First Half Recap
The Arizona Cardinals have played really well with Carson Palmer at the helm. He has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league since the start of the 2014 season when he’s been healthy. Larry Fitzgerald is still playing at a high level and Chris Johnson looks like he has found the fountain of youth in Arizona. He has been one of the league’s best rushers and biggest surprises this season. But they are second in the league in points and seventh in points allowed. They just find ways to get it done. Most of their games have not been close—only the Ravens and Rams games have been decided by one possession.
The St. Louis Rams have been somewhat enigmatic this season. With their defense and a new quarterback in Nick Foles, expectations were high coming into this season. But the MVP of the team so far has been Todd Gurley, who has taken the league by storm. They are 3-0 in division so far, beating each team. Their other win came over the Browns. They lost to the Redskins in a confusing game, but held their own against the Vikings, Packers and the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers. This team is the anti-Mike Martz—they run the ball and play defense and have the least productive passing attack in the game.
The Seattle Seahawks are a team that is hard to figure out. How they win has not changed at all—they run the ball (second in the league) and play great defense. But they have lost some games they should have won and nearly lost some games they should have won more comfortably. They should have beaten the Rams and Bengals on the road and topped the Panthers at home. Their loss to Green Bay on the road is totally forgivable. But they should have blown out the Lions and Cowboys but they won those two by four total points. This team might have suffered from the effects of a Super Bowl hangover early on.
The San Francisco 49ers looked like they would be just fine after a domination of the Minnesota Vikings in the opener. But then reality set in. They were blown out in Pittsburgh and Arizona and managed just three points in a loss to the Packers. They lost a close one to the Giants, then beat the Ravens before getting blown out again by the Seahawks and Rams. They won the first start of Blaine Gabbert’s season over the Falcons last week to move to 3-6. The defense has been okay and they’ve run the ball fine. Carlos Hyde has potential.
Second Half Outlook
Many folks think this might be the year that Arizona wins the west. Possibly, but it won't be easy. They face the Seahawks twice down the stretch, also host the Bengals, Packers and Vikings. Their trips to Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Francisco are their easiest games. That’s tough. Of course the health of Carson Palmer is vital. If he goes down, all of their dreams of postseason glory go poof. If they win this division, they will definitely have earned it. I can see the season finale against the Seahawks determining who wins the division.
The Rams are finally back in playoff contention, but their road into the playoffs is not an easy one. They should be able to beat Chicago, win at Baltimore (though you never know in Baltimore), win at San Francisco and beat Detroit. They face tough games at Cincinnati, vs. Arizona and at Seattle. They host Tampa Bay in week 15, and that game will have a huge impact on their season. If they win, they might have a shot at getting in. Lose it and they almost certainly won’t. I think they finish with eight or nine wins, but fall just short of the postseason.
The Seahawks have some tough games in the season half of the season, but last year they really got hot in the second half of the season en route to a second straight spot in the Super Bowl. This year they have a home and home against the Cardinals, go to Minnesota and host the Rams. Otherwise their other four games look winnable. They should be able to beat the 49ers at home, the Steelers at home without Big Ben, the Browns at home and be able to win at Baltimore. They should finish no worse than 10-6, with potential to finish better than that. Don’t sleep on this team come December and January.
The 49ers are just not on the same level as the rest of the division. They have lost so much talent and they are trying to get their bearings with a new coaching staff. This could very well be Blaine Gabbert’s team the rest of the way. If that’s the case, I would imagine they won’t win many games. Their second half slate includes games against each of their divisional opponents (at Seattle and host the other two), at Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit and host Cincinnati. They will finish likely either 4-12 or 5-11.
1. Arizona Cardinals
2. Seattle Seahawks (WC)
3. St. Louis Rams
4. San Francisco 49ers