BREES   SAINTS   428/627 4870 32 11  
PALMER   CARDINALS 342/537 4671 35 11  
RYAN   FALCONS   407/614 4591 21 16  
PETERSON VIKINGS   327 1485 11    
MARTIN    BUCCANEERS 288 1402 6    
GURLEY   RAMS   229 1106 10    
JONES   FALCONS   136 1871 8    
BECKHAM GIANTS   96 1450 13    
SACKS       NO.        
ANSAH   LIONS   14.5        
DONALD   RAMS   11        
SHORT   PANTHERS 11        
BOWMAN 49ERS   154 116 38    
DAVID   BUCCANEERS 147 85 62    
LEE   COWBOYS 128 76 52    
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Article by Rob Newell Not anymore but until recently the NFC West has stoically remained out of the news headlines, following the Rams return to the City of Angels the most controversial thing coming out of the NFC West was Seattle QB Russell Wilson and his engagement, no 49ers drinking and driving, no domestic violence reported, but then the NFL decided to release the 2016 schedule and the proverbial damn was broken. Last year the Rams front office duo of Jeff Fisher and Les Snead were adamant all the way up to and through the combine that Sam Bradford was their man no matter what, only to trade him to Philadelphia for Nick Foles.  So when they tried the same tactic this year singing the apparent many virtues of Case Keenum, not many of us were buying.  Having said that, and with the knowledge that the Rams needed a Quarterback, something that the move to Los Angeles only highlights, to trade up from number 15 to number 1 was a surprise. Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson made sure that everyone knew the possibility of a trade was on the table, but with the cost of moving up just a few spaces in the draft order (measured ironically enough by what the Rams received from Washington for Robert Griffin III) seemingly so high, no one was really looking much below Dallas Cowboys or at a push the Philadelphia Eagles as the lowest lying trade partners.  That is now blown out of the water with the Rams passing over in total two first round, two second rounds and two third rounds over the next few seasons for this year’s first pick and a couple of lower round selections.  You would be forgiven for thinking there was some sort of cosmic balancing act at work for the Rams to be the one who gave up the picks for this deal. The reason everyone was considering a deal with the Titans was of course to get above Cleveland whom everyone believed was odds on to take a QB at number two, however they have picked up Griffin III of all QB’s which in some ways closes some of these draft loops in the narrative, and now the Browns may not be going the QB route.  Everyone assumed correctly as it seems that the Titans with Marcus Mariota were set at that position, and if GM’s around the league are going to overpay, it will be for a perceived franchise QB.   Laremy Tunsil - Ole Miss The Rams are of course now in full spin mode, saying that there are many players they are considering with their newly acquired number one pick, but once again, pay little credence to this storyline. The Rams haven’t moved up from Number 15 to take a Left Tackle no matter how good a player Laremy Tunsil may be, the simple truth is that either Carson Wentz or Jared Goff are moving to Hollywood and all the pressure the LA spotlight brings will be on them.  They will be backed up by a premier running game spearheaded of course by Todd Gurley and a top level defence featuring Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn. Whichever one it is, will struggle with the passing game though.  The Rams air attack woes were not all on the QB last year, it is not the most inspiring group of receivers outside Tavon Austin whom they are still identifying how to use, and with so many picks gone in acquiring the QB there is not much help coming on the Receiver front anytime soon, unless they have a deal in the offing for a current star.  No doubt you will have seen the rumors that Wentz is the man the Rams are leaning towards, and this seems to be more smoke and mirrors to me.  My belief is that in the year Pro Football returns to Los Angeles it will be the local boy, college star Goff who the Rams select.  It would be a media dream and a story that sells, box office in the most commercial city in the world. So what does this mean for the draft now?  The acknowledged number one contenders Tunsil, Jalen Ramsey are all moving down the order with the first QB off the board at number one.  The other QB should now be selected at number two I would wager, but not guaranteed to be the Browns anymore.  All those teams that wanted a QB and thought they might have had a chance in the initial order, Dallas, San Francisco and Philadelphia will now have their resolve tested. How highly do they rate the other QB deemed to be a first round talent are they willing to trade with Cleveland to get him?  That will be a steep price too as the Browns could quite conceivably be happy to take him themselves if nobody bites. The rest of the top 7 picking teams are all very happy in the sense that Tunsil, Ramsey, Myles Jack, DeForest Buckner and Ezekiel Elliott are all going to be there and if your picking 3 to 7 you are guaranteed one of these unless someone jumps up again.  