Will running back Adrian Peterson be able to have an impact with the Arizona Cardinals?
X-Seattle Seahawks 11-5
Six of the last seven years have seen the Seattle Seahawks make the playoffs, but after they lost the Super Bowl in February 2015, they’ve lacked the ability to be recognized as a strong Super Bowl contender. Since Seattle won the Super Bowl in February 2014, age, injuries, free agency, and the salary cap crunch have caught up to them. Seahawks general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have stuck to their guns which has seen them focus on drafting in the hopes of maintaining depth at each position. And as some players have been harder to replace than others, it has shown up in key regular season losses for Seattle as well as when they were eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs in each of the last two years. But as a new season is set to begin in the National Football League, will the Seahawks be able to put all of that behind them and make another push at winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy?
Russell Wilson was the starting quarterback for the Seahawks when they won the Super Bowl, but the heart and soul on offense for that championship team was running back Marshawn Lynch. Last year saw Lynch retire from the National Football League and in the process the Seahawks running game suffered. In 2016, the Seahawks were 25th in the NFL in rushing with their leading rusher being Christine Michael with only 469 yards.
In the off-season the Seahawks signed former Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy in the hopes of giving their stagnant running game a boost. Lacy had a strong start to his National Football League career in 2013 with the Packers. That season saw Lacy gain 1,178 yards on the ground and in the process he was named as the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. However weight issues have hampered Lacy ever since which led to him falling out of favor in Green Bay. But I do expect Lacy to have an impact with Seattle this year due to the fact that he has incentives in his contract to keep his weight down.
And a solid season be Lacy should benefit Wilson. In five years as the Seahawks starting quarterback, Wilson’s career record is 56-23-1. Wilson’s passing yardage has increased in each season, however when he has a big passing game the Seahawks generally lose. The Seahawks offense is predicated on balance and as good of a winner the Wilson is, he cannot carry the offense by his lonesome.
Surprisingly the Seahawks traded veteran wide receiver Jermaine Kearse this off-season, but Wilson still has his “BFF” in wide receiver Doug Baldwin while after tight end Jimmy Graham dealt with injuries as well as trying to figure things out in Seattle in 2015 was able to bounce back last year for one of the most productive seasons of his career. And although that Graham is set to become 31-years of age in November, he can still get it down for the Seahawks; especially in the red zone.
Last year the Seahawks were fifth in the National Football League in total defense and this unit is at its best when all 11 players are flying around the football. For the longest time Seattle has had a stout defensive line with pass rushers such as Cliff Avril, Frank Clark, and Michael Bennett set to have an impact this season. But the rich got richer when the Seahawks were able to acquire defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson from the New York Jets this summer.
Richardson was able to burst onto the scene with the Jets in 2013 as he was named as the National Football League’s Rookie of the Year, while making the Pro Bowl in 2014. The best way to describe Richardson is that he is a disruptor on the defensive line and when he is on top of his game, he is one of the top defensive tackles in the game. However the downside is that Richardson can take plays off and lose focus. But if there is an organization that can bring out the best in Richardson, it would be the Seahawks.
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner led the National Football League in tackles last year with 167, while outside linebacker K.J. Wright is one of the most underrated players at his position. The Seahawks secondary is still home to some of the top alpha males in the NFL in cornerback Richard Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas, and strong safety Kam Chancellor. Thomas is looking to bounce back after he suffered a broken leg last year and the Seahawks secondary simply wasn’t the same without him. But overall this unit could be ready to once again be dominant this season.
In 2015, Blair Walsh was one of the most accurate kickers in the National Football League as he connected on more than 87% of his kicks as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. But Walsh will only be remembered for missing a 27-yard field goal in the closing seconds of a wild card loss to the Seahawks. Walsh would have a hard time getting over the miss which led to the Vikings releasing him last year. However Walsh has now been presented with the chance to get back on track as a member of the Seahawks, and whereas Carroll has been known to coach his guys up, Walsh could be ready to bounce back in a big way this season.
