Many are calling this the “easiest division in the NFL” which was certainly a fair characterization last season. Red sees some teams up, one team down and a tougher level of competition that in recent seasons.
Cardinals. After a disappointing 2016 campaign, the Cards are looking to rebound with a quick start to 2017. The Cards started last season 1-3 and unlike the Stealers never found Recovery Road. Red is leading with his heart rather than his head on this one. He went all in for David Johnson in a couple of fantasy leagues and also got stuck with tired old Carson Palmer at QB. The Cards defense remains solid. The question is whether the team can win a bunch of ugly 17-13 or the like games. They can and they do. Arizona sashays to 11-5 record and a sweet playoff berth.
Seahawks. A popular pick to win the west, many think the Seahawks will dominate the NFL’s “easiest division.” But other than playing the weaklings (see below) in their division, the Hawks have fairly tough sledding ahead with road games against the Packers, Titans and Cowboys and home games against the Texans, Colts, Eagles and Falcons. The Hawks could lose all of those games despite the double and triple time zone hex. Pete the Cheat has had his share of good fortune up to now; maybe this season the worm turns. Seattle struggles to 9-7 and takes a seat for the playoffs.
Rams. Playing in the oldest stadium in the NFL but with the youngest head coach in NFL history in Sean McVay, the Rams will maintain the Jeff Fischer tradition of abject mediocrity. Actually that’s somewhat of an insult to mediocrity as Fischer was unable to ever post a winning record in his 5 years with the Rams. Second year QB Jared Goff was the major disappointment of 2016 going 0-7 in his starts and making journeyman Case Keenum look scintillating by comparison. But in fairness to Goff he was playing behind a makeshift offensive line and with little help from any wideout other than Kenny Britt. 2017 looks better all around. Tavon Austin looks like the third down back every team wishes it had and Todd Gurley is at least competent and will likely average more than the pathetic 3.2 yards per rush he managed last year. Expect more than 23 total touchdowns this season and for the Rams to not be the worst offense in the league. Maybe only the third-worst. Los Angeles (for now) improves slightly to 6-10.
49ers. The Chip Kelly as a professional football coach experiment seems to have come to an end. The excitement CK was able to bring to Oregon never translated to the pros and Chip if you’re reading – it looks like UNLV might be in the market for some new leadership after losing to lowly Howard in “the biggest upset in college football history.” A tip of the helmet to the Niners for giving Kyle Shanahan his first opportunity as a head coach. Unfortunately, KS could not bring Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman with him. Instead he will have to make do with tired old Brian Hoyer and Pierre Garcon. That’s like going from a Corvette to a Ford Escort, but Shanahan and the Niners will surprise a few folks. This storied franchise has seen more hard times than good and with the exception of the Harbaugh era has been unable to find a steady hand for 15 years. Remember Jim Tomsula or Mike Nolan? Anyone, anyone? Hell, Red thought Mike Singletary was the answer. Don’t expect miracles in season one, but the Niners are coming back – they’re just coming from way back. Santa Clara goes 6-10.