The Titans and maybe the Browns are going to be sitting on a lot of picks and I expect them to move further in the draft and look to package something to get back in the first round for more first round players. The other player all this could impact in the West of course is 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick.  After one of the more protracted and tedious will he won’t he games in history this saga must surely draw to a close soon.  As the first round QB talents go off the board the availability of Kaepernick will once again seem attractive to some teams and the 49ers who so far have been resolute about the need for a third round pick in return, may also be willing to budge,  There is a chance of a pre-draft deal with the Jets for Kaepernick and Mo Wilkerson to swap coasts, but come the start of 2016 I think Kaepernick will finally be on the bench for another team whilst Blaine Gabbert starts in San Francisco backed up by a mid-round draft selection, one of the many picks the 49ers have this year. Meanwhile up in the North West the original Legion of Boom has been reunited as Brandon Browner has returned to Seattle.  Based on the last few seasons expect a barrage of yellow flags to accompany him as he may just be one of the first to test the referee’s under the new personal conduct policy.
Article by Rob Newell Following the Super Bowl and before the combine and the opening of Free Agency is as close as the NFL will get to an off season, yet even in this apparent lull the NFL still throws up some stories, some of which will have a large impact for fans of the NFC West.  Below I bring you this news from the end of the 2015 season to date. Firstly the biggest change facing the division is geographical and you could argue that the NFC West is now a lot more Western that it was previously.  The worst kept secret in the last 12 months was that the Rams were the team to kick-start the NFL relaunch of a Los Angeles franchise and after a 30-2 owners vote at the league meeting the LA Rams are once again appearing on the schedule.  For those NFL fans who remember the 1980’s and beyond this is a move that brings back a feeling of familiarity.   For Rams fans who are sticking with the team following the move from St Louis, it turns out not everything is going to be familiar.  This past week the Rams have announced the release of Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Jared Cook, news that came as quite a shock for fans and also to the players themselves.  Since the relocation to LA was confirmed, Long and Laurinaitis in particular have been used to sell the Rams to the LA populous so it is a little strange that these two players in particular will not be suiting it up in September.  The release of Cook is not as big a surprise, his time in St Louis did not set the league on fire and although you can point to the obvious QB issues as a contributing factor, there were many drops and disappointments that were a source of frustration to many Rams fans. Meanwhile up in the Pacific North West, the Seattle Seahawks found themselves for the first time in a few years not required to play football in early February, for one Seahawk in particular this lull proved to be too much.  With just about 10 minutes remaining in Super Bowl a picture was tweeted of a pair of cleats hanging from a phone line, a simple image perhaps that says 1000 words.  Then again when have we ever known Marshawn Lynch to use actual words, what we do know is that the Beast Quake era is officially over and all the responsibility will now fall squarely on the shoulders of QB Russell Wilson. The Seahawks had better do a better job of protecting him going forward, as last year the sight of Wilson scrambling, not through choice but because the opposing DL was coming swarming through the middle of the Seahawks OL was commonplace.  Wilson has the talent and in Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls there are some good Running Backs still on this team, but Marshawn these last few years when healthy has been arguably the most productive in the league and that is a large hole to fill on a permanent basis. Now on to the team that has cause to the busiest in the West, the San Francisco 49ers, who have announced that their new head coach is Chip Kelly, after Jim Tomsula was one and done in San Fran.  This was not a surprise to anyone and it's hard not to feel that Tomsula was a patsy who was a buffer to enable the team to move from Jim Harbaugh to another recognised coach who news doesn't have the pressure of having to directly replace the success that Harbaugh enjoyed.  Mind you $14million will make most people happy to be a patsy. Right from the press conference though you could sense that the Niners had a coach who knew what he was about, in direct contrast to Tomsula last year.  Kelly is also it seems on a mission to make nice as much as possible, after many accusations of possible racism to lack of emotional intelligence whilst in Philadelphia.  