Previewing the NFC West from a Betting Perspective
The NFC West was incredibly lopsided in 2018, with the LA Rams (13-3) and Seattle (10-6) making postseason appearances, while San Francisco (4-12) and Arizona (3-13) never had a chance. The division figures to be more balanced in 2019, but the pecking order remains the same. Let’s take a look at the NFC West division odds and regular season win totals:
NFC West Division Odds; Regular Season Wins
LA Rams -175; 10.5 wins (Over +120/Under -140)
Seattle +350; 8.5 wins (Over -130/Under +110)
San Francisco +350; 8 wins (Over -140/Under +120)
Arizona +4000; 5 wins (Over -140/Under +120)
Los Angeles Rams
Sean McVay admits that he was outcoached by Bill Belichick and the Patriots in the Super Bowl last year. While scoring just three points on the biggest stage in sports surely left a sour taste in the mouth of the team and its fans, it’s the journey that got them there that should be remembered. Two years ago, this franchise was completely lost. They relocated from Saint Louis and the future was uncertain. In two years’ time, McVay has cemented the Rams as a Super Bowl contender for what looks like many years ahead.
The front office was careful not to tear the team apart too much, instead making small tweaks here and there where needed. The Rams biggest question mark heading into the season is the health of Todd Gurley and Cooper Kupp. Gurley’s workload was severely cut back in the postseason and it later came out that he was experiencing knee issues. There’s a good chance that he will never be the cowbell back he was in the past, and that’s why the Rams selected Darrell Henderson from Memphis in the third round of the draft. Henderson averaged over 9.5 yards per carry in his junior season and can catch the ball out of the backfield as well. He could be a terrific change of pace to the punishing style Gurley brings. The Rams offense really took a step back last season when Kupp was lost to an ACL injury. The team is bringing him along slowly in camp and he doesn’t appear to be 100% just yet, which is concerning for now.
The offensive line has been extremely fortunate not to lose a single start to injury over the last two seasons. That kind of luck can’t continue and the Rams did lose their starting right guard and their starting center up front in the offseason. McVay has said that he wants to utilize more varied personnel groupings this season, including more two tight-end sets (a new trend that seems to be taking hold in the NFL). We haven’t mentioned quarterback Jared Goff’s name yet, and it’s not because he didn’t put up great numbers last year – because he did. Goff threw for 4,688 yards and managed a 32-12 TD-INT ratio. I think we may have already seen Goff’s ceiling in this offense, however. Defenses were able to make adjustments later in the season against Goff and he struggled to produce.
Wade Phillips is back as the defensive coordinator in Los Angeles and that’s about the best news you could hear as a Rams fan. His defense got stronger as the season progressed, which makes sense given all of the new faces they had last year. Aaron Donald is one of the best players in the sport and his 20.5 sacks last season won him the Defensive Player of the Year for the second time. Gone is Ndamukong Suh, but he was never able to find his niche in a Rams uniform. Rookie nose tackle Greg Gaines is garnering a lot of praise from the organization so far. The Rams rolled the dice bringing in Clay Matthews and Eric Weddle – two veterans past their prime. Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib are fixtures at the corner spots, but both of them are past their best years as well. This is a smart, veteran defense that isn’t going to make many mistakes. But do they still have enough talent to dominate is the question?
Will the Super Bowl hangover affect the Rams this year? Last year’s Patriots were the first team in 25 years to return to the Super Bowl after losing in it the previous year. McVay has already proven that he belongs on the list of the best head coaches in football. But it’s different being hunted rather than be the hunter.
As the rest of the NFL transforms into a pass-first league, Pete Carroll continues to double down on his old school running attack. The Seahawks led the NFL in rushing as they tried to wear down the opposition. They won 10 games and made the playoffs, silencing many critics. However, I still think their approach is wasting the talents of quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson averaged just 26.7 pass attempts per game despite a QB rating of 100.0 and an average of 7.9 yards per attempt. He can offer a lot more in terms of helping his team, including on the ground.
There is some value to be zigging when everyone is zagging. Seattle has a solid two-headed monster at running back with Chris Carson (1,151 yards) and Rashaad Penny (4.9 YPC). Penny is more of a playmaker and should see the ball more in 2019. The offensive line, which brings back all five starters, was better than advertise and the tight ends do a great job of blocking in the running game as well. The receiving unit is a question mark after losing Doug Baldwin – one of the more underappreciated pass catchers in the league. There are three new receivers in all, including second round pick D.J. Metcalf, who can stretch the field (and win bodybuilding competitions).
Pass rush was the Seahawks’ biggest defensive need entering the offseason and they somehow traded away Frank Clark to a division rival. Ziggy Anseh was brought in to help the pass rush but he’s had a hard time staying on the field for the Lions in the past. First round pick, defensive end L.J. Collier (TCU), will also be counted on heavily in his rookie season.
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is the unquestioned leader of the defense, but he doesn’t have as much help as he’s had in recent years. The secondary is hardly recognizable as they finally lost the last member of the secondary in the Legion of Boom era with Earl Thomas departing to Baltimore. There’s a lot of youth in the secondary now and mistakes are inevitable. They do have an emerging pair of cornerbacks in Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers, but their safeties are unproven. This Seattle defense has the potential to be solid, but I can also see it going the other way.
