2020 NFC West divisional betting preview

How to approach this very competitive division.

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The NFC West was a division dominated by three teams last year as the Rams, 49ers, and Seahawks all vied for the title while the Cardinals went through a rebuilding phase. San Francisco eventually won the division, going 13-3 with a 5-1 mark in divisional games. While the 49ers ended up besting the Seahawks by two games in the standings, they had to squeak out a trio of three-point wins against each of their division rivals to get there.

Those types of games show just how close this division is from a competition standpoint. Over the past five seasons, each of the four teams have won the division title at least once. The Rams did assert some dominance by winning it twice in a row (in 2017 and 2018) but some overspending in free agency has cost them from a depth chart perspective.

None of these teams went through coaching changes this year and all look like they have the makings of potentially competitive playoff teams. Given that the NFC conference champions have come out of this division the last two seasons, we’ll have to pay extra attention to those future markets. 

Odds to win the NFC West

  • San Francisco 49ers     +103
  • Seattle Seahawks          +185
  • Los Angeles Rams        +500
  • Arizona Cardinals          +800

Who does the NFC West play this season?

Every NFC West team will play six divisional games, which include one home and away game versus each of their divisional rivals. All four teams in this division have win totals set at O/U 7.5 wins or higher so there will be no soft matchups to target here. This year, they’ll also be matched up against opponents from the NFC East and AFC East, which means eight of their 16 games will feature opponents from those two divisions. On paper, this will set up a lot of match-ups with weaker teams, as four of the eight teams from these divisions currently have win totals set at O/U 6.5 wins or less in the Giants, Dolphins, Jets, and Washington. 

Teams from the NFC East will also square off against one rival from the NFC North and NFC South with match-ups based on their finishing positions from last season. This will set up showdowns for the 49ers with Green Bay (a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game) and New Orleans. 

Who will win the NFC West?

Choice: Seattle Seahawks

Seattle made some moves to shore up weaker parts of their defense in the offseason, particularly in the secondary. While they only went 3-3 in their division last season, they were able to grab a win off the 49ers in San Francisco. Seattle has arguably the most favorable schedule in the division (see below under their team write-up) and unquestionably the best QB. With a better supporting cast surrounding Russell Wilson this year, I like the Seahawks to regain control of the NFC West.

Who will come in 2nd?

Choice: San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers ran ridiculously well in their division last year, going 5-1 and winning three games decided by three points or less. They traded away their best defensive player during the offseason though, in Deforest Buckner. They also lost WR Emmanuel Sanders to free agency and have been dealing with injuries at that position ever since. There’s enough talent and good coaching here to keep San Francisco in contention to likely grab – at the very least – a wild card spot, but their schedule and player turnover may keep them from a repeat performance. 

Who will come in 3rd?

Choice: Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals definitely feel like a team at least capable of making a 49er-like turnaround. The team added DeAndre Hopkins in one of the biggest trades of the offseason and their offense showed more cohesiveness in their last three games of 2019, with the team going 2-1 and scoring 99 points in the process. An extra year of experience for Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury and QB Kyler Murray, plus the addressing of some defensive weaknesses over the offseason, should give them a shot at a winning record in 2020.

Who will come in 4th?

Choice: Los Angeles Rams

The Rams may have undergone the biggest personnel changes in the division, having lost WR Brandin Cooks and RB Todd Gurley – two key pieces of their two-year division title run and 2018 Superbowl trip. QB Jared Goff also struggled mightily at times last season, which is worrisome for a team whose Offensive Line wasn’t as dominant last year as it was in 2018. They still have the makings of a quality team but also, surprisingly, feel like they have the most question marks of any team in this extremely tight and talented division. 