Kelly handled the many questions regarding the 49ers QB situation by ensuring whenever one was mentioned he included the other in his answer.  Several stories have linked Kaepernick to Kelly but many observers feel that Blaine Gabbert might be the better fit for Kelly’s offensive schemes. The Niners do have 12 picks in the upcoming draft including the number 7 overall, as well as a ton of salary cap space which may make Free Agency exciting so despite all the bluster, there may be a rookie QB coming to San Francisco to compete for the starting job yet.  Whoever is under centre they will have a new toy at a Wide Receiver as Eric Rodgers has been signed from the Canadian Football League where he was the leading receiver last year.  At 6ft 2 and fast, Rodgers could be a welcome addition to what was a largely unproductive unit last time around. As for the Arizona Cardinals, they have been mainly quiet since the NFC Championship game beating by the Panthers, but under coach Arians you can be sure they will be back to compete next year.  Rookie David Johnson could be set to breakthrough to real star status to complement one of the most aggressive passing attacks in the league.  They have just recently signed an option for a former Aussie Rules player to try out as a Centre, so mane the land Down Under is the next resource for these Western teams.
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Article by Sam Beresford Late last week it was announced that star running back of the Chicago Bears, Matt Forte, will not be re-joining the team next season. Forte was informed by General Manager Ryan Pace that he was not a part of the team’s future plans. Forte wrote on Instagram “Despite my wishes, my days as a member of the Chicago Bears have sadly come to an end…. I will remain grateful for my time spent in Chicago and being able to play for an organization with such a rich history”. You can clearly see Forte’s gratitude towards Chicago for his 8,602 yard, 8-year career. However, with this news, we have to ask the question, where will Forte be playing in 2016. Teams should be wary of signing an aging running back, just ask the Philadelphia Eagles!   1.       New England Patriots A popular choice for Forte would be the Patriots. New England are desperate for a lead back after having to be led by an aging Steven Jackson in the play-offs. Forte could complement up and coming rusher Dion Lewis, who missed the end of last year through injury. Lewis and Forte are both great pass catchers and can give opponents something else to worry about. All-time great coach Bill Belichick would be able to create a game plan around Forte and Lewis, helping to take the pressure off Tom Brady. On Forte’s Instagram account he states that he is “trying to win a championship”, New England may give him the best chance of achieving his goal. The Pats could have the most dynamic back-field in the league, not that they need any more help!   2.       New York Jets With Chris Ivory unlikely to re-sign with gang green, and Bilal Powell’s future in doubt, could the Jets be in the mix for signing Forte? They have always been based off their running game, with the ability to play action and hit aerial duo Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Last season, New York looked impressive when Ivory was thundering through defenders, easing the pressure off Ryan Fitzpatrick. On the other hand, they struggled without the ground and pound Ivory, this was shown in the loss to the Oakland Raiders, where the missing Ivory was apparent.   3.       Dallas Cowboys This is the obvious choice. With the All-Pro offensive line that the Cowboys boast, Forte would surely be able to carve up defences. Last season, that line made mediocre Darren McFadden look like an above average starter, running for over 1000 yards in just 10 starts. Forte may not be able to win a championship in Dallas but he would be the lead back, allowing him to rack up some yards, helping to solidify his chances of getting into Canton. This move would scream Jerry Jones, who loves to make a splash in free agency.   4.       Tennessee Titans Maybe an odd choice for Forte, but not for the Titans. The Titans now believe they have a franchise quarterback under centre, in Marcus Mariota, now all the need is a franchise running back. Many experts believe that the Titans will improve their offensive line in this year’s draft, with Tunsil being the favourite. Should the receivers continue to improve, especially Green-Beckham, Forte, partnered with David Cobb and this new and improved offensive line, could make the Titans offence something to look forward to next year. They definitely have the cap room to facilitate bringing in Forte, which could help bring the Titans out of the NFL abyss. Overall, it all depends on what Forte really wants, money or a ring? Should it be the latter, unfortunately for most, I could definitely see Forte take a pay cut to sign with the Patriots. Although, most would love to see Forte bring hope to a sorry franchise such as the Titans.
