- Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams appear to be the best team in the NFC West heading into 2018 and they are likely super bowl contenders as well. Young quarterback Jared Goff made huge progress last season and he became a pro-bowl level player. He could be even better this season especially since he has a terrific wide receiver group with Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Brandin Cooks. Also, the Rams have Todd Gurley who is arguably the best running back in the NFL and he takes tons of pressure off the Rams passing game. The offensive line also appears to be very good for the Rams heading into 2018. Los Angeles doesn’t really have a weakness on offense and they have the potential to be even better in 2018. Meanwhile, the Rams defense was good last season, but it is very likely even better this season. They already had plenty of talent on the defensive line with Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers leading the way. However, the addition of elite defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh could make the Rams defensive line impossible to beat. The major area of weakness for the Rams is at linebacker though as they don’t have too much talent at the position besides Mark Barron. However, the real strength of the Rams defense is now clearly in the secondary after the additions of pro-bowl cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib this offseason. Add in star safety Lamarcus Joyner plus solid cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman and the Rams arguably have the best secondary in the NFL. Overall, it is very difficult to find many weaknesses on the Rams roster as they arguably have the best team in the entire NFL. If they can live up to their potential then they could easily make a deep playoff run in 2018.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers were an awful team for most of last season, but quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo seemed to turn their fortunes around as he led the team to 5 consecutive wins late last season. Garoppolo is clearly the quarterback of the present and future for the 49ers which is why the team gave him a massive contract this offseason. The question is whether he has enough talent around him on offense to really reach his potential. The offensive line should be much improved this season especially with the additions of Weston Richburg and Mike McGlinchey. The biggest concern for the 49ers is at the skill positions. San Francisco signed Jerick McKinnon to a huge deal in free agency to be their number one running back. However, it will be interesting to see if McKinnon is an upgrade at that position considering he has never been a lead back in his NFL career. Also, the 49ers have some questions at the wide receiver position as Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, and Trent Taylor are the top targets for Jimmy Garoppolo. Goodwin was the number one receiver for the 49ers last season, but they will need Garcon and Taylor to be much better if the 49ers offense wants to be really good. The 49ers finally have a solution at quarterback, but he needs some help from his supporting cast if the 49ers offense is really successful. Meanwhile, the 49ers have plenty of young talent especially on the defensive line. Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, and Solomon Thomas are all really talented players for the 49ers on their defensive line. However, none of them provided much of a pass rush last season and that is something that the 49ers really need much more of this season. They have some talent at the linebacker position with Reuben Foster and Malcolm Smith, but it is unknown the type of production that they will provide. The addition of pro-bowl cornerback Richard Sherman is a big upgrade in the 49ers secondary, although the rest of the secondary appears to be a weakness heading into 2018. Overall, San Francisco is a team clearly on the rise and they should be able to be a playoff contender this season. However, they still have several holes that they need to fill on their roster if they want to compete with the Rams in the NFC West.
3. Seattle Seahawks
It is difficult to count out the Seahawks considering that they still have Russell Wilson leading the way at quarterback. However, Seattle is a team going through a major transition right now. The defense has been what has carried the Seahawks in recent years, but the offense is going to have to take a much bigger role this season. Seattle should have a much better running game after they drafted rookie running back Rashaad Penny in the 1st round. The Seahawks also have a good group of wide receivers with Doug Baldwin, Brandon Marshall, and Tyler Lockett. However, the Seahawks lost elite tight end Jimmy Graham in free agency which will probably hurt Seattle’s passing attack. Seattle’s offensive line doesn’t appear to be too bad heading into 2018, although it still has a potential to once again be disastrous. Either way, quarterback Russell Wilson will have a lot of pressure to make big plays or the Seahawks offense won’t be great. Meanwhile, the Seahawks defense appears to be extremely weak heading into the 2018 season after all of the key players that they lost this offseason. In fact, they lost six key starters on their defense just this offseason. They lost cornerback Richard Sherman, cornerback Jeremy Lane, strong safety Kam Chancellor, defensive end Cliff Avril, defensive end Michael Bennett, and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. That is tons of pro-bowl level talent that the Seahawks now have to replace. Now the Seahawks have many voids left on their defense as it could be one of the worst in the NFL in 2018. They still have a couple of really good linebackers with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. Also, they have some good young talent on the defensive line with Frank Clark and Jarran Reed. However, the major weakness for Seattle appears to be in their secondary as they have a major void at the cornerback position after the departures of Richard Sherman and Jeremy Lane. The team still has elite safety Earl Thomas on the roster, but he is currently holding out for a new contract and it is possible that he might miss some games this season. Overall, the Seahawks defense has suddenly turned from one of the NFL’s best defenses into one of the NFL’s worst defenses. It is hard to picture the Seahawks competing for a playoff spot this season unless the offense suddenly becomes elite.
4. Arizona Cardinals
Arizona is yet another team going through a big transition right now especially since they have a new quarterback and a new head coach with Steve Wilks. The major excitement for the Cardinals is that they will have star running back David Johnson back from injury. Johnson should add a much-needed spark to the Cardinals offense and he will help take a lot of pressure off the Cardinals quarterback situation. The Cardinals offensive line is also likely going to be better especially after the addition of guard Justin Pugh in free agency. The Cardinals also have a good group of wide receivers led by star receiver Larry Fitzgerald, rookie 2nd round pick Christian Kirk, and deep threat J.J. Nelson. The main concern for the Cardinals is at the quarterback position after Carson Palmer retired this offseason. Arizona drafted Josh Rosen in the 1st round and he is clearly the quarterback of the future for the Cardinals. However, Sam Bradford figures to be the temporary solution at quarterback for Arizona while Rosen develops. If David Johnson stays healthy then the Cardinals offense should be decent. However, the success of the offense depends entirely on the production from the quarterback position. Meanwhile, the Cardinals defense has a chance to be decent this season as they figure to be just as good as last season. Chandler Jones is arguably the best pass rusher in the NFL as he had 17 sacks last season, but the issue is that the rest of the defensive line isn’t very good. The Cardinals do have some very good talent at linebacker with Haason Reddick and Deone Bucannon, but the inside linebacker position appears to be a major area of weakness. Meanwhile, the Cardinals secondary still should be above average mostly because they have Patrick Peterson who is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. However, the loss of playmaking safety Tyrann Mathieu creates a major void in the Cardinals secondary that they didn’t really fill. Overall, the Cardinals have lots of work to do before they are playoff contenders once again. The quarterback position for the Cardinals has some potential, but it will likely hold them back in 2018.