NFC West 2019: Los Angeles Rams primed to bounce back as Arizona Cardinals turn to Kyler Murray – NFL preview

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Arizona Cardinals

Last year they: Were the worst team in football. A 3-13 campaign was the Cardinals’ worst showing since 2000, and meant that Steve Wilks’ first year as head coach was also his last. 

Star player: Patrick Peterson – A first-round pick in the 2011 draft, cornerback Peterson has made the Pro Bowl in all eight seasons of his Cardinals career so far and is undoubtedly their best player. 

He is also a player they will have to cope without for the first six weeks of the season as he serves a ban. Ugh.

Patrick Peterson (Getty Images)

Major summer changes: Just a year on from taking Josh Rosen in the first round, it’s all change under centre for the Cardinals.

Rosen was traded to the Dolphins, with Arizona using the first overall pick to nab Kyler Murray, the baseball prospect turned Heisman Trophy winner, as their new quarterback. 

Off the field, Kliff Kingsbury has arrived to take on his first NFL head coaching job, having spent his entire career in college football so far. More on that anon. 

Storyline to follow: As head coach at Texas Tech, Kingsbury played a significant role in the development of the most exciting young quarterback the NFL has produced in years in last season’s MVP Patrick Mahomes, while he also had Cleveland Browns star Baker Mayfield under his tutelage for a shorter period back in 2013.

Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray (Getty Images)

Now, the hope among Cardinals fans is that he will work his magic on Murray, and he looks set to try and do so by surrounding him with a college-style ‘Air Raid’ passing game.

Such an approach is a risk, and relatively unproven at professional level, but when you’re trying to transform the worst offense in the league, what is there to lose?

Los Angeles Rams

Last year they: Came oh so close. Probably the best team in football across the course of the season, second year head coach Sean McVay continued to revolutionise the game as the Rams started 8-0 and clinched back-to-back divisional titles with a 13-3 record. 

From there, they made it all the way to the Super Bowl, winning a first NFC Championship since 2001 on the way, before the dream died at the hands of the Patriots.

Aaron Donald (Getty Images)

Star player: Aaron Donald – Quite simply the best defensive player in the league, and so good that his performances last year reignited the debate about what exactly a defensive player would have to do to win the MVP award.

Donald ed the league in 2018 with 20.5 regular season sacks, 4.5 more than anyone else. 

Major summer changes: Safety Eric Weddle and outside linebacker Clay Matthews III were the two biggest arrivals in free agency, both signing two-year-deals, while the much-maligned Blake Bortles has arrived as back-up to Jared Goff.

32-year-old nose tackle Ndamukong Suh has joined the Bucs, while unlikely post-season hero CJ Anderson has gone to Detroit. All-in-all, it’s been a summer of tweaking, perhaps slight improvement, and the Rams look ready to go again.

Todd Gurley (Getty Images)

Storyline to follow: Part of the reason for Anderson’s late-season cameo was growing concern about the workload of star running back Todd Gurley.

The 25-year-old scored 17 rushing touchdowns in the regular season, but found his carries limited during the playoff run as McVay looked to protect a troublesome knee.

It will be interesting to see how his involvement is managed this year, and how the Rams cope should injury rule him out for a significant period of time.

San Francisco 49ers

Last year they: After plenty of pre-season optimism, the 49ers had their roster decimated by injuries, at one stage losing six games on the bounce, before limping to a 4-12 finish that saw them miss out on the playoffs for the fifth season in a row.

George Kittle (Getty Images)

Star player: George Kittle – Kittle was one of the league’s breakout stars last season, in his second year in the NFL.

The 25-year-old broke the NFL record for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end, with 1,377.

Major summer changes: San Fran have made significant investment in a defense that broke a host of records for its incompetency last season. 

Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander are the headline free-agency arrivals, at a potential cost of almost $140million, but perhaps the most exciting signing in the long run is defensive end Nick Bosa.

Younger brother of Chargers star Joey, Bosa was considered the top prospect in the draft by many scouts, but the Cardinals’ desire to get a new quarterback allowed the 49ers to swoop with the second overall pick.

Jimmy Garoppolo (Getty Images)

Storyline to follow: Oh the woes of Jimmy G. Garoppolo’s performances at the back end of the 2017 season after his arrival from the Patriots were the main reason why 49ers fans were so excited going into last year.

Then, in week three, he tore his ACL and didn’t feature again. 

The 27-year-old has looked understandably rusty in pre-season, and is now under huge pressure to not only stay fit, but also justify having one of the most lucrative contracts in NFL history. 

Seattle Seahawks 

Last year they: Endured an up and down start to the season, but won six of their last seven games to reach the playoffs as a wildcard, where they lost to the Cowboys.

Century Link Field was, as ever, a fortress, with narrow defeats to the excellent Rams and Chargers sides their only home reverses.

Russell Wilson (Getty Images)

Star player: Russell Wilson – Honourable mention to five-time Pro Bowler and defensive leader Bobby Wagner, but quarterback Wilson edges it, fresh from becoming the highest-paid player in NFL history after signing a $140million contract extension.

The 30-year-old threw for a career-high 35 touchdowns last season and looks as good as ever.

Major summer changes: Continuing the trend of 12 months ago, it’s been another summer in which Pete Carroll has looked to refresh his roster and free up cap space.

Frank Clark, Doug Baldwin and Earl Thomas are the most high-profile departures, having spent a combined 21 seasons in Seattle.

The Seahawks left it late to make their blockbuster acquisition, trading for Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a three time Pro-Bowler, less than a week before their first game.

Jadeveon Clowney (Getty Images)

Storyline to follow: The Seahawks draft class looks among the most intriguing in the conference, and given the aforementioned roster overhaul, there’s a good chance that much of it will be needed. 

Both defensive end L. J. Collier and wide receiver D. K. Metcalf have missed chunks of pre-season through injury, but, once fit, are expected to play significant roles in their rookie campaigns.


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