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Article by Rob Newell There were mixed fortunes for the NFC West teams involved in this weekend’s divisional round matchups, but the division champion Arizona Cardinals eventually booked their spot in the coming weekend’s Championship round with a thrilling 26-20 win at home over the Green Bay Packers following Overtime.   This was a game that many thought following their Week 16 matchup might just be another blowout victory for the Cardinals, but this was a different Green Bay Packer team, with some of their defensive pieces back.  Oh and of course this team has Aaron Rodgers, and despite the fact that when Randall Cobb went down in the first quarter, Rodgers was missing his top four receivers, when you have Rodgers you have a chance.   His Arizona counterpart Carson Palmer was looking for his first career postseason win and at times looked a little tight, but as the game wore on and it time for a big play, Palmer was able to relax into the game and he of course had all of his receivers available and combined they just may be the best trio in the game, in the form of course of John Brown, Michael Floyd and the Hall of Famer in waiting Larry Fitzgerald.   Takeaways from this game of note, after a slow start the Arizona Cardinal defence stepped up and stopped the Packers from 13-7 down right up to the final minute of regulation time.  Then facing a 4th and 20 from their own 5 with 55 seconds on the clock, Aaron Rodgers was in his element, with regulation time ending not for the first time this season on an immaculate Rodgers Hail Mary pass, this time to Jeff Janis.  One of two TD’s for Janis on the day as he stepped up with 145 yards from 7 catches.   Is there a better team than the Packers at coming down with Hail Mary balls, either they are so well coached that they spend time working on this as a drill or they are incredibly lucky?  Either way Rodgers did it again and tied this game up at 20 each and forced Overtime.  This directly led to what will no doubt become known as Coingate or Tossgate as the referee was seemingly unable to toss the coin properly in a coin flip that resulted with Arizona getting the ball.   When the pressure is on your big players step up and has there ever been a better big time pressure player than Larry Fitzgerald.  If Jeff Janis had a day for Green Bay then Fitzgerald was simply magical.  On the day 8 balls for 176 yards including the huge 75 yard play to the Packers 5 yard line when for all the world Palmer looked like he was going to be sacked, Palmer instead just about spun out of it and found Fitzgerald who had found space and the rest was inevitable as he beat 6 Packers before just being tackled 75 yards downfield.  Not to be denied two plays later, both passes to Fitzgerald and the game was over and Arizona are heading to Carolina in what should be a game worthy of the Super Bowl itself.   In the other game the other NFC West team Seattle Seahawks deserve credit for winning the second half of their divisional round game 24-0.  Given they have struggled in many games in the fourth quarter they would normally be overjoyed at such a strong late game showing, however the fact they were soundly embarrassed in the first half by 31-0 meant this late game effort was doomed to fall short.   Therefore the NFC kings are dead, long live the new kings will it be Carolina Panthers the number one seeded 15-1 team or the Cardinals no 2 seed at 13-3. Next Sunday sure is going to be fun.  The Seahawks will be kicking themselves that they will not be part of it.   Maybe Russell Wilson and teammates were still frozen from their time in Minnesota last week and even the return of Beast Mode could not thaw them out as Carolina dominated on offence and defence in the first half.  When the Panthers have a big lead strange things happen though and they could easily have lost 4 games this season in very similar circumstances as teams have come back to tie or take the lead from seemingly dead situations.   Wilson is too good to keep quiet for an entire game though and the second half was all Seattle and he got it back to a one score game which seemed fair before the game, but the way the two teams got to their points was a little surprising.   One point of note, this defeat could well be the last time Marshawn Lynch takes the field for the Seahawks, given his salary cap hit next year if he comes back and the emergence of Thomas Rawles in relief of Lynch this year, indications are Lynch is done in Seattle, shame it wasn’t a bigger game from the Beast Mode if this turns out to be true.