The beginning and the end of the Seahawks schedule will be the toughest portion as they’ll open on the road against the Packers, while they will finish up with the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals. But when it is all said and done, Seattle should be in line to claim another NFC West Title.
Arizona Cardinals 10-6
At the start of the 2016 National Football League season, the expectations were high for the Arizona Cardinals. The previous season had seen the Cardinals reach the NFC Championship Game for just the second time in franchise history. However the Cardinals would be up and down last season which began in their first game when they lost at home to the eventual Super Bowl Champions in the New England Patriots who didn’t have the services of quarterback Tom Brady. And as the Cards finished with a record of 7-8-1, they have still failed to make the postseason in three consecutive years. But as the Cards finished 2016 by winning their final two games which included knocking off the Seattle Seahawks on the road for the second consecutive year, maybe they can carry that momentum over into the new season.
Since Bruce Arians has been the head coach of the Cardinals, he has relied on Carson Palmer to be his starting quarterback. Palmer is entering his 13th years in the National Football League and as he is set to be 38-years of age in December, it will paramount for Arizona’s offensive line to keep him protected due to the fact that he is not that mobile.
Palmer isn’t the only veteran who is a key component to the Cardinals. The last 13 years have seen wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald morph into one of the best pass catchers that the National Football League has ever seen. And the age of 34, Fitzgerald isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Fitzgerald led the NFL in receptions last season with 107, while he still commands a double team.
But the Cardinals cannot solely rely on Fitzgerald in their passing game which means that wide receiver John Brown needs to have a bounce back season. After Brown gained 1,003 receiving yards in 2015, he struggled at times last year and in the process he fell out of favor with Arians as he was only able to tally 517 yards.
Very rapidly running back David Johnson has emerged as one of the better all-purpose backs in the National Football League and his 1,239 rushing yards were seventh in the league last season. But what set Johnson apart was his ability at the goal line as he had 16 touchdowns on the ground. And if the Cardinals are able to get some consistency from their wide receivers who are not named Fitzgerald, Johnson could be even more dangerous with defenses being unable to solely focus on him.
For Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher, it is all about “organized chaos” with his unit. The Cards defense is all about putting as much pressure as possible on opposing offenses and it also good that the players in Arizona can rely on some former National Football League players as assistant coaches. Kevin Ross played in the NFL for 14 years and now he serves as the Cardinals defensive backs coach. Larry Foote spent 13 years in the NFL which included winning a pair of Super Bowl Championships as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and now he serves as Arizona’s inside linebackers coach. Brenston Buckner spent 12 years in the NFL as a defensive tackle and now he is coaching the defensive line for Arizona.
But even with all of that experience on the sidelines, it is the Cardinals players who have to go out on the field and make it happen, however they have the people to do so. Defensive ends Robert Nkemdiche and Frostee Rucker can provide pressure up front, while the Cardinals could have one of the best linebacking cores in the National Football League. Outside linebackers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden have become one of the bookend pass rushing tandems in the NFL which should compliment rookie inside linebacker Haason Reddick and Karlos Dansby who is set to begin his third stint with the club.
The Cardinals secondary is home to a wealth of play makers as well. Cornerback Patrick Peterson is one of the best in the business in regards to one-on-one coverage, while free safety Tyrann Mathieu has rapidly developed into arguably the top all-around safety in the National Football League due to his ability to play both the run and the pass. The Cards have depth in their secondary which includes strong safety Tyvon Branch and cornerback Tramon Williams. And this depth has allowed the Cardinals to play Deone Bucannon at linebacker as opposed to his natural position of safety.
Special teams were an issue last year for Arizona as well, but the acquisition of kicker Phil Dawson should remedy that being that he is one of the most accurate kickers in National Football League history. And it will also help the veteran kicker in Dawson that all of Arizona’s home games will be played indoors.
Only one of Arizona’s first nine games will be played against a team that made the playoffs last season. And a fast start for Arians and his team could be just what they need to make it back to the postseason.