George Kittle Running
Feb 2, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) runs the ball against Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Daniel Sorensen in the first quarter in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Team discussion and win totals

San Francisco 49ers

Win Total: O/U 10.5 wins | Division +103 | Conference +444 | Super Bowl +925

San Francisco won 13 games last season and executed one of the biggest one-year turnarounds in league history. Coming off a 4-12 campaign in 2018, the team went 5-1 in the division and reached the Super Bowl (where they fell 31-20 to the Chiefs). They ranked second in points scored per game and allowed the fewest passing yards per game (169) in the league.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had a successful rebound year coming off ACL surgery, posting 37 TDs and 3,914 yards while also notching the fourth-best yards-per-attempt mark in the league. He did tie for sixth in INTs though, and question marks about his ability to carry the team through rough patches emerged late in the year. There were rumors in the off-season that the team was considering replacing him with Tom Brady, but nothing ever came to fruition. Garoppolo will look to improve on his 2019 season and hopefully put some of the chatter about his deficiencies to rest.

Key off-season moves

The team moved on from running back Matt Breida and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in the off-season. The RB position will still have solid depth though, as Jerrick McKinnon is expected back after missing all of 2019 with an ACL issue. He’ll figure to work in spurts behind Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert. 

Sanders’ absence could prove to be a much bigger deal. San Francisco drafted wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, somewhat surprisingly, in the first round, passing on the chance to take bigger names like Jerry Juedy and Cee Dee Lamb. Aiyuk may need to be relied on heavily out of the gate too, as Deebo Samuel is still recovering from a foot issue and likely won’t play in Week 1. The 49ers also lost Jalen Hurd, their pegged slot starter, for the year in training camp. The receiving core could prove to be an issue for them in 2020 if Aiyuk isn’t great right away. 

49ers 2020 schedule and betting analysis

  • Tough: @SEA, @NO, @DAL, @NE, @LAR
  • Medium: vs.BUF, vs.LAR, vs.SEA, @ARZ, vs.PHI, vs.GB
  • Easy: vs.MIA, @NYJ, vs.WAS, vs.ARZ, @NYG

The 49ers rank out with the fourth-toughest schedule in the league next year, on a 2019 win-percentage basis. This isn’t overly shocking, considering they are in arguably the toughest division in football and were division winners last year. As you would expect, the 49ers also have a high win total of O/U 10.5 wins. While it seems fairly achievable, given that they beat this mark by two games last year, the -120 over price doesn’t look too appealing. 

The 49ers went 5-1 in the division last year, but that was with a non-competitive Cardinals team, a Rams team that looked out-of-sync in the first two months, and a less talented Seahawks team. The division has major parity and San Francisco seems likely to drop at least one more game than they did in 2019 in inter-division match-ups. They also have some of the toughest out-of-conference road games to deal with against the Saints, Cowboys, and Patriots. 

Whether you believe in the Super Bowl hangover or not, all three of the last NFC teams to reach the big game and lose had fewer than 11 wins in their follow-up season, and none came close to advancing to the Super Bowl. I wouldn’t touch San Francisco’s inflated Conference Championship or Super Bowl odds but the under 10.5 wins (-115) look at least a little tempting. This division is far closer this year than it was last year and the 49ers, although a solid team, will be in a dog fight most weeks due to their beast of a schedule. 

Seattle Seahawks 

Win Total: O/U 9.5 wins | Division +185 | Conference +750 | Super Bowl +1700

The Seahawks are coming off a solid season where they out-performed many expectations and challenged for the division title, going 11-5 overall. It was an impressive year in many regards as Seattle only managed a 3-3 divisional record and allowed the seventh-most points against. 

QB Russell Wilson is coming off yet another MVP-caliber season that saw him throw for 4,110 passing yards, 31 TDs, and just 5 INTs. This was all despite the Seahawks ranking just 26th in pass play percentage on offense. Wilson did make some calls for the Seahawks to be more aggressive on offense in 2020 and whether or not they adjust their approach there will be something to watch early in the year. 

Key offseason moves 

The Seahawks added some major talent on defense over the offseason, trading for disgruntled Jets safety Jamaal Adams, who is widely considered one of the best safeties in the league. Adams had 6.5 sacks and 13 QB hits last year, which should help out a Seattle defense that had the ninth-fewest sacks per game in 2019. They also added corner Quinton Dunbar, who graded out very well last season. 

Offensively, the Seahwaks added to their depth as well. Another year’s worth of experience should help out the raw but insanely talented second-year wide receiver DK Metcalf, while former Patriot Phillip Dorsett should be an improvement as a field stretcher. Veteran tight end Greg Olsen might be the biggest addition on offense, as Seattle went with relative no-names Will Dissley and Jacob Hollister at that position last year. 