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Article by Rob Newell Welcome to the ever changing world of the NFL and the NFC West in particular.  With the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals still firmly entrenched in the race to Super Bowl 50, the divisions other two teams have decided that they do not want to be out of the NFL news cycle for long either. As I wrote previously, the Rams are on the move back to Los Angeles and it does seem that moves are afoot to reintroduce the old LA Rams uniforms, and now the San Francisco 49ers have decided it was their turn to make the headlines.  For a team based not a million miles away from Silicon Valley, it may be fitting that a man called Chip was today confirmed as the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.   In terms of coaching personalities, the NFC West was already well off with Bruce Arians and Pete Carrol established as two of the more characterful coaches in the game.  Chip Kelly was a coach who probably ranked up there with these two and now he joins the sidelines of the NFC West we are in for some interesting divisional matchups next year.   In many ways it feels a strange appointment, Kelly was involved in a big power play last season where he wanted full control of personnel decisions and the 53 man roster, whereas he comes to San Francisco with Trent Balke established as the GM so will Kelly be able to let go of that and focus just on Head Coaching duties?  I think that even though it was known that Kelly was interviewing with the Niners, it was thought that Kelly may have really been maneuvering towards the Tennessee Titans and the chance to once again work with Marcus Mariota.  However, the coaching carousel is beginning to stop with jobs disappearing from the market, and the Niners needed to act before it was too late.   There is a common theory that in the NFL if you fire a coach you go for the opposite of what you had last time when choosing the next, a theory that rings true today.  Jim Tomsula a first time head coach with a career in defensive coaching could not be more removed from the   offensive schemes of Chip Kelly.   Kelly will of course have a fairly high draft pick in San Francisco and till now the common thought was that would be used on a QB, and of course it still might.  However, Kelly has made no secret of the fact that he has been a big fan of Colin Kaepernick and was rumored to be looking to sign him to run his scheme wherever Kelly was to coach next (according to NFL reporter Ian Rapportport).  Landing in San Francisco Kelly inherits Kaepernick anyway, so this may just be the second chance Kaepernick needs and maybe it will now be Blaine Gabbert looking for a backup role elsewhere next year.   The Kelly system has always worked best with a mobile athletic QB who can provide a running threat, something Kelly hasn’t had since Mariota and something Kaepernick has been encouraged to move away from after the 49ers Super Bowl season 3 years ago, this could then be a match made in Silicon Heaven.  If this is the plan that is great news for the Niners in many ways, if they are not taking a QB early then they can use that pick for another playmaker which the team needs, be it at Receiver or Pass Rusher.   Fair to say that when Free Agency and draft time come around the 49ers may be quite active as Kelly looks to overhaul what was a disappointing team last year when compared to their history.  However history also tells us that coaches with new offensive schemes tend to do well in San Francisco, Bill Walsh and the West Coast offence anyone!  It is fair to say this appointment is not universally liked, but if Kelly can recreate the former magic with Kaepernick or Gabbert or a draft pick then the fans will be there, and for the most part whether you like his systems or training regimes or not Kelly has won games just about everywhere he has been, last season aside.  He has some pieces in place in San Francisco will the QB proof system be reborn, watch this space it should be fun to watch.