Los Angeles Rams 6-10
The 2016 National Football League season saw the Rams return to the City of Los Angeles for the first time since 1994. And although that the Rams were initially welcomed with excitement for their return to Southern California, it waned rather quickly. The Rams went 4-12 last year for their tenth consecutive losing season. In the process the Rams went through two different head coaches as Jeff Fisher was fired after the team’s 4-9 start. The Rams finished with the fifth worst record in the National Football League, but they didn’t have a first-round pick to show for their inefficiency due to a trade in 2016 with the Tennessee Titans. 31-year old Sean McVay has been hired to be the Rams new head coach. And as critics will attempt to use McVay’s age against him, will he be the guy to get things turned around in Los Angeles?
McVay was given the Rams job on the premise that he would be able to develop quarterback Jared Goff into a quality National Football League quarterback. The Rams used the first overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft on Goff and in the process they mortgaged the future by giving up multiple first-round picks in order to obtain him.
Last year Goff began his National Football League career by watching from the sidelines. Goff would go on to start seven games for the Rams, but he was never able to lead them to a victory. As expected Goff struggled as he only completed 54.6% of his passes, while throwing 5 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. Overall the Rams offense was last in the NFL in total offense, but the entire blame cannot be placed on Goff.
After being the National Football League’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015, running back Todd Gurley regressed last season. Gurley only gained 885 yards on the ground last season as he wilted in the Hollywood spotlight. But if the Rams want to have any success on offense this year, Gurley will need to run like he did when the team still called St. Louis home.
The Rams passing game should receive a boost this year as the team acquired wide receiver Sammy Watkins from the Buffalo Bills. After the Bills moved up in the first round of the 2014 National Football League Draft to select Watkins, he was never able to live up to the hype as he has constantly been injured. And it hasn’t helped Watkins that wide receivers who were selected after him such as New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. are consistently Pro Bowlers. But now Watkins has the opportunity to wipe the slate clean with the Rams as he needs to get on the same page with the young Goff.
Defensively the Rams were ninth in the National Football League in total defense last year, but at times they were a very undisciplined bunch. The Rams were the fifth most penalized team in the NFL last year with the defense accounting for their fair share. The Rams have talented players on the defensive side of the ball, but they’ve simply been unable to make it all come together consistently.
It has not taken defensive tackle Aaron Donald that long to become one of the best players at his position in the National Football League. In just three years Donald has tallied 28 sacks which is an incredible number for a player who spends the majority of his time on the interior of the defensive line. This off-season has seen Donald attempt to be compensated like one of the top players in the league, but to no avail. And as Donald and the Rams have been unable to come to an agreement on a long-term deal, he sat out for the entire off-season which has cast some doubt over his availability for the regular season.
The Rams defense will look different without Donald on defense, but they still have a strong group of linebackers which includes outside linebacker Robert Quinn, along with inside linebackers Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron. Quinn has spent his entire National Football League career as a defensive end, but with Wade Phillips taking over as the Rams defensive coordinator, Quinn’s role has changed. Phillips is a proponent of the 3-4 defense as opposed to the 4-3 as it is all about supplying as much pressure as possible on opposing offenses. However Phillips knows how to get results with his defenses which included his most recent stint as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos which led to a Super Bowl Championship to culminate the 2015 National Football League season.
The Rams are going to need some luck in order to be a playoff team in 2017, and they’ll have to take advantage of the early portion of their schedule which will see them host the Indianapolis Colts who won’t have the services of quarterback Andrew Luck, and the Dallas Cowboys who won’t have running back Ezekiel Elliot.
San Francisco 49ers 1-15
It’s hard to believe, but it was less than five years ago that the San Francisco 49ers were in the Super Bowl and they were one play away from winning it all. Since then the championship caliber team that had been built by former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has been rapidly destroyed with only three players who were on San Francisco’s roster during their Super Bowl run currently still there. And after San Francisco has only been able to win a combined seven games over the last two years, Niners owner Jed York has decided to push the reset button and start over as he has welcomed in a new general manager and head coach to his organization.