The Seahwaks mainly added to their core while bringing Wilson, Tyler Lockett, and Bobby Wagner (among others) back to ensure cohesiveness. Gelling early likely won’t be an issue here. 

Seahawks 2020 schedule and betting analysis:

  • Tough: @SF, @LAR, vs.SF, @PHI, @BUF
  • Medium: vs.LAR, vs.NE, @ARZ, @MIA, vs.MIN, @ATL, vs.DAL
  • Easy: vs.ARZ, vs.NYJ, @WAS, vs.NYG

The Seahawks feel like a team that could benefit from how their schedule is laid out in 2020. Outside of their divisional games, two of the toughest teams on their slate are the Cowboys and Patriots, both of whom they’ll have the luxury of facing at home. Additionally, while inter-conference games against the Falcons and Vikings aren’t pushovers, the Seahwaks beat both these teams by a TD last year and have arguably made bigger improvements than each of them in the off-season. 

Seattle does have to travel across the country four times, but one of those trips is to face Washington, whose season is combusting before the games even begin. If the Hawks can split tough road games against Buffalo and Philadelphia, hitting the over 9.5 wins here seems very doable for a team that won 11 games last year, despite only going 3-3 in the division. 

Betting the over 9.5 wins (-137) here is a solid play, but the better bet might be to take Seattle to make a bigger impact. +185 for the division title seems fair for a team that has the best QB and the best schedule in the division. Outside of a flyer on a team like the Bears at +2100, Seattle’s also my favorite conference champion bet, although just taking them at +1700 to win the Superbowl is fine as well. It would be the third Super Bowl appearance for Carroll and Wilson, and that experience could give them an edge – even if they end up as underdogs for the actual game – against whoever represents the AFC. 

Los Angeles Rams

Win Total: O/U 8.5 wins | Division +500 | Conference  +1575 | Super Bowl +3900

The Rams endured a tumultuous 2019 campaign, eventually falling one game short of a playoff spot. Their season was marked by streaks, as they twice lost three games in a row. The Rams also performed poorly against strong competition, going 2-5 against teams with winning records. 

While the Rams endured regression at numerous positions last year, the biggest spotlight shone on Jared Goff, whose QB rating dipped from 101.1 in 2018 to 86.5 in 2019. He also threw four more INTs and 10 fewer TDs in 2019, and clearly struggled as teams seemed better equipped for the Rams’ playbook. A switch to a more 12-personnel based offense late in the year led to a strong finish for Goff, and the Rams will desperately need that success to carry over if they have any shot at regaining control of this division in 2020. 

Key offseason moves

L.A. experienced a lot of player movement in the off-season. They cut ties with Todd Gurley, whose contract had turned into an albatross after he was mostly ineffective in 2019. He’ll be replaced by rookie Cam Akers and second-year pro Darrell Henderson, two higher draft picks who are raw but could make for a solid replacement duo. Brandin Cooks was also shipped off due to salary constraints and will, in all likelihood, be replaced by rookie WR Van Jefferson. Goff struggled without Cooks at times last year, but Jefferson has received solid reviews from camp thus far. 

Defensively, the Rams will be hoping a full season of Jalen Ramsey’s services at cornerback will provide a solid return. They used their top two picks on the offensive side of the ball this year, so depth could be an issue if injuries to either Ramsey or Aaron Donald occur. They also replaced defensive coordinator Wade Phillips with the inexperienced 37-year-old Brandon Staley. It’s a risky move but a change was likely necessary after the Rams performed so poorly against strong teams in 2019. 

Rams 2020 schedule and betting analysis:

  • Tough: @PHI, @SF, @SEA, @TB, @BUF, vs.SF
  • Medium: vs.SEA, @ARZ, vs.ARZ, vs.NE, vs.CHI, vs.DAL, @MIA
  • Easy : vs.NYG, vs.NYJ, @WAS

The Rams have plenty of tough away games this season that have the potential to undermine any chance at a bounce-back in 2020. Road games with SEA and SF are tough enough, but travelling East to take on the Philadelphia Eagles, the Buffalo Bills, and even the Miami Dolphins can be rough for a West coast team. They do have a few layups on the card, with Washington and likely the Jets, but every division game will be close.

