Get geared up for the new NFL season with BetBright!
As the new season gets underway tonight, we’ve got a real treat in store for NFL fans as we bring you full season previews of each conference and deliver the BetBright Verdict on each team.
In the first of our 2014/15 NFL American Football season previews, we take a look at the National Football Conference West.
The NFC West, or NFC’s “Best” features three 10-win teams from last year with the World champion Seattle Seahawks, and arguably the second best team in the NFL last year – San Francisco.
Now Seattle looks ready to repeat and the 49ers, Rams and Cardinals are battling injuries and key suspensions. Will the division regress after such an impressive 2013?
Let’s take a team-by-team approach to analysing the season ahead for all you NFL fans.
The Seahawks sent a collective shiver throughout the league in 2013, dismantling the Denver Broncos en route to winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
With so much young talent with that much experience, especially on defense, the Seahawks are easily the best team in the NFL right now. They may win a handful of titles before it’s through.
Seattle could be even better in 2014. Quarterback Russell Wilson always makes good decisions and coach Pete Carroll could loosen the reins on him a bit due to a perceived slight decline in running back Marshawn Lynch’s skills.
If Wilson has a healthy Percy Harvin to throw to, as was the plan when 2013 began, then it will be another look that defenses have to prepare for.
Rounding out the Seattle offense are talented runners Robert Turbin and Christine Michael, more than ready if Lynch misses time, as well as speedy pass catchers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse.
If Harvin can play consistently, they won’t miss the departed Golden Tate and Sidney Rice one bit.
Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense is what keeps most offensive coordinators up at night. They play a 3-deep press zone, put cornerback Richard Sherman on the team’s favorite receiver and dare you to play balanced, well-executed offense.
They have a dizzying array of speed/size blitzers and safety Earl Thomas is adept in both pass and run.
Overall, this team could win 12 games this year without breaking a sweat.
It’s hard to see how a Super Bowl hangover could affect this young and brash group, led by collegiate-type personality Pete Carroll.
The BetBright Verdict
13-3 (1st in the NFC West) – We have them priced as the overall favourites in the betting for the NFC conference at 29/10.
Seahawks’ opening game: Green Bay Packers vs Seattle Seahawks at 1:30am on Friday September 5th at CenturyLink Field.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers were just a few plays away from disposing of their hated divisional rival Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.
Now with a banged up defense and new players on offense, the 49ers look to continue their assault on the Seattle throne in 2014.
On offense, It is believed that coach Jim Harbaugh will look to quarterback Colin Kaepernick to throw more this year, as running back Frank Gore presumably has fewer tread on his tires.
But not too much; the 49ers drafted workhorse back Carlos Hyde and added former Bills receiver Stevie Johnson to a talented bunch that include tight end Vernon Davis and wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin.
This is a team projected to rely more on their offense than in years past. The offensive line, anchored by Joe Staley, may not open up as gaping a hole as in previous seasons, either.
On defense, the biggest news in Niner land is who won’t be available in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys. The defense lost linebacker NaVarro Bowman in the third quarter of the playoff against the Seahawks and is out for half the year, at least.
Glenn Dorsey hurt himself in camp. It’s a huge blow, but the 49ers still have Patrick Willis and Justin Smith to hold the fort. They’ll also be counting on Ahmad Brooks to do his best Aldon Smith impersonation, since the latter was suspended nine games.
Much to the angst of 49ers fans, they’ll trot out a new look secondary that didn’t look so hot in the preseason. Gone are Donte Whitner, cornerbacks Tarell Brown, and Carlos Rodgers.
Enter Chris Cook and Antoine Bethea. Free safety Eric Reid looks like a keeper but make no mistake there are question marks in the defensive backfield for a team that will have come up with new ways to get after quarterbacks.
Overall, the 49ers will transition over to a more offensive-minded outfit that is still capable of shutting down less high-powered offenses. The window could be closing as veterans age, however.
The BetBright Verdict
10-6 (2nd in NFC West) – We have them priced as second favourites in the betting for the NFC conference at 17/4.
49ers’ opening game: Dallas Cowboys vs San Francisco 49ers at 9:25pm on Sunday September 7th at AT&T Stadium.
The Cardinals surprised everyone last year with a 10-6 record in the minefield that is the NFC West.