Seattle benefited from a +15 turnover margin last season – best in the NFL. They can’t count on that again and Carroll’s conservativeness might finally catch up to him. The Hawks beat up on bad teams last year (7-2 record) and struggled against quality competition (3-4), despite being the fifth most healthy team in the NFL. Regression may be coming in Seattle, but it will likely be a slow bleed.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are being tabbed as a breakout team for 2019 by many pundits. Their season win total is currently at eight wins juiced to the Over, despite winning just four contests last season. The biggest reason for optimism is the return of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from his ACL injury. However, replacement Nick Mullens put up fantastic numbers in Kyle Shanahan’s offense despite very few weapons around him last year. In my opinion, getting Garoppolo is not going to be the biggest source of improvement in 2019 (he’s still only had 10 NFL starts in his career). But the rest of the offense should be better for several reasons. First off, the Niners bring back the entire offensive line and they are well-suited to run Shanahan’s zone-blocking system. Running back Jerick McKinnon should be back from an ACL injury after missing 2018, and the team signed the dangerous Tevin Coleman in the backfield as well. Matt Breida also returns after averaging 5.3 yards per attempt last year.
Tight end George Kittle was a revelation last year, hauling in 88 passes for 1,377 yards. The question marks are at wide receiver, where they lack a true #1. San Francisco is counting on Dante Pettis to make a big stride and for second round pick from this year’s draft, Deebo Samuel, to win a starting spot. Jordan Matthews is also in the mix for snaps. I expect better overall production from the 49ers’ offense this season with more options at their disposal.
The defense had several major problems last year, the biggest of which was the lack of forced turnovers. San Francisco caused only seven turnovers by opponents last year, including just two interceptions for the entire season (a record for futility on both fronts). San Francisco made big moves in the offseason, first bringing in Dee Ford from the Chiefs (13 sacks and seven forced fumbles) and then drafting Nick Bosa with the #2 overall pick from Ohio State. They also added linebacker Kwon Alexander from Tampa Bay, although he’s returning from injury. This is a front seven that should wreak some havoc on opposing quarterbacks and we haven’t even mentioned their best defender yet – defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.
The defensive backfield is led by veteran Richard Sherman but he won’t have a ton of help. The secondary is the one area that the Niners didn’t properly address and it could be their undoing in 2019. That puts all of the pressure on the pass rushers up front to deliver.
San Francisco had a -25 turnover margin last season and that is certainly going to improve. They also benefit from an easier schedule in the first half of the season. They hype is high for the 49ers, so I’m not sure there is value to be found on a team that likely takes a big step forward in 2019.
The Cardinals decided to clean house and roll the dice a bit by hiring offensive guru Kliff Kingsbury this offseason. The former Texas Tech head coach finished his collegiate career at just 35-40 overall, but he did engineer one of the best offenses in the nation perennially. Can he translate that into offensive success in the NFL is the biggest question heading into the season for Arizona?
Kingsbury certainly got the guy he wanted to run the show as the Cards drafted quarterback Kyler Murray from Oklahoma with the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The goal is to play extremely fast to help create mismatches on the field and tire out opponents. The Air Raid attack worked well in college, but NFL referees have a tendency to slow games down more – as Chip Kelly experienced when he took over the Eagles. Running back David Johnson is going to be a huge part of the offense and he’s talented enough to carry them on his back at times. But opposing defenses are likely to force Murray to throw the ball early and often to beat them.
Murray’s targets aren’t great overall. Larry Fitzgerald is a great mentor for the young receivers, but he’s 36 years old and has lost a couple of steps. Speaking of young receivers, the Cardinals selected three of them in the 2019 Draft. Second round pick Andy Isabella has the most potential with gamebreaker speed. Arizona utilized 10 different starting offensive lines last year as injuries ravaged the team. They get three O-linemen back from injury in 2019 and have more depth at the position than they’ve had in years. If they can stay healthy, Kingsbury’s offense should be entertaining to watch this season, but will surely experience plenty of bumps in the road.
Vance Joseph takes over the defense for Arizona after being let go by John Elway in Denver. It was obvious that Joseph wasn’t cut out to be a head man, but being a DC should simplify things for the 46-year old. The first thing Joseph did in Arizona was switch the defense to a 3-4 scheme. Corey Peters is back and will be the nose tackle leading the way in the new scheme. He’s a beast.
The Cardinals brought in linebacker Terrell Suggs from Baltimore as a coming home for him (played college at Arizona State). Suggs is way past his prime, but probably has one more good season in him. The secondary is full of playmakers, including All-Pro Patrick Peterson. Unfortunately, Peterson is suspended for the first six games of the season due to a positive test for a banned substance. That’s a huge loss, but the team does have other playmakers in the secondary. Special Teams was a disaster at times last season and Arizona still hasn’t found an adequate kicker yet.
General manger Steve Keim went all-in when he brought in Kliff Kingsbury to sail the ship for the Cardinals. Keim is on the hot seat so many have called this a desperation move. With 16 of 21 new coaches and the most turnover in the league in terms of roster personnel, it’s likely that Keim won’t be able to see this rebuild through. This is Year Zero for Arizona and I don’t expect any miracles in 2019.
NFC West Best Bet
There are no great futures bets that stick out to me in the NFC West this year. The Rams winning the division at -175 is the safest way to go, and I think there’s a bit of value there. Seattle is likely going the other direction and I don’t think the 49ers can go from four wins to division champs in one season. Arizona will be fun to watch but they aren’t ready to compete just yet.
Eric Waz had a monster season in the NFL last year, bringing home +15.1 units of profit overall for clients while connecting on nearly 60% of his selections. Click HERE to receive every selection Waz makes from the preseason through the Super Bowl.