Today we continue discussing where the NFL is going in 2022 with a look at the NFC West. Our NFL projections are based on a forecast of team performance and a subjective assessment of each team’s quarterback’s storylines.
Also streaming on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher. The preview is intentionally QB centric. These players disproportionately drive on-field success, fan interest, and salary cap issues. The NFL is the dominant sports league across just about every demographic group, and the QBs are the stars. See last week's NFC South division preview here.
1. LA Rams & Matthew Stafford
Los Angeles is a different kind of NFL market with a different kind of fan. It’s more of an entertainment product than a commitment. It’s hard to imagine the Black Hole or the Dog Pound in SoFi.
Stafford should be a great story. A talented player struggles for years in Detroit but then achieves a Super Bowl victory in his first couple of years after moving to a glamorous major market. The problem is that while LA is a huge media market with plenty of glamour, Stafford is still playing in obscurity as the Rams are an underperforming NFL brand. The Rams have made too many moves – does it seem like the Greatest Show on turf is the same club as last year’s champions?
Stafford has an opportunity to build a legacy, and maybe the Rams can finally create some brand equity. Stafford’s QB Win scores were 2.4 wins in 2019, .6 wins in 2020, and 1.7 wins in 2021. Assuming Stafford remains about a 1.6 win player and adjusting for a tougher 2022 schedule, I forecast the Rams as a ten win team.
Rams Forecast: 10 wins
Rams’ Fan Base Ranking: #24
Media Narrative Grade: B-
2. Arizona Cardinals & Kyler Murray
Going into year 4, Murray has established himself as a good but non-elite QB. Will he continue to progress and become a potential Super Bowl winning QB, or is he that Top 10 or 15 QB guy that holds the seat for a decade with frequent but shallow trips to the playoffs? The problem with the Top 10/15 QB is that he is often as expensive as top QBs but without the titles.
Statistically, I rate Murray as pretty much a breakeven guy over the last three years. Financially, he is an organizational nightmare. A good player that will demand big dollars. Murray also gets good press, so he will have media and fan support. But there is little evidence that he is an elite difference-maker. Murray’s QB Win score last year was 1. The previous years’ scores were .4 and -1.2. He is a good example of how QBs progress with experience.
The Cardinals-Murray situation is a tough place for a team in the bottom part of the fan rankings. The Cardinals ranked #29 in the fan rankings. Locking in an above-average QB on a $150 million-plus contract may result in a future of occasional playoff trips rather than brand-building championships.
Cardinals’ Forecast: 9.6 wins
Cardinals’ Fan Base Ranking: #29
Media Narrative Grade: B
3. San Francisco 49ers & Trey Lance
The 49ers are going to be one of my favorite QB stories this year. Jimmy G made SF a frequent postseason team. Trading Jimmy G and installing Trey Lance is amazingly risky. But, I see little in the media that expresses any reservations about pushing Garoppolo out. As an aside – at this writing (early July) it’s starting to appear that maybe Jimmy G remains a 49er.
The old conventional wisdom was that a rookie QB should be allowed to watch for a year before being thrown into a starting role. Last year’s rookie class sank more than they swam as first-year starters. The 49ers are ditching a starter that took them to the playoffs for an extraordinarily unproven player.
Garoppolo is about a plus-one QB. Suppose Trey Lance comes in as a -2.5 win “rookie” QB (that’s better than Trevor Lawrence last year). That’s taking a 3.5 game step back to try and get to the next level. It’s tough to forecast rookies or “new” starters, but this puts the 49ers in 6 or 6.5 win territory. As of this writing, the 49ers still have not traded Jimmy G.
49ers Forecast: 6.3 wins
49ers’ Fan Base Ranking: #12
Media Narrative Grade: C-
4. Seattle Seahawks & Drew Lock
Seattle is in rebuild mode. Lock is a guess as to who will be the Seahawks’ starter. Lock was a -2.3 win guy in 2020. The Seahawks go from a plus 1 win QB in Wilson to a minus 2.3 win player in Lock. However, Wilson was breakeven last year. The projection for the Seahawks is a 5-win season for 2022. Ugly.
Rebuilding programs are unlikely to garner much media attention. There could be a local story if Wilson takes the Broncos to contention. This would be a brutal local story that won’t get much national play. An acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield would give the Seahawks a more compelling storyline.
Update: The Panthers have traded for Mayfield.
Seahawks’ Forecast: 5 wins
Seahawks’ Fan Base Ranking: #11
Media Narrative Grade: C-
NFC West Summary
The NFC West has some solid storylines but is unlikely to dominate the national media. Matthew Stafford trying to repeat is a good example. It’s an excellent story, but it is happening in a market that lacks top-level fan passion. The Kyler Murray is fascinating in it’s on-field and financial implications. Murray is playing for a mega-contract, but the numbers suggest that paying him top-level money may be a mistake. Do the Cardinals give a contract that devotes about 20% of the salary cap to a good but not great QB? It’s a intriguing story, but it’s happening in Arizona. The 49ers’ and Seahawks’ stories are interesting as it appears that the two clubs are making voluntary choices to go into rebuilding mode. These are probably local stories that balance immediate fan unhappiness with hope for the future.
Check out our other divisional projections here:
All Divisional Projections
Stream the podcast discussion of the preview on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.