York hired John Lynch to be San Francisco’s new general manager. Lynch doesn’t have any prior front office experience in the National Football League, but most notably he was a standout free safety for 15 years which included appearing in nine Pro Bowls and winning a Super Bowl Title as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Lynch gave up a cushy job as a color analyst for FOX Sports to join the 49ers, but as he brings the same passion and intensity that he played with to the front office, things could be turned around in San Francisco sooner rather than later.
Lynch’s first order of business was to hire Kyle Shanahan as the 21st head coach in 49ers franchise history. Shanahan learned the ins and outs of the coaching profession from his father Mike who won a pair of Super Bowl Championships as the head coach of the Denver Broncos. The younger Shanahan has been the offensive coordinator for several teams in the National Football League with his most recent stint being with the Atlanta Falcons.
However Shanahan’s stint with the 49ers will begin under a cloud of controversy as his last game with the Falcons was Super Bowl 51 where his offense could not maintain a 28-3 lead versus the New England Patriots. And now Shanahan must redeem himself as he looks to make San Francisco a contender.
It’s tough to get overly excited for the Niners this season once you look at their quarterbacking situation. The two quarterbacks who are currently on the 49ers roster are veteran Brian Hoyer and rookie C.J. Beathard. In eight years in the National Football League, Hoyer has a career record of 16-15 with a completion percentage of 59.5%, while Beathard has never attempted a pass in the league.
Overall San Francisco is lacking play makers on the offensive side of the football. Each of the last two years have seen the Niners fail to produce a 1,000-yard running back, while the only bright spot for the offense is left tackle Joe Staley who is a five-time Pro Bowler.
With Lynch leading the way, he is going to attempt to rebuild the defense; more than likely in the variation of the Cover 2 defense that he is most familiar with which is the “Tampa 2”. The strength of the Cover 2 is right up the middle of the defense which is currently a huge weakness for the Niners. And as San Francisco was dead last in the National Football League last year in total defense which included surrendering at least 35 points in a contest five times, there still isn’t that much to get that excited about in regards to this group.
The only two victories that the 49ers were able to attain last year were over the Los Angeles Rams. And as this year appears to be a throw away for the Niners, victories will once again be few and far between.
First-Round Pick: (N/A)
Best Pick: Round Two-Malik McDowell-Defensive Tackle-Michigan State
In six of the seven years that general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have been running the show for the Seattle Seahawks, they’ve made the playoffs which can traced back to their strategy at the National Football League Draft. The Seahawks have focused on having depth which has also spawned competition at multiple positions on the team which has kept Seattle on top of their game.
At this year’s draft the Seahawks traded out of the first round after making deals with both the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers. The Seahawks would not make a selection until the third pick of the second round as they tabbed Michigan State Spartans defensive tackle Malik McDowell.
Although that nothing stood out about McDowell’s game during his time in college, he had the potential of being a first-round pick. But when McDowell fell to the second round, it gave him an opportunity to go to one of the best possible situations for him in the National Football League. McDowell joins a solid defensive line and he doesn’t have to be the guy as he can simply fall in line as he plays alongside the likes of defensive end Michael Bennett.
Throughout the draft the Seahawks continued to add depth and athleticism which included them selecting North Carolina Tar Heels defensive tackle Nazair Jones in the third round and Cincinnati Bearcats safety Mike Tyson in the sixth round.
Carroll has been one of the best as far as developing his players and within the next two years we should see players from this draft class have a positive impact for the Seahawks.
First-Round Pick: Haason Reddick-Outside Linebacker-Temple
Best Pick: Round Two-Budda Baker-Safety-Washington
2016 saw the Arizona Cardinals take a huge step back in the standings and head coach Bruce Arians doesn’t intend on making their 7-8-1 campaign from last season become a habit which meant him seeking to improve his team at the 2017 National Football League Draft.
In the first round the Cardinals selected Temple Owls outside linebacker Haason Reddick. Last year Reddick led Temple in sacks with 10.5 and now he joins a team in Arizona that tallied 48 sacks last season as Arians knows that the way for his team to get back to the postseason is by putting a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The second round saw the Cards get a steal when they added to their already deep secondary when they selected Washington Huskies safety Budda Baker. Baker was an All-American last year at Washington which included him leading the team in tackles with 71. Baker has tremendous range and he isn’t afraid to mixing it up in the run game, while he could form one of the best safety combos in the National Football League with Tyrann Mathieu.
