The Seahawks should reclaim their position atop the NFC West with a happy and motivated Russell Wilson. The running game is in good shape with the return of starter Chris Carson and despite the loss of Carlos Hyde the team has good depth. The offensive line got in upgrade in RG Gabe Jackson from the Raiders along with another strong run blocker in RT Brandon Shell, from the Jets. The WR core is led by DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett so some young WRs will need to step up, while the TE core has loss Greg Olsen to retirement, but added Gerald Everett from the Rams.
X-Factor – WR D’Wayne Eskridge – The Seahawks only had three picks in the draft and Eskridge is a speedster they like to play on special teams and get time at slot WR because he is good in space, his growth could give them another weapon.
The Seahawks defense will rely more on its bigger names in DE Carlos Dunlap, LB Bobby Wagner, and S Jamal Adams giving them leadership on each level. The defensive line has good depth despite a few losses and the LB core has a few young physical players including Jordyn Brooks who should continue to improve. The secondary should continue to play well with a two long CBs and a lot of players who know how to cause turnovers, the key will be Jamal Adams helping as an extra LB and getting after the QB.
X-Factor – S Jamal Adams – Adams received the extension that he wanted, but now he needs to bring the production that he had from the Jets over to the Seahawks which mostly centers around staying healthy.
The Cardinals seem poised for a big season with QB Kyler Murray healthy again and some key additions on both sides of the ball. While WR Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t officially retired, the signing of veteran A.J. Green should give the team a reliable target especially as a #2 receiver and he still wants to prove he can play at a high level. The offensive line added Center Rodney Hudson from the Raiders who was once the best in the game for a period and added young depth to a unit in need of competition. While they will miss the power running of RB Kenyan Drake, the addition of a motivated James Conner from the Steelers to backup dual threat Chase Edmonds was a good move.
X-Factor – WR A.J. Green – Green was one of the top WRs in the league for a long stretch, but age and injury concerns has people wondering what he has left in the tank. Green should have more than enough chances opposite top WR DeAndre Hopkins who should draw most of the attention.
The Cardinals defense got a big boost on a D-line in need with the signing of DE J.J. Watt who has been a longtime star and is poised to be Hall of Famer when he hangs it up. Watt is expected to be provide a pass rush opposite star OLB/edge rusher Chandler Jones. The LB core should be the key to this team with Jones, 2nd year LB Isaiah Simmons who was supposed to be a stud after playing hybrid LB/S in college so he should be a lot better this year, rookie LB Zaven Collins, and pass rusher Markus Golden. The secondary is a concern after the team release long time CB Patrick Peterson, replacing him with veteran Malcolm Butler who retired, but the team is leaving the door open for him. Robert Alford has proven to be a good #2 CB when healthy and Byron Murphy Jr. may have to play a bigger role, but he has the talent and physical play despite his size. Top Safety Budda Baker is only expected to keep getting better while bringing a non-stop motor.
X-Factor – DE J.J. Watt – If Watt can be half the player he has been at his peak, then that will be more production than the Cards D-line has had in years, but his leadership should be the key to what he brings. If he can stay healthy, that will give the Cards the best chance to stay in the playoff hunt.
The 49ers are a solid team on both sides of the ball and hopefully they can avoid the injury bug that hurt them last season at a historic level. While I like rookie QB Trey Lance who was my #4 best prospect and #2 QB, I believe that he should learn the playbook behind Jimmy Garoppolo, as he would rely more on his legs than arm off instinct. The running game is solid with a healthy Raheem Mostert and J.J. Hardy who had success when forced into action last year. The WR position is extremely thin behind Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel and that will be a concern if the position is hit with injuries again, so expect the team to rely heavily on TE George Kittle. The offensive line is a physical unit with the return of LT Trent Williams who proved to be valuable last season and the addition of Center Alex Mack.
X-Factor – QB Trey Lance – The 49ers will likely work Trey into the offense with a few plays a game which is best for him to learn the playbook, but he is clearly the future for the franchise at the position.
The 49ers defense continues to be led by a strong front led by Arik Armstead, Jevon Kinlaw, and Nick Bosa who can all stop both the run and the pass, but the team has loss some depth along the way. MLB Fred Warner is locked into a big contract and seems ready to lead the unit and the hope is that pass rusher Dee Ford can regain his form to put this unit at the top. The secondary has gotten younger at CB while keeping the safeties the same.
X-Factor – DE/OLB Dee Ford – Ford was one of the top pass rushers in the game at a point and while he is healthy, he is currently on a pitch count as he gets back into form. The hope is that he can give them someone to send when Bosa is getting doubled.
The Rams offense traded off young QB Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford in hopes of getting deeper in the playoffs, but I don’t see the move paying off in a tough division. The WR core remains strong with Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and 2nd year WR Van Jefferson, while adding veteran Desean Jackson as a deep threat. The injury to 2nd year back RB Cam Akers was a big setback to the team while they also let go of Malcolm Brown, keeping Darrell Henderson and adding Sony Michel to the mix from the Patriots via trade. The offensive line is my biggest concern as LT Andrew Whitworth is still the best lineman at the age of 40 which I believe is the real setback, not the QB play.
X-Factor – RB Sony Michel – Michel is a highly skilled dual threat back with good speed, but he hasn’t proven he can stay healthy even while sharing carries in the Patriots system. The Rams system relies heavily on the RB, and he will be expected to be the guy.
The Rams defense was solid last season, but has had some departures with the key one being DC Brandon Staley who is now the HC for the Chargers. The D-line continues to be led by the best defender in football in Aaron Donald and the addition of DT A’Shawn Robinson should help offset the loss of Michael Brockers, although Robinson is more of a run stuffer. The LBs Leonard Floyd and Kenny Young lead the LB unit as both have salvaged their career on the Rams and should continue to play hard and improve as leaders on the team. The secondary suffered two losses to the Browns via a safety and nickel CB, but they are still led by top CB Jalen Ramsey and physical safety Taylor Rapp.
X-Factor – CB Darious Williams – Williams is coming off a solid season last year receiving high praise for his physical play opposite Ramsey. With the losses in the secondary, Williams will have to step up again as teams will clearly choose his side over the latter and the secondary is young/thin behind them.