Stay current with NFL news around the divisions, and take advantage of early NFL betting odds with our series of division predictions. This time, we look at the NFL teams in the tightly-contested NFC West.
NFL Betting Lines
Odds to Win Division: +550
Narrowly edging the over for their 2020 season-win total of 7½, the Arizona Cardinals didn’t feel like they exceeded expectations having missed the playoffs after a 6-3 start. Their .500 record earned them third place in the division. They went 7-9 against the spread.
Arizona returns most of its core, including coach Kliff Kingsbury who hopes this season will be the breakthrough year where Kyler Murray sharpens his passing game and hides any of Kingsbury’s coaching flaws. Having ushered Kingsbury through his rookie coaching year, assistant coach Tom Clements retired.
$18-million in Free Cap Space
The Cards face a decent number of players coming into free agency this offseason — 29 to be exact. It’s expected they’ll manage to keep their roster intact where they’re moderately placed in regard to salary-cap space. At 15th place among teams, Arizona carries about $18-million in free cap space.
Expecting their payday to have come, the Cardinals will have to negotiate with RB Kenyan Drake to keep their workhorse back. More challenging is the unrestricted free agents on defense, as cornerback Patrick Peterson and both outside linebackers Markus Golden and Hasson Reddick all enter free agency.
In addition to the needs filled by those free agents on defense, the Cardinals could also use another defensive end, and a defensive tackle, and some more depth at linebacker. On offense, their needs aren’t as dire, but the addition of depth at running back, tight end and the offensive line couldn’t hurt.
With those needs in mind, the Cardinals get to pick 16th overall in the draft and enter with a full slate of seven picks. Despite being notoriously cheap, the controlling team’s owners should take advantage of the reduced salary cap this season, and manage their offseason roster changes without significant attrition.
Cardinals: Value Bet
At +550, the Cardinals seem like a value bet. Assuming Murray improves with age and Kingsbury improves with practice, it seems reasonable to think Arizona stands at least a 15% chance of winning the highly competitive division, the threshold to make +550 a value bet.
Early NFC West 2021 Prediction W-L: 9-7
Los Angeles Rams
Odds to Win Division: +165
Give them credit, the Los Angeles Rams crushed a quarterback controversy/problem with the marquee trade of the offseason, though the trade period hasn’t actually opened yet. Sending outcast quarterback Jared Goff, his lead anchor of dead salary-cap money, and draft picks to Detroit in return for Matthew Stafford.
The writing was on the wall. Coach Sean McVay had enough last year swapping John Wolford for Goff arbitrarily in the playoffs. Despite their successful season where they cashed the over on their 8½ season-win total with a 10-6 regular season, the missing piece at quarterback was the obvious need as they were knocked from the playoffs.
In his rise from outside linebackers’ coach to stardom, their defensive coordinator Brandon Staley was hired away as head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers. He’s replaced by Raheem Morris. Morris is the former defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. He filled in as their interim head coach when Dan Quinn got the ax.
Though the Rams sacrificed two first-round draft picks in order to dump Goff, they’re still not in the clear when it comes to managing the 2021 roster. Though they have only 16 free agents with which to deal, a number of them are too vital to lose to salary management.
A couple like WR Josh Reynolds or RB Malcolm Brown are thought to be lost causes, along with the more productive TE Gerald Everett. Money is limited in Los Angeles and even a restricted free agent like cornerback Darious Williams could get poached by another team. Add to the list unrestricted free agents linebacker Leonard Floyd and safety John Johnson.
If they can somehow juggle that, they’re in decent shape. They still have needs in a few positions. On offense, the Rams need another stand-out receiver and some serious help on their offensive line. On the other side of the ball, they could use support at defensive end, linebacker and cornerback.
All of that will have to come through some deep drafting since Los Angeles lacks picks more than anything else. This year’s first, third and fourth-round selections have all been traded away, and the Rams currently get their dibs after 56 others go first.
All told, Los Angeles currently sits as the narrow favorite to win the division, which suggests Matthew Stafford’s presence will do a lot of heavy lifting here. While they might be able to pull roster miracles, we’re thinking the Rams will suffer a regression but still have at least one more season after that with the Super Bowl window open.