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Article by Rob Newell When it comes to January football in recent times, you have to admit there is something about the Seattle Seahawks, things do seem to happen at the end of their games.  They will tell you not always in their favour of course (Super Bowl 49) but the two time NFC Champions are still in it and fighting for a third straight Super Bowl mainly as a result of two single plays.   People talk in hushed revered tones about the mystique of the frozen tundra of Green Bay and with good reason.  However if the city of Minnesota had played more outside games instead of the domed stadiums, then that legend may just belong to the Vikings and not the Packers.  The Wild Card matchup in January 2016 was recorded as the third lowest game temperature in NFL history, with the wind chill making it feel like negative 25.   No surprise then that we were not treated to a free flowing West Coast offensive exhibition, this was a day when defence was king, as you would expect from a 10-9 final score, but both defensive units were excellent.  Teddy Bridgewater and Russell Wilson were under severe pressure pretty much all day long, and stepping up in the pocket just to try and get something on a pass in those temperatures usually resulted in a sack or a QB hit for the defence.  What little momentum there was through the opening 3 quarters was just on the side of the Vikings, but this Seahawks team was not about to give up a touchdown for anyone and held to two Blair Walsh field goals.   It is not uncommon though for Pete Carrol to talk about the importance of winning the 4th quarter, this Seahawks team act at times like it is their right to do this, and so it proved again as this game all turned on a moment of magic once again from Russell Wilson.  Just inside the Vikings half for the first time in a long time, the ball was snapped as Wilson was still identifying the blitz, the ball therefore sailed past Wilson to around the 50 yard line.  Wilson scrambled after it, was able to gather the ball and roll out to his right before the blitz could arrive.  This gave Wilson the chance to find rookie Tyler Lockett left free over the middle, who took the ball down to the 4 yard line.   A few plays later Wilson finds Doug Baldwin and Seattle are in front.  The next possession and the Vikings biggest star Adrian Peterson fumbles the ball under pressure from Kam Chancellor and Jeremy Lane and the Seahawks recovered for what would turn into the winning Field Goal attempt.  Peterson out of all the players the league suspended last year for domestic abuse seems to have rehabilitated back into the league the easiest, but I wonder if the powers that be had one more thing in store as a matter of penance for Peterson as that fumble came out far too easily.   Credit to Teddy though, down 10-9 and in final drive of the game scenario and under extreme pressure, Teddy stood tough and maneuvered the Vikings into what was surely a game winning 27 yarder for Blair Walsh, but it was pulled way left and Seattle advanced as the Vikings slumped to the ground like they had been hit by a switch.  The Seahawks will now face Carolina in Charlotte and the chance of another NFC West showdown to decide the NFC title is still on the table although that would need to be hosted by Arizona for that to occur, somewhere no doubt a lot warmer that Minnesota this past weekend.   Speaking of somewhere warmer than Minnesota, football has returned to the city of Los Angeles in the form of the Rams.  The league owners have approved the plans of Rams owner Stan Kroenke by a 30-2 margin smashing the 24 votes required to relocate.  The Chargers may yet also move to be part of the new stadium Kroenke is building, but if they reject that option then the Raiders would have the option instead.  For NFL fans from the mid 80’s like myself the Los Angeles Rams just sounds more right than St Louis, no offence to the city of St Louis intended.   Will the full rebirth of the LA Rams be completed by the lighter blue and yellow uniforms just to complete the familiar feel of this, time will tell but the Rams should be moving soon to play initially at the USC Stadium as their new stadium is built and it promises to be a stadium that rivals the Cowboys stadium or house that Jerry built as it is commonly known.  With a stadium promising to deliver the wow factor it is going to be interesting to see how much longer Jeff Fisher will be given to get past 7-9 records or for Case Keenum to be a starting QB.  When in LA you need to be a bit more showbiz to compete, we will see if changes are coming now that LA is a potential destination for free agents etc…
