NFC West Preview: The battle between Seattle and Arizona will outshine the Rams' move to L.A.
Jeff Fisher will need to do better than 8-8 (or 7-9) to grab the headlines in this division18:23 Thursday 8 September 2016, 18:23 8 Sep 2016
With the NFL pre-season well underway and the real action about to begin, we break down each division in the NFL to highlight what to what to watch out for, who to avoid in your Fantasy Football draft, and make one bold prediction which will surely come back to bite us.
NFC West in five words:
The best in the NFC
Team under the most pressure:
There are no shortage of changes taking place in this division that make it very hard to predict. The 49ers are in full-on rebuild mode, the Rams look set to benefit from all the optimism that comes from having moved to a new city, and the Cardinals are at the peak of their powers.
That leaves us with the Seattle Seahawks, who are in danger of losing their hopes of ever regaining the control they once had on the division. Marshawn Lynch, one of their biggest weapons in terms of keeping defences guessing, has hung up his cleats, and while Russell Wilson is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, there will be a lot of pressure on the receiving corps to keep the offence ticking over.
It's a particularly big ask to expect another run of incredible from from Doug Baldwin to match last year's touchdown tally. He was the leading scorer with 14, and Jermaine Kearse followed behind him with five.
Storyline to keep an eye on:
Jeff Fisher was offered an extension right before the Rams' first game of the pre-season in their new home, baffling a lot of pundits and commentators. Fisher's last winning season was back in 2008, and he has made a name for himself in the time since as Mr. 8-and-8. Even that is flattering, however, as he hasn't lead a team to .500 season since 2009.
Still, the front office see something in him and are set on some continuity as they move the franchise across the country. How he deals with the expectations, and what role he gives to number one overall pick Jared Goff will define his future there. Goff looks set to sit, at least to start the season, and if the results don't come quickly then the pressure to get the future face of the franchise out on the field will become too great to ignore.
The San Francisco 49ers have had a rollercoaster few years; they came so close to a Super Bowl, but fell just short. Star quarterback Colin Kaepernick went from being one of the brightest stars of the future to being on the verge of getting cut, and their record on the road last season was a tragic 1-7.
Image: Ben Margot / AP/Press Association Images
However, with a hurry-up offence, a demanding playing style and relatively low expectations, Chip Kelly could be poised to rebound from a horrible spell in Philadelphia and usurp the Cardinals and Seahawks to win the division. Hey, we said it was a bold prediction, after all...
Best rookie in the division:
While Goff will be an interesting story to watch as the season develops, DeForest Buckner looks set to have immediate impact with the San Francisco 49ers.
Buckner is big, really big, and a scary prospect, the type of player who makes you glad you're not out there on the field against him. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac-12, and as Stanford head coach David Shaw told CBS Sports: "If you're building a defensive lineman, that's what you build."
Despite being so tall, he still manages to get low enough to push through the line with strong hands and positioning, and has the type of engine that will suit a Chip Kelly system.
Fantasy do's and don'ts:
Do draft Torrey Smith - The QB situation at San Francisco is still a bit messy for the moment, but it looks like Blaine Gabbert is the man that Kelly is trusting with the starting job. Whether Kaepernick sees time on the field or no, Torrey Smith is worth picking up, and looks primed to have a comeback this year.
Do pick David Johnson - We're hardly surprising anyone here either, but given just how brilliant he was when he exploded onto the scene in the second half of last season, you don't want to miss out on this talent.
Don't draft a Rams wide receiver - With reports out of camp that they think Goff has a long way to go, and Todd Gurley being so incredible that he's likely to get a huge workload, it's hard to pick a WR who will get a reasonable workload in L.A.
Do pick Tyler Lockett - Doug Baldwin's production levels are likely to dip (or even return to normal given 12 of his 14 touchdowns came in the last eight games of last season) and Lockett looks primed to pick up the slack. He has the "potential" tag hanging around his neck, but has shown on punt and kick returns that he has pace to burn.
You can read the rest of our other divisional previews below:
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