But for as good as Reddick and Baker can potentially be for Arizona’s defense, the team didn’t properly address their issues in the passing game. Last the Cardinals second leading receiver was running back David Johnson with 879 yards. And with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald set to turn 34 in August, it’s time for the Cardinals to find his heir apparent. Arizona did select Grambling State Tigers wide receiver Chad Williams in the third, but I don’t see him coming to have an immediate impact for the Cards.
However even with the Cardinals failing to properly address their issues on offense, they should be a tough team to score against during the upcoming season.
Los Angeles Rams
First-Round Pick: (N/A)
Best Pick: Round Four-Josh Reynolds-Wide Receiver-Texas A&M
Without a first-round pick in the 2017 National Football League Draft, the Los Angeles Rams had to wait until the second round before they could get active. But even when the Rams began the process of filling out draft cards, it didn’t matter as their draft class for 2017 overall has the makings of being below average. The Rams need more play makers on offense which saw them use three of their first four picks on that side of the football, but will they be able to contribute?
The second round saw the Rams select South Alabama Jaguars tight end Gerald Everett. Last year at South Alabama, Everett had 49 receptions for 727 yards and 4 touchdowns and the Rams will now need him to quickly develop into a security blanket for quarterback Jared Goff.
The fourth round saw the Rams selected Texas A&M Aggies wide receiver Josh Reynolds. Reynolds had 61 receptions last year at Texas A&M, while he led the team in receiving yards (1,039), and receiving touchdowns (12). At 6’3″, Reynolds does give Los Angeles size at the wide receiver position. And like Everett, it will be interesting to see how quickly that he’ll be able to get on the same page with Goff.
It the Rams are patient and take their time to properly develop both Everett and Reynolds, they could each turn into solid players within the next two years.
San Francisco 49ers
First-Round Pick: Solomon Thomas-Defensive End-Stanford, Reuben Foster-Inside Linebacker-Alabama
Best Pick: Solomon Thomas
The San Francisco 49ers may have only been victorious in two contests last season, but that didn’t prevent them from being big winners at the 2017 National Football League Draft. John Lynch is only in his first year as the general manager of the 49ers, but he approached the draft in the fashion of someone who has been around the block before.
The Niners entered the draft with the second overall pick, but with the Chicago Bears eager to swap places with San Francisco in order to draft North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky, Lynch used their desperation to his benefit. The Niners were able to secure extra picks this year as well as for 2018, while they were still able to get the players that they wanted.
With the third overall selection, the 49ers selected Stanford Cardinal defensive end Solomon Thomas. Thomas was one the best pass rushers available in the draft and he is going to be the first piece of the rebuilding process on defense in San Francisco.
Lynch would then trade back into the first round as he struck a deal with the Atlanta Falcons for the 31st overall pick. The Niners would select Alabama Crimson Tide middle linebacker Reuben Foster. The Niners already have NaVorro Bowman at middle linebacker, but as they are attempting to build a strong defense in the mode that they had earlier in this decade, Foster could play the role that former middle linebacker Patrick Willis played for them.
The 49ers continued to upgrade their defense as they drafted Colorado Buffaloes cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon in the third round, while their first offensive pick of the draft was on Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback C.J Beathard in the fourth round.
Beathard more than likely won’t become a franchise quarterback, but it is a credit to Lynch for not reaching for a signal caller as he understands that the 49ers had other pressing needs.
The 49ers still have some work ahead of them in order to become a contender, but players such as Thomas and Foster could be building blocks for them.
The Arizona Cardinals relocated to the Southwest from St. Louis, Missouri in 1988 and the majority of their first two decades in the desert were mired by them missing on most of their first-round draft picks which saw them only make the postseason once over that stretch. But one draft pick who the Cardinals hit on is wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald was the third overall pick of the 2004 National Football League Draft by the Cardinals, and he was the first of seven wide receivers taken that year in the first round. The Cardinals would go 6-10 in 2004, but Fitzgerald began to show his promise as a rookie when he recorded 58 receptions for 780 yards, and 8 receiving touchdowns. But this was only a harbinger of things to come for Fitzgerald and the Cards.