Even though they beat up on the Cardinals twice last year, the Rams still only went 3-3 in the division. This year, they’ll be facing a much improved Arizona team whose win total is 2 to 2.5 games higher than last year. The Rams went from 2nd in points scored (32.9 points per game) to 11th in 2018 (24.9) and could figure to see that number drop even further if some of their new position players are slow to work in. 

It’s safe to say I’m not very bullish on the Rams in 2020. While they have an innovative coach in Sean McVay and some serious talent on defense, injuries could really hurt a team that has already undergone more turnover at skill positions and in the coaching ranks than anyone else in the division. The under here feels like a solid play. 

Dec 8, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) runs from Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush (55) during the first half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Cardinals

Win Total: O/U 7.5 wins | Division +850 | Conference +2400 | Super Bowl +3900

Arizona had a transition season in 2019, bringing in new Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury and QB Kyler Murray. Long-term, the moves look like winners for the Cardinals, but the first year of the regime saw plenty of growing pains en route to a 5-10-1 record. Arizona also suffered from being in the tough NFC West, managing just a 1-5 record against division rivals.

Arizona ranked out average offensively, posting 22.6 points per game, but they were absolutely decimated on the defensive side in allowing the fifth-most points per game in 2019. The Cardinals did draft some defensive help early at the 2020 draft, and they’ll be hoping for a bounce back season from cornerback Patrick Peterson. How they improve on that side of the ball will be key to their fortunes in 2020. 

Key offseason moves

Arizona made one of the biggest splashes in the off-season when they sent David Johnson and his 31-million dollar guaranteed contract over to the Texans for DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins adds instant legitimacy to an Arizona offense whose leading receiver in 2019 was 36-year-old Larry Fitzgerald, who managed just 804 yards last year. Hopkins is coming off his second-straight 100+ reception year and will make guarding QB Kyler Murray, who rushed for 544 yards and 4-TDs last season, even more difficult. 

The Cardinals’ improvement on offense may not mean much if they can’t get at least some traction on defense. They drafted LB Isiah Simmons with the 8th-overall pick and he should be able to address some of their weaknesses in covering TEs. Arizona allowed a league high 16 TDs to the position last season. Having an in-form Peterson returning at cornerback for a full season after missing six games last year would also help immensely. The former all-pro endured a horrendous 2019 but looks determined to make up for it with a solid 2020 campaign. 

Cardinals 2020 schedule and betting analysis:

  • Tough: @SF, vs.SF, @SEA, vs.SEA, @LAR, @DAL, @NE
  • Medium: @CAR, vs.LAR, vs.PHI, @NYG, vs. BUF
  • Easy: vs.MIA, vs.WAS, @ NYJ, vs. DET

The Cardinals project with an O/U total of 7.5 wins and there likely won’t be much room for error for the over bettors here if they are going to hit that mark. 10 of the Cardinals opponents in 2020 had winning records last season, when Arizona managed just one win against a team with a winning record – a late season upset of the Seahawks. They will benefit from a last place schedule though, with games against Detroit and Carolina. 

Arizona went 1-5 in the NFC West last year, but were competitive against the 49ers and Seahwaks, and should benefit from the Rams likely going through a transition year as they deal with cap consequences from their Super Bowl run. From a talent perspective, the Cardinals additions on defense and the new duo of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins are going to keep them in more games. I expect Arizona to build on two big wins late in 2019, against the Browns and Seahawks, so the over is the side I would lean to here, although admittedly not with enough confidence to bet it. Arizona will be a fun team to watch but, from a futures standpoint, they are likely a team to leave off your card unless their win total or price sees a drop of some kind. 

NFC West Favorite Bets (*All odds per Blitznet Sportsbook as of August 19, 2020, and subject to change.)

Seattle over 9.5 wins (-132)/Division winner +185/Conference Champ +750/Super Bowl +1700

Rams under 8.5 wins (-137)

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