Article by Rob Newell As has become the norm, Week 17 was once again divisional matchups, which in the NFC West meant nothing was at stake except pride and confidence as first place Arizona entertained 2nd place Seattle and 4th place San Francisco entertained 3rd place Rams.  I would say St Louis but later this month that may be inaccurate as they are expected to file their relocation claim today (4th January) ahead of the owners meeting on the 12th January.  Los Angeles does seem to beckon the Rams, will the Chargers or Raiders join them, my feeling is that it will be the Chargers with Oakland retaining the Raiders for now.   Back to the NFC West though and I will start with the two lower placed teams and what ended after overtime with a victory I predicted last week for the 49ers.  There was no reason on paper to believe the Niners should have won this game, apart from it is an NFC West type thing and the Rams defeat means yet another 7-9 season for the Rams, yet it seems Coach Fisher is going to be safe yet again.  Another losing season for Fisher next year once the team is in LA and I fear his luck may run out before the attendance figures drop.    In San Francisco Coach Tomsula has not enjoyed the same luck as Fisher, despite winning this game to take San Francisco to a 5-11 record and the fifth pick in the 2016 draft when the whole NFL viewing world felt they were nailed on number one pick after the off-season retirements.  Tomsula was let go on the Sunday evening following the game in a move reminiscent of last year when Jim Harbaugh was finally released following week 17.  Something not lost on Harbaugh who took to social media to comment when the news had broken.  Chip Kelly and Mike Shanahan are early names in the mix for the 49ers job, I expect Kelly is really looking towards Tennessee and Marcus Mariota so maybe Shanahan will return.   Both Rams and 49ers have questions about the QB position with the original higher paid designated starters being benched in favour of the backups.  Blaine Gabbert at least has shown something in relief of Colin Kaepernick without any running game help or without starting receivers for most of his games, and I expect Gabbert will remaining in San Francisco with Kaepernick traded but the new Head Coach will be looking to draft his own QB of the future.  The Rams have probably finished to far down the order to look at drafting a QB in April so a free agency move could be on the agenda again.  Whoever comes to the Rams will be delighted with the running game in the shape of Todd Gurley but the Rams receivers are in dire need of an upgrade and a proper number one receiver.   Now for the headline act, Seattle at Arizona.  The Cardinals had a shot at the overall number one seed if other results went their way, but that soon became a dream as Seattle put in their best showing of the season and limited Arizona to their worst.  The Seahawks defence playing without Kam Chancellor completely shut down the Cardinals.  Maybe being back at the sight of their Super Bowl defeat last season inspired them to put things right and the Seahawks cruised to a 36-6 victory on the back of their defence and special teams.   At one point just before half-time Tyler Lockett the rookie of the year candidate had more return yardage than the entire Cardinals offence had racked up.  The Cardinals were getting beaten up so bad that Carson Palmer came out in the second half just to keep him for the playoffs, meanwhile his Seahawks counterpart Russell Wilson has been the best QB in the league in the second half of the season and with the defence and special teams giving him short fields it is almost unfair.  Perhaps making it even more unfair is that this Seahawks offence already ranked in the top 5 to complement their once again number one defence is about to get Marshawn Lynch back for the playoffs.   The 12’s will not have home field advantage this time but off the back of this game in Arizona there is nobody in the NFC happy to be playing Seattle.  The late night Sunday game between the Vikings and Packers saw the Vikings win to claim the division and 3 seed and a game against the Seahawks, whilst the Packers by losing have a game at Washington.  I am sure Mike McCarthy was aware of this going into the game.  Who would you rather play this weekend, Washington or Seattle?   The Cardinals will now have a bye week after their first division title since 2009 and you can be sure Bruce Arians will get his team to rebound from this performance when they host a playoff game in two weeks.  Don’t be surprised though if the week after that the Cardinals once again are hosting these Seahawks with a lot more on the line.  