In 2005, the Cardinals picked up quarterback Kurt Warner who was the MVP of Super Bowl 34 as a member of the St. Louis Rams. Warner and Fitzgerald developed instant chemistry as he would lead the National Football League in receptions (103), while he also tallied 1,409 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Fitzgerald’s stellar season would not go unnoticed as he was named to the Pro Bowl.
Fitzgerald would continue to put up Pro Bowl caliber numbers and during the 2008 National Football League season, he helped the Cardinals reach the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. During the Cards Super Bowl run, Fitzgerald was a one-man wrecking crew as in four games he had 30 receptions for 546 yards and 7 touchdowns which were all single-season postseason records.
In Super Bowl 43, Fitzgerald helped the Cardinals overcome a 10-point deficit as they would take their first lead of the game with 2:37 left in the game as he burned the Steelers defense for a 64-yard touchdown. However the Cardinals defense could not hold the lead as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would rally his team and lead them to the game-winning touchdown with just 35 seconds remaining as Pittsburgh would win 27-23. If Arizona would have been able to hang on, Fitzgerald would have more than likely been the Super Bowl MVP as he had 7 receptions for 127 yards, and a pair of touchdowns.
After the Cards trip to the Super Bowl, Fitzgerald has also gone on to put up fantastic numbers which has seen him tally at least 90 receptions in a season six times. Last season at the age of 32, Fitzgerald had 109 receptions, while he is currently leading the NFL in receptions this season with 88. This season has seen Fitzgerald surpass Hall of Fame wide receivers Tim Brown, Cris Carter, and Marvin Harrison on the National Football League’s all-time list for receptions as he is currently third with 1,106 which is behind only Tony Gonzalez and Jerry Rice. 2016 has also seen Fitzgerald surpass the likes of Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton on the NFL’s all-time list for receiving yards. Fitzgerald currently has 14,246 receiving yards which is good for 10th place on the NFL’s all-time list receiving yards, while this year saw him become just the tenth player in league history to record 100 career touchdown grabs.
What has kept Fitzgerald around this long is his work ethic and mental toughness. As a kid Fitzgerald was a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings during training camp and in the process he was able to learn from two of the best to ever have done at his position in Carter and Randy Moss. Fitzgerald made a name for himself collegiately with the Pittsburgh Panthers where in two years he gained 2,677 receiving yards to go along with 34 receiving touchdowns. In 2003, Fitzgerald would win the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver, while he would also be named as the Big East Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.
And what has truly been so amazing about what Fitzgerald has been able to do is that he has had to deal with inconsistency at the quarterback position for the majority of his National Football League career.
Whereas Fitzgerald is one of the better wide receivers in the National Football League, he has caught passes from 13 different starting quarterbacks which sums up the inconsistency of the Cardinals. But in true Fitzgerald fashion he never complains and he simply goes about his business.
What sets Fitzgerald apart from most wide receivers in the National Football League are his hands as he has the ability to catch a house fly in the dark. Fitzgerald works relentless at perfecting his craft which includes his pass catching, route running, stamina, and mental preparation for the game. And that relentlessness is what has sent wide receivers such as Rice, Carter, Lofton, and Raymond Berry to Canton, Ohio and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as Fitzgerald will join them there someday.
At 33-years of age, Fitzgerald knows that his playing career is close to being done; not because he still cannot get it done at a high level, but merely due to the fact that it becomes more difficult to maintain at an elite level on you turn 30. Fitzgerald has recently hinted that he won’t be around to catch Gonzalez or Rice on the National Football League’s all-time list for receptions, but this doesn’t mean that his greatness shouldn’t be recognized. Fitzgerald has done this in an era which has been defined by diva wide receiver, but he has always let his play each Sunday do the talking. And that alone has set him apart from the rest of the pack.