NFC West Picks & Odds: Niners in a thrilling race

The NFC West is pro football’s hottest division, with three terrific teams battling to be favorite to top the standings at the end of the 2021 season, so coming up with preseason picks is no easy ask.

This is as good as it gets in terms of NFL betting – the antithesis of that terrible NFC East.

The Rams, 49ers and Seahawks all have genuine hope of making deep playoff runs, and all have terrific storylines behind them. Even Arizona is not without a prayer in a division which will see brutal action from this weekend on.

There are a ton of intriguing questions to be answered in the next four months:

  • Will Matthew Stafford be the man to get the Rams over the top?
  • Will Trey Lance be the future at QB immediately in San Francisco?
  • Can the Seahawks put all that Russell Wilson drama behind them?
  • Can Kliff Kingsbury finally get the Arizona offense into top gear?

All should be answered by the time January rolls around. But we don’t get the benefit of hindsight here, so we have to make our picks now. Let’s take a deeper dive…

Odds to win NFC West

The odds could not be tighter going into the regular season – here’s the latest:

  • +200 Los Angeles Rams (widely available)
  • +200 San Francisco 49ers (widely available)
  • +280 Seattle Seahawks (Caesars)
  • +650 Arizona Cardinals (DraftKings, Resorts)

NB: Odds correct on Wednesday September 8, 2021

NFC West Analysis & Predictions

Los Angeles Rams: There are no excuses now in the Rams portion of Los Angeles. Super Bowl LVI will be played at their home SoFi Stadium next February, and they expect to be playing, not just watching.

Sean McVay decided early this year that he could no longer win (it all) with one-time #1 overall draft pick Jared Goff. So L.A. spent a fortune not just to acquire Detroit signal caller Matthew Stafford, but to ditch Goff and his contract too.

So while Jared is now leading the hapless Lions into 2021, Stafford is seen as the answer in Los Angeles. A man with a cannon for an arm, but still faces some questions.

Was Stafford for example held back by his supporting cast in Detroit? Or did he lack the intangibles to get more than maximum value from his teammates. That’s what the great ones do (see Tom Brady).

Stafford is expect to take the Rams and transform them from a team ready to make a playoff run to a team ready to win a Super Bowl.

The defensive side of the ball will likely not be quite as good in 2021 – it was terrific last year. DC Brandon Staley is gone to coach the cross-town Chargers, but the Rams still have probably the two best defensive players in football – DT Aaron Donald and CB Jalen Ramsey.

We expect the Rams to be good, and a fun storyline throughout the season. We just think they’ll find a team better.

San Francisco 49ers: If you looked at the 49ers record last year (6-10) without examining the finer details, you’d think they’d under-achieved. Au contraire.

San Francisco suffered a brutal run of injuries – notably to starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo – which meant just winning any game was a significant achievement.

This year the 49ers have not one but two starting-caliber QBs, after the team traded up to #3 in the draft to acquire North Dakota State signal caller Trey Lance.

Lance is clearly the future in the Bay area, despite the big contract and starting moniker Garoppolo maintains. It is only a question of time until the torch is passed.

We kinda like the fact Kyle Shanahan and his GM John Lynch haven’t looked to move Garoppolo yet. Too many teams don’t have an insurance policy at backup QB. It’s one of our pet hates.

Whoever takes the reins for Week 1 under center will have a stellar running game and an excellent corps of receivers to play with.

The defense should be back to its beastly best too with Nick Bosa healthy again, and the house is built for Shanahan’s men to get back to the playoffs. And likely make a deep run for all the marbles.

Seattle Seahawks: When Russell Wilson’s ‘people’ briefed the four teams he’d happily be traded to in the offseason, it surely wasn’t intended to improve the chemistry in the Seattle locker room (they were Dallas, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Chicago if you don’t already know).

Wilson didn’t go anywhere as it transpired, but he was pretty unhappy with the way his offense stalled during the second half of the 2020 season. The playoff defeat to the Rams was a pretty ugly way to end a season.

Wilson still has elite deep threats to utilize in the shape of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, while the Seahawks will expect a big payoff on the huge investment it made in trading for Jets safety Jamal Adams. He produced 9.5 sacks in 2020 – more of the same in ’21 please.

Head coach Pete Carroll clearly has some tough decisions to make before the season gets started. Does he give Wilson a bigger say in what the offense looks like, and a bigger say in the personnel moves the team makes?

This season should be pivotal for a man who is clearly one of the finest QBs in the NFL. He was in MVP form until that second-half slump in 2020. Which Russell will we see this time around?

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals again flattered to deceive in 2020, despite a talented roster headed by electrifying QB Kyler Murray.

Arizona ended the year 8-8 but despite some flashes of genuine promise, the issues appear to lie mainly with the offense.

It’s strange to imagine an attack where Murray is throwing to DeAndre Hopkins might struggle, but that was exactly the story as Arizona slumped after a promising 6-3 start to 2020.

The offseason signings of WR A.J. Green and DE J.J. Watt give the Cards a couple of future Hall of Famers on their roster, but it’s difficult to know how much either one left.

A rough guess sees Watt having significant value left as a situational pass rusher, but Green very much on the downside.

In Murray, Arizona has an elite talent at the game’s most important position. It is Kingsbury’s job to unlock it. If he doesn’t manage the trick in 2021, uncomfortable questions will be asked.

NFC West Picks

A terrific division with genune chances for three teams, and the other not completely out of it.

We are not as sold on Stafford as some NFL hipster types though, and we love the 49ers roster top to bottom.

Throw in the fact they have not cashed in all their chips on just one QB and the depth we want is there too. Take the +200 for Shanahan to lead his team to a first-round bye.

OddsCritic Pick: San Francisco 49ers to win NFC West at +200 (widely available)