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By Joe Liptak for Wizard Race & Sports – the official website for horse racing’s #1 public handicapper since 1987, the Wizard

Los Angeles Rams – predicted 1st in the NFC West Prediction and Analysis

The Rams are coming off winning the Super Bowl and are looking better than ever. After the addition of veteran quarterback, Matthew Stafford, they really came together. They had a great defense for years but lacked a true offensive leader to take that final leap. The Rams’ high-powered offense is fun to watch because of Sean McVay’s exciting play-calling and it works because of Stafford’s impressive touch on the football.

Their offensive skill players are also a big reason that they averaged 27.1 points per game last year. Cooper Kupp is the biggest name on that offense, and he works perfectly with the offensive scheme. He is great after the catch because he can make defenders miss and tag on some extra yards to a short pass, or he can beat the cornerback deep and take it to the house. One question mark for the Rams is veteran receiver Odell Beckham Jr., he remains unsigned through free agency, but the Rams hope to see him return.

The Rams also have a solid run-game in their RB1, Cam Akers. He is not the most exciting guy to watch but he matches the scheme very well and does great at his position. The Rams also have a very well-experienced offensive line. Last year they finished the season ranked at number 7, according to PFF. Their strong-suit is pass-blocking which is perfect for the Rams’ offense.

Defensively the Rams do not slack off at all. They have two of the best players at their respective positions. The first and biggest name being 3-time Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald. He is regarded as the best defensive lineman in the league, and for good reason. They also have Jalen Ramsey who is considered a top-2 cornerback in the NFL. Last year the Rams finished the season ranked as the 5th best defense in the league, per Football Outsiders. The Rams did lose a couple core defensive guys in free agency like, Von Miller and Darious Williams, but they should still be able to be a top-10 defense this coming season. I picture this team winning the division by a few games.

San Francisco 49ers

The main reason the 49ers are a tough team to gauge is Trey Lance. Lance is entering his second year in the league without much experience. He came from a relatively small D1 school (NDSU) and has not gotten many in-game reps yet. Lance is an athlete, so he will at least be solid, but the NFC West is a competitive conference, so he must be great to make the playoffs. Lance also has many weapons to work with, like George Kittle top-3 tight end, Deebo Samuel phenomenal run after the catch guy, and 3rd year receiver, Brandon Aiyuk.

The 49ers also have an elite offensive line, they ended the 2021 season ranked as the third best offensive line in the league, per PFF. Running behind this offensive line will be second-year running back Elijah Mitchell. Mitchell had a great year last year, nearly reaching 1,000 yards as a rookie.

Defensively the 49ers are a great team, they have a top-10 defense, when healthy and room to be better. They are led by star middle linebacker Fred Warner. Warner has consistently been a top backer in the league and he will continue to be just that this coming season. Not only do they have Warner in the box, but they also have freak athlete and 2-time Pro Bowler, Nick Bosa. Along with that the 49ers signed a couple veteran corners to upgrade their pass defense like, Jason Verrett and Charvarius Ward. The 49ers are looking great coming into the season but the fate of the team rests on the shoulders of Trey Lance. He has had a year to get settled in the league, can he take that big second year leap? I picture this team pulling it together a few games into the season and coming in second in the division.

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Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals are led by up-and-coming quarterback, Kyler Murray, who signed a monster-sized contract in the off-season. He has shown flashes of being elite but has not solidified himself as one of the best in the league. One of his strong suits his prolonging broken plays and making something out of nothing, thanks to his speed. Murray’s favorite guy to target is easily Deandre Hopkins, but he will be without him for the first six games of the season. Hopkins has been suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs, which is terribly unfortunate for the Cardinals.

Arizona still has a very good offense behind Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury but losing a superstar like Hopkins is quite the setback. Along with that, the Cardinals also lost their next best receiver in Christian Kirk. The Cardinals do have other receivers who can fill in for the time being like newly acquired Marquise Brown and Rondale Moore, but they are just not yet on the same level as Hopkins and Kirk.

The Cardinals do have a solid offensive line, they ranked in the middle of the pack last year at number 15, according to PFF. Running behind that line will be 5-year veteran, James Connor.

Defensively the Cardinals are a solid team, but this offseason they lost their best pass rusher in Chandler Jones. Other than that, the Cardinals defensive roster did not change very much, they still have a top-10 safety in Budda Baker, previous Defensive Player of the Year, JJ Watt, and many other seasoned veterans. Due to the loss of Jones the Cardinals defense is bound to take a step back this season, but they should still be a top-half defense in the league, given that they stay healthy. I picture this team coming in third in the division by a few games.

Seattle Seahawks

The biggest headline of the Seahawks free agency is losing franchise quarterback, Russell Wilson. At the moment the Seahawks are still going through a battle for that QB1 spot, between the young Drew Lock and the veteran backup Geno Smith. Other than that, the Seahawks do have some bright spots. Last year, to finish out the season, Rashaad Penny (RB1) looked elite, behind a lackluster offensive line. Last year the offensive line finished the season ranked at number 25, per PFF. The Seahawks also have a good receiving core in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. These two guys have shown to be very capable behind Wilson, but it might be a difficult to produce the same performance behind a different, less talented quarterback.

Defensively the Seahawks are a good team. Last year they held their opponents to an average of 21.5 points per game and they ranked in the top-10 defenses in the league, per ESPN and Football Outsiders. The biggest name on the Seahawks defense is hard-hitting safety, Jamal Adams. Another great player in the secondary for the Seahawks is Quandre Diggs, both him and Adams have made the Pro Bowl twice. Other than those two, Seattle does not have many big names, just a lot of all-around solid players. The defense will have a large workload due to the lack of quarterback talent. The Seahawks are no doubt entering the biggest down year in a very long time, due to the loss of Russell Wilson. I picture this team coming in last in the division, but not without being competitive.

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