Early NFC West 2021 Prediction W-L: 8-8
San Francisco 49ers
Odds to Win Division: +175
Ravaged by injury, the San Francisco 49ers collapsed in a way that reinforced the myth of the Super Bowl team. Lined with the high expectation of 10½ wins, the Niners cashed the under on that wager before their Week 11 bye. Sporting 10-to-1 odds to win it all, San Francisco missed the postseason entirely. Their 7-9 ATS record didn’t win them much love with bettors either.
Injuries heal. Most of the once-swollen injured reserve in San Francisco should be back into playing shape by training camp. But the biggest question mark returning from injury gets stamped on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, not for health reasons, but instead for competency.
Talking heads are already prognosticating on which team Garoppolo would best fit after, as they assume, he’ll be cut by the Niners. No one has a great answer yet as to who will replace him. Speculation is ranging from outright trades to moving up in draft position.
The talents of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh were purchased by the New York Jets, where he will be their head coach. On his departure, Saleh took with him Mike LaFleur, San Francisco’s former passing-game coordinator. The move promotes San Francisco’s Mike McDaniel to offensive coordinator, and the Niners will stop trying to share OC duties based on play type.
The 49ers carry a whopping 33 players coming into free agency. Their biggest price-tag concern comes with left tackle Trent Williams. The decision with Williams could command enough money to dictate which direction they go in the offseason. It’s expected they’ll re-sign fullback Kyle Juszczyk and wideout Kendrick Bourne. It’s less clear with regard to cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive end Solomon Thomas or slot cornerback K’Waun Williams. Expect Tevin Coleman to be cut, and Jerick McKinnon to not be back either.
The list of free-agent considerations continues further than that, and San Francisco sits in the middle of the road in cap space at 16th place in the league. That’s with about $17-million to spare. That said, they could still use bolstering on their offensive line. As well as a cornerback and defensive end — not to mention, again, that quarterback issue that’s about to boil over.
They do have a full host of draft picks, select 12th overall and carry an extra selection in the fifth and seventh rounds. Even so, it’s hard to support them as the very close favorites to get back to division champs with a new quarterback. Assuming they find their match with a slightly better expectation than Garoppolo, we’d project them as a .500 team.
Early NFC West 2021 Prediction W-L: 8-8
Odds to Win Division: +225
After a messy 2020 season, the Seattle Seahawks managed to easily exceed expectations set by betting markets. They lost in the Wild-Card round of the playoffs, ending any chances of cashing their preseason +1400 Super Bowl tickets. However, their 12-4 regular-season record flew well over their 9½ win total.
But offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was fired for “philosophical differences” and replaced by Rams’ quarterback coach Shane Waldron. Those differences reflected the day-and-night nature of last season. The first half of the season had Seattle leaning on Russell Wilson to outscore opponents picking on their historically bad secondary. The second half of the season, featuring improvements on the defense, regressed back to more normal scores. (Seattle strung together a string of seven unders in a row.)
17th-Ranked Team With Free-Spending Money
The Seahawks plod into the offseason with a relatively high number of 33 free agents. They were facing a number of key names with whom they’ll have to negotiate. At least it seems like they’ll have more than enough room to pay running back Chris Carson, it’s unclear if they’ll have enough for everyone. Names to watch for include linebacker K.J. Wright and cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar and Shaq Griffin. They’re slightly below the median when it comes to cap space. As the 17th ranked team with free spending money, the ‘Hawks have roughly $14.5-million in wiggle room.
Most teams qualify as needing help on the offensive line, and Seattle qualifies as top-tier in that regard. Otherwise, with improvement from wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, Seattle will likely turn to its needs on defense. Those needs are more extensive, particularly on the defensive front line, but also at cornerback. To get there will require maneuvering as Seattle traded away their first and third round draft picks. They have a second-round pick (56th overall) as their sole claim until the fourth round.
Depending on how aggressively Seattle restructures the defense, it bodes poorly for an exciting high-powered offense at the hands of Russell Wilson. It’s not impossible to conceive they could win the division with a ground-and-pound strategy. However, their current odds don’t seem generous. Handicapping the Seahawks at a 30% chance of winning the NFC West seems like the peak of optimism for their chances. This doesn’t make it much value as a wager.
Early NFC West 2021 Prediction W-L: 9-7
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