By Andy Moore – (AJMoore21)
Los Angeles Rams – 13-3
Seattle Seahawks – 10-6
San Francisco 49ers – 4-12
Arizona Cardinals – 3-13
Draft selections: Taylor Rapp (R3 P.61), Darrell Henderson (R3 P.70), David Long (R3 P.79) Bobby Evans (R3 P.97), Greg Gaines (R4 P.134), David Edwards (R5 P.169), Nick Scott (R7 P.243), Dakota Allen (R7 P.251)
Offseason key additions: Clay Matthews (Packers/FA), Dante Fowler (Re-signed), Eric Weddle (Ravens/FA)
Offseason key departures: Roger Saffold (Titans/FA), Lemarcus Joyner (Raiders/FA), Ndamukong Suh (Buccaneers/FA)
Super Bowl odds: 15/2
Last season ultimately ended in disappointment for the Rams, but no-one could deny that they fully deserved their place in the Super Bowl. Averaging 32.9 points a game, Sean McVay’s offense was exhilarating to watch, with Wade Philips assembling an equally impressive cast on the other side of the ball.
Expectations have only grown this time around, with both Mcvay and Jared Goff both determined to bounce back from a spluttering Super Bowl performance.
Key to that bounce back will be the continued proficiency of Todd Gurley. A lot has been written this off-season about the health of the former Georgia star’s knee, which is rumoured to be hampered by arthritis. A reduced pre-season schedule would appear to confirm something is amiss, as did the drafting of Darrell Henderson out of Memphis.
If Gurley can’t drive the offense, renewed emphasis will be placed on Goff and his receiver core. The healthy return of Cooper Kupp will be a boost, and in Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks the Rams have two of the most versatile threats in the league. The key question will come when defensive co-ordinators start to learn lessons from Bill Belichik, putting pressure on McVay to guide Goff through defensive looks he might not have seen before.
Most of the Rams key personnel losses have come on defense, with Ndamukong Suh and Lemarcus Joyner the major departures. The addition of Clay Matthews and Eric Waddle will go some way to soothing that loss, and although both players are into the twilight of their career they’ll do nothing but add a ton of experience to an already mean unit.
Look out for:
The way Sean McVay updates his playbook in the wake of a Super Bowl defeat to the Patriots will be incredibly interesting to watch. Despite a scintillating season, McVay said of the 10-3 defeat ‘I didn’t give us the chance really to have offensive production, period.” A frank omission from the man who has been hailed as the premier creative mind in the league. Expect to see that mind generate new ideas that we’ve never seen before in 2019.
Draft selections: LJ Collier (R1 P.29), Marquise Blair (R2 P.47), DK Metcalf (R2 P.64), Cody Barton (R3 P.88), Gary Jennings (R4 P.120), Phil Haynes (R5 P.124), Ugochukwu Amadi (R4 P.132), Ben Burr-Kiven (R5 P.142), Travis Homer (R6 P.204), Demarcus Christmas (R6 P.209), John Ursua (R7 P.236)
Offseason key additions: Ziggy Ansah [Lions/FA], Mike Iupati [Cardinals/FA], Jason Myers [Jets/FA]
Offseason key departures: Earl Thomas [Ravens/FA], Frank Clark [Chiefs/trade], Doug Baldwin [Retired], Kam Chancellor [Retired]
Super Bowl odds: 28/1
The Seahawks continued their transition from their storied Legion of Boom era to a new look team this offseason.
Kam Chancellor and Doug Baldwin departed off the back of serious injuries, Earl Thomas got the move he has long desired and dominant defensive-end Frank Clark was dealt to the Chiefs. New, exciting faces came through the door, Ziggy Ansah, LJ Collier and DK Metcalf are all generating a buzz in the Pacific Northwest.
It couldn’t be clearer that Pete Carroll is fully invested in rebuilding around his two prized assets, Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner. Both players signed new deals in the off-season ($140m & $54m respectively), and both are at least top five players in their position in the NFL.
If they’re going to kick on from a promising 2018 season, new players are going to have to step up. Tyler Lockett is being crowned as the receiver who will take on the role of Wilson’s primary target, Shaquill Griffin needs to establish himself as a true lockdown corner and Rashaad Penny will be looking to push past Chris Carson and justify his first-round pick.
The new additions need to contribute as well, with Ziggy Ansah’s addition standing out as particularly intriguing. The Ghanaian has two seasons with 12+ sacks, but has been hampered by injury and inconsistency. Carroll and Defensive Co-ordinator Ken Norton clearly have a track record of developing defensive talent and if they can get Ansah fit and healthy he could be a steal on his $9m ‘prove it’ deal.
There’s still a few holes in the roster, namely at Tight End and Corner, where Nick Vannett and Griffin are the best of an average bunch, but with Wilson’s versatility and Wagner’s leadership, Seahawks fans will be expecting another playoff berth.
Look out for:
Rashaad Penny – there were flashes of quality in Penny’s rookie season, 108 yards against the Rams and a 20-yard touchdown run against the 49ers the main examples, but by and large it was a disappointing campaign. Where Penny struggled, Chris Carson stepped up with a 1000-yard season as the Seahawks looked to move to a ground and pound offensive style.
Renewed emphasis has been placed on his pass protection skills this offseason, and there appears to be a plan to go with whoever is hot to the touch on any given Sunday. This can only be beneficial for Penny who might find himself firmly behind Carson if he didn’t happen to be a first rounded. Look for him put everything in when his chance comes and maybe, just maybe, grab the RB1 job.