Coach Bruce Arians coaxed a 4,000+ yard season out of aging quarterback Carson Palmer, receiver Michael Floyd developed into a 1,000 yard receiver and the defense played lights out.
In 2014, the Cardinals may be protesting to commissioner Roger Goodell before the season even starts. They led the entire NFL in run defense and that defense is now decimated due to injuries to stalwart linebackers Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby who either left in free agency or suspended.
If that wasn’t enough, veteran defensive lineman Darnell Dockett is out for the season with injury. Arizona may need to rely on offense to win games, which is a dicey proposition in the NFC West.
On offense, the Cardinals were better than expected passing the ball, having finally found some consistency on the offensive line.
Now that speedy back Andre Ellington is ready to be the main guy carrying the mail, they’ll need better offensive line play from high draft picks Jonathan Copper and Bobby Massie.
Arians loves to take shots deep and he’ll need time for Palmer to find their exciting receiver trio of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and rookie John Brown, who was all the rave in training camp. Acquiring left tackle Jared Veldheer was a major coup.
On defense, the Cardinals added former Jet cornerback Antonio Cromartie to All-Pro Patrick Peterson and free safety Tyrann Mathieu.
On paper this team should be able to slow down most teams aerial attacks, a la the Seattle Seahawks. What Arizona is going to see is teams line up “big” and try to run power football and take shots deep off of the run.
When Dockett played last season teams average 3.4 yards per carry; when he was out they averaged 4.5. Not good in a division with Marshawn Lynch, Zac Stacy and Frank Gore.
Overall, the Cardinals will still be in the wild-card chase as their receiving core presents specifics challenges right in their own division (they did beat Seattle in Seattle last year).
They probably will fall short of a 10-win season, however. If Palmer is hurt, all bets are off!
The BetBright Verdict
9-7 (3rd in the NFC West) – We have them priced as ninth favourites in the betting for the NFC conference at 18/1.
Cardinals’ opening game: Arizona Cardinals vs San Diego Chargers at 3:20am on Tuesday September 9th at University of Phoenix Stadium.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams went 7-9 last year while featuring one of the most terrifying defensive lines in the game.
This year held high hopes… and then quarterback Sam Bradford, their supposed savior, injured his ACL and will miss the season (again).
The Rams may not be in as much crisis as one would think, given that their backup quarterback Shaun Hill has successfully moved an offense before.
The Rams were betting on Bradford to help them take the next step up in the NFC West but now they must place their bets on Hill, who last threw a meaningful pass for the Lions in 2010.
Provided he can play better than last year’s backup Kellen Clemens (who went 4-5), the Rams can still play the type of defensive low-scoring affairs that have been coach Jeff Fisher’s trademark throughout his career.
On offense, the Rams tied their wagon to low draft pick Zac Stacy and got out of the way. They’ll do that again this year, and have some talent on the bench at running back should he falter. They drafted Auburn mauler Greg Robinson to eventually take over the right tackle spot.
This offensive line is much, much better than two years ago, signified by Robinson starting the season on the bench.
The Rams’ biggest need is one sizeable, dynamic pass catcher (be it Kenny Britt, Jared Cook, or Brian Quick) to seize the number one receiver job. They’ve got a smorgasbord of smaller, quick receivers and just need to show opposing defenses different looks.
On defense, the Rams could be quite average in the secondary. It may not matter as defensive ends Robert Quinn (15 sacks) and Chris Long are joined by Aaron Donald, the ultra-quick defensive tackle that many evaluators compare to Warren Sapp.
If rookie corner Lamarcus Joyner can short up the back-end with improved play from young corner Janoris Jenkins this front seven could be just as problematic as Carolina’s. Alec Ogletree is a speedy sideline-to-sideline linebacker.
Overall, losing Bradford cost this team one or two wins, and they’ll probably finish below .500, as their offense won’t be able to match less offensively-challenged teams. They’ll surprise the heck out of their divisional rivals, as always.
The BetBright Verdict
6-10 (4th in NFC West) – We have them priced as fifteenth favourites in the betting for the NFC conference at 30/1.
Rams’ opening game: Minnesota Vikings v St. Louis Rams at 6pm on Sunday September 7th at the Edward Jones Dome.
Next up in our NFL season preview series, we’ll take a look at the NFC North, in which the Seahawks’ first opponents, the Green Bay Packers lead the pack.