real, the 49ers have a historic franchise that has not lived up to itself in the last 25 or so years. I believe in Kyle Shannahan and the 49ers coaching staff, as they have competed at the top level while he has been in charge. The premier issues for the 49ers this year are the quarterback and what will happen with Deebo Samuel.
Jimmy Garoppolo is the “proven” veteran while Trey Lance is the questionable young gun. It’s an age-old dichotomic battle that seems to come up every single year. However, this year I think is a little more rare. The first issue is that the 49ers have not yet gotten rid of Jimmy. The longer he is held the lower his value will be, especially if Shanahan decides to start Lance at the beginning of the year. The fact of the matter is he is still on the team. So, 49ers legends like Frank Gore and Jerry Rice come out and back Jimmy G because he is “proven” and has a winning mentality. The reason I think this situation is a little more rare, is because I think Trey Lance is the real deal. Given the opportunity, I think he shines similarly to the way Patrick Mahomes took over for Alex Smith. If you remember, Mahomes was the unproven young gun that was too drastic a change to play. I am not saying Lance is Mahomes, though; I think the situations are similar. Who knows what Shannahan will do, but I am making my predictions based on Trey Lance becoming the starter early (and the Deebo situation being resolved (Go Cocks)).
I don’t think the 49ers will be able to overcome the Super Bowl Champion Rams for first in this division. They both have one of the top 5 hardest schedules in football, so it will be a grueling battle for first. In that scenario I have to go with the actually proven QB in Matthew Stafford, although the 49ers will have a better defense than the Rams. Second is nothing to scoff at in this division, though, as they will cruise into the playoffs.
DJ’s Best Bet: Nick Bosa, Defensive Player of the Year +1400 | FanDuel
49ers Projected Record: 10-7
2021 Record: 11-6
2021 Outcome: Lost in Wild Card Round to Rams
2022 Win Total: 8.5, -110
Key Losses (some, not all):
Chandler Jones, DE
Jordan Phillips, IDL
Jordan Hicks, LB
Christian Kirk, WR
Chase Edmonds, RB
Key Gains (some, not all):
Marquise (Hollywood) Brown, WR
Will Hernandez, RG
Nick Vigil, LB
Stephen Anderson, TE
The Arizona Cardinals have had one of the worst offseasons in the NFL. Ranging from the question mark that was Kyler Murray’s future to random drug tests for DeAndre Hopkins, it is an offseason to forget for fans of the red birds. This is not to say the Cardinals will be so much worse because of it though, they just reside in the hardest division in the NFC, so that hurts them the most.
The Cardinals lost a few core defensive players in Chandler Jones and Jordan Hicks. That leaves the aging JJ Watt as the face of the defensive line and newcomer Nick Vigil as the stars on this defense. I still love JJ Watt as he is not anyone I would like to defend, nor is most of the Cardinals D-line. The question for them is the health and longevity of the line. A strong line is nothing without a strong secondary, and the biggest problem for the Cardinals as a whole is the strength of their secondary. No one has truly replaced the Patrick Peterson size whole and it is the main reason the Cards fell apart at the end of the season in 2021.
On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals have some great weapons. Kyler Murray was finally locked down (as long as he does his study time) and they brought in his buddy Marquise (Hollywood) Brown for a first round draft pick. They only have two-thirds of DeAndre Hopkins since Hopkins failed the PED test; he will be out for 6 games. So, as long as the Cards can keep their head above water during the first six games, the top of this division is a possibility.
However, Kyler Murray is a top-tier quarterback that has yet to win a playoff game. In back to back seasons they have started out very strong and floundered in the second half:
2020: 5-2 to start season, 8-8 to finish
2021: 9-2 to start season, 11-6 to finish
They need to find a way to stay consistent throughout the year, and hopefully a Hopkins return is able to give them the push they will need to win the division. As I typically like to make my predictions, I am going with history on this one. I do not think the Cardinals can keep their competitive edge over the Rams or the 49ers anymore, especially after this offseason.
The Cardinals will finish 3rd in the NFC West in the 2022 NFL Season. The main question is, is it good enough for a playoff spot? I like their win total of 8.5, and think they can get to 9 wins depending on how the games without Hopkins play out. Kliff Kingsbury seems poised to bring the Arizona fanbase another playoff game, but I am not yet convinced. They have the talent, but I like some other dark horses around the NFC to knock off this NFC West team. We will see how it plays out as I like Hollywood Brown and Kyler together, but it’s not enough this year.
DJ’s Best Bet: Cardinals to NOT make the Playoffs -140 | FanDuel
Cardinals Projected Record: 9-8
2021 Record: 7-10
2021 Outcome: Did not make playoffs
2022 Win Total: 5.5, -130
Key Losses (some, not all):
Russel Wilson, QB
Bobby Wagner, LB
Gerald Everett, TE
DJ Reed, CB
Chris Carson, RB
Key Gains (some, not all):
Drew Lock, QB
Noah Fant, TE
Shelby Harris, DL
Two First AND Second Round Picks
We have come a long long way from the Legion of Boom Era in Seattle. The largest headline this offseason was undoubtedly the trading of Russel Wilson to Denver. Bobby Wagner is also no longer a Seahawk.
Without Russell Wilson, no one really knows what this Seahawk team will look like. My opinion on the trade is that it was a good one. Russel is a legend, but it was time to move on and they did so by gathering a respectable haul in return. Drew Lock is not the worst quarterback in the NFL (although Geno Smith may start) and I am really high on Noah Fant. That's not to mention the two first and second round picks acquired in the deal, which are wonderful additions.
The best thing going for the Seahawks right now is the fact that Pete Carroll is still at the reins. A Super Bowl champion in his own right, and one of the best coaches in the NFL, if anyone can get the Seahawks back on track it is him. Remember, he has faced controversy many many times from his early days at USC to the NFL.
The thing about this season for the Seahawks is that it is pretty much written in the cards. There’s no real question they will fall to the bottom of the best division in the conference and not make the playoffs. However, that does not mean they won’t be exciting to watch. I believe Pete Carroll can get the most out of Smith/Lock and find ways to make Metcalf and Fant exciting players to look out for, especially in fantasy. They still have Tyler Lockett as well, and if people begin to underestimate them, I would not be surprised to see things turn out positively for the Seahawks.
The defense has question marks of its own as well. The losses of Bobby Wagner, Carlos Dunlap and Rasheem Greem really hurt this defense, so someone will have to step up. The legs of quarterbacks in their division will not be easy to tackle, so the secondary will need to play at the top of its game. Everything needs to turn around for the defense, because there are questions around every corner.
All in all, the Seahawks will be better than everyone thinks. I think their season win total of 5.5 is very achievable, even with their difficult schedule. Say they pick off one or two from the 6 games they play within their division, they only need to win 4 of the remaining 13 games. They also play the Lions, Jets, Falcons, and Giants. They are sadly at the mercy of their division, but expect the Seahawks to put on a show every week. I really look forward to seeing what Pete Carroll has in store for us.
DJ’s Best Bet: Over 5.5 Wins -130 | FanDuel
Seahawks Projected Record: 7-10
So there you have it folks. If you made it to the end of this article, I salute you. Thank you, seriously. I am excited to start bringing content to you all and ask that you follow me on twitter @DeejHHSports to share what you think! I am open to all criticism and takes and would love to discuss football with you there. Share the article and follow the accounts because every little bit helps!
Stay tuned for the other divisions as well, I will be tackling the NFC North next! Also, my counterparts will be posting daily content you don't want to miss.