San Francisco 49ers
Draft selections: Nick Bosa (R1 P.2), Deebo Samuel (R2 P.36), Jalen Hurd (R3 P.67), Mitch Wishnowsky (R4 P.110), Dre Greenlaw (R5 P.148), Kaden Smith (R6 P.176), Justin Skule (R6 P.183), Tim Harris (R6 P.198),
Offseason key additions: Dee Ford [Chiefs/Trade], Kwon Alexander [Buccs/FA], Tevin Coleman [Falcons/FA]
Offseason key departures: Pierre Garcon [Free Agent], Cassius Marsh [Seahawks/FA]
Super Bowl odds: 33/1
Kyle Shanahan is entering his third season as the Head Coach of the 49ers, and it’s fair to say the fanbase, and possibly the ownership, will want to see some improvement. Over the past two seasons the ‘Niners are 10-22 having seen injuries ravage their starters on both sides of the ball.
The Athletic reports that no team had more contract value on the injured reserve than San Fran in 2018, with key players such as Jimmy Garoppolo & Jerick McKinnon missing most or all of the season.
With those players back, and a stack of good business across the offseason, many are tipping Shanahan and go to turn things around and put together a winning season in the Bay Area.
There’s certainly merit to that argument, Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander are high quality additions, with Bosa and Ford joining DeForest Buckner on what is a now a ridiculously talented defensive line. Talent will have to turn into production quickly if that 4-12 record is going to improve, the defence only managed six sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception all year.
Offensively, anticipation is slowly building with fans looking to see what Shanahan can do with three running backs who all have RB1 potential. Tevin Coleman joins Matt Breida and McKinnon in what seems like a fantasy football player’s nightmare, in reality it will give San Fran a punch they may have lacked in recent seasons. Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd will look to compliment George Kittle as the Tight End seeks to repeat what was a monster 1377 yard season.
All that considered, perhaps the most crucial element of a successful 49ers season is the health of the franchise Quarterback. After signing a $137.5m deal in 2018, Garoppolo played in three games before tearing his ACL. There are some that have their doubts about his play, but Shanahan and the coaching staff have complete faith in the former Patriots backup and will be relying on them to carry them towards an improved record in 2019.
Look out for:
Dante Pettis – everyone is touting Pettis as a breakout star, Pete Schrager even detailing how San Francisco avoided making moves for Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown because they liked the tools possessed by their second year wide out.
Pettis’ route running is one of his most exciting traits, his burst off the line and deep ball threat only aiding that. With Samuel, Hurd and veteran Marquise Goodwin all drawing coverage with threats of their own, look for Pettis to establish himself as a dominant WR1.
Draft selections: Kyler Murray (R1 P.1), Byron Murphy (R2 P.33), Andy Isabella (R2 P.63), Zach Allen (R3 P.65), Hakeem Butler (R4 P.103), Deionte Thompson (R5 P.139), KeeSean Johnson (R6 P.174), Lamont Gaillard (R6 P.179), Joshua Miles (R7 P.248), Michael Dogbe (R7 P.249), Caleb Wilson (R7 P.254)
Offseason key additions: Terrell Suggs [Ravens/FA], JR Sweezy [Seahawks/FA], Jordan Hicks [Eagles/FA], Robert Alford [Falcons/FA]
Offseason key departures: Josh Rosen [Dolphins/Trade], Antoine Bethea [Giants/FA], Jermaine Gresham [Free Agent]
Super Bowl odds: 120/1
Not many teams hired a Head Coach that had a losing record in the NCAA last year. Not many teams traded their 2018 1st round QB to draft a new one in 2019. The Cardinals are not however, most teams.
Kliff Kingsbury arrives in Arizona riding the wave of the Sean McVay’s revolution. His offensive mind and Air Raid scheme promise high octane thrills for the Cardinals’ faithful. The question is, can he deliver it?
First overall pick, Kyler Murray, will be the make it or break it man, and you can’t help but feel if he makes it, he could herald a real long-term change in the NFL. The undersized QB has long been an anomaly in the NFL, but with Drew Brees and Baker Mayfield setting a precedent, Murray seems to have arrived on the scene a little differently. The hype has been constant all through the offseason, and somehow it seems the media have decided he’ll be a certain success.
Whilst that remains to be seen, the Cards have done a fair bit of business to improve his receiving options. Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk have been joined by Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler in a revamped wide out group. The four-receiver set is the main stay of the Air Raid offense, and it’s fair to say all of the above players are going to need to produce a lot if the 3-13 record is going to improve.
On defence, talisman Patrick Peterson has been suspended for six games, but the addition of Robert Alford & Terrell Suggs gives the unit a couple of out and out playmakers. But it wasn’t the defence that was that bad last season.
With the NFL estimating Kingsbury’s men face the 12th hardest schedule in 2019, will the Cards be picking near the top of the draft again next Spring? Either way, there’s an awful lot of responsibility on a 5ft 10” QB out of Oklahoma, but that sounds familiar, right?
Look out for:
David Johnson – it seems obvious to spotlight one of Arizona’s best players, but, after a disappointing campaign last year, Johnson will hope to be back to his best.
The Air Raid offense, whilst focused on the passing game, should prevent opposition defences stacking the box, giving Johnson more freedom to search for those strong power runs and allowing him to be as dangerous as ever as the pass catching back he is. Look for nearly 2000 all-purpose yards if he can stay healthy.
2019 Season Prediction
LA Rams 13-3
Seattle Seahawks 8-8
San Francisco 49ers 7-9
Arizona Cardinals 5-11