Article by Rob Newell First I hope that each of you, my fellow NFL fans have enjoyed a very Merry Christmas, spent with family and friends.  I apologise for missing a week here due to unforeseen hospital visits more than the demands of the season, but I am back today to give you your update of what is what in the NFC West.   Congratulations to the Arizona Cardinals, they are your 2015 NFC West champions. With one regular season game remaining the Cardinals could yet clinch the number one overall seed but have at least guaranteed themselves a first round bye.  They have looked to be the most complete team in the league for most of the season ranking in the top 5 on both offence and defence, and when Chris Johnson went down injured and rookie David Johnson took over the starting running back role, you could easily argue that the Cardinals got even stronger, as Carson Palmer has put together a season that has earned him a place in the MVP conversation.  However, this team has lost the Honey Badger for the rest of the year, how big a loss will this prove to be on the defensive side of the ball?  He gave the Cardinals the sort of defensive x factor that Troy Polymalu gave the Steelers in his prime, making plays in the secondary, stuffing the run and crashing the line of scrimmage for QB pressures and sacks, the Cardinals have cover of course but against the top teams in the league will they rue his injury in the dying moments of the Eagles game. Also congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks who have clinched themselves a playoff spot.  This team which had the high profile Jimmy Graham signing in Free Agency of course has sparked again at the end of the year, rather reminiscently of last season, and ironically after Graham was lost for the year.  Russell Wilson has put the team on his shoulders and legs and who would have thought that Doug Baldwin would ever be in the same ballpark as Jerry Rice when it comes to receiving records, but by going on a run of 5 games where he has claimed 13 touchdowns Baldwin has done something that only the G.O.A.T. has previously managed, oh and a fit Marshawn Lynch might be back in week 17 and ready to bring Beast Mode back for the playoffs.  The defence may not the all-conquering outfit of a few seasons ago but it still has Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, put bluntly the Seahawks were the team that the rest of the NFC hoped wouldn’t make the playoffs, but Pete Carrol has got them there and now there are some who would make them favourites to appear in San Francisco come early February.  Ignore the recent Rams blip, the Rams have always managed to play Seattle well, it hasn’t said much for the Rams otherwise meanwhile the Seahawks are two-time Super Bowl finalists.  They may be on the road but write off the Seahawks at your peril.  Next week the NFC North will be decided when Green Bay play the Vikings for the 3 seed the loser will likely have the 5 seed, the 3 seed will be at home to Seattle while the 5 seed on the road to Washington, would you almost prefer to lose the division ?   Back to those (for now) St Louis Rams, Coach Fisher at times has let the strain show with some very questionable decisions and comments, but the Rams have recovered from their annual mid-season slump and are pushing 7-9 or 8-8 yet again with a game with the 49ers to come, how they manage to get so close to .500 each year is almost mythical.  Their defence which when healthy is a rival for any in the league has been decimated by injury, but Aaron Donald the second year lineman may be on the verge of the unthinkable and be a serious contender to Justin James Watt as the Defensive Player of the Year.  On offence Tavon Austin has finally arrived as the Rams for the first time since he was drafted actually looked like they had some clue how to use him, he is closing in on a 1000 yard from line of scrimmage season before you add in his return game threat, and then there is Todd Gurley.  Every time Gurley looks good the Rams do too, stop Gurley and you probably stop the Rams, but Gurley is a rookie of course recovering from an ACL and what we have seen this year which may yet earn him Offensive Rookie of the Year, is probably a fraction of what he will be in the coming years.  Will those years be in St Louis or Los Angeles of course? And what will the Rams do at QB, is Case Keenum the answer?  While Fisher is in charge maybe, Fisher is happy with 100-200 yards passing as long as Gurley is running the game, but once again we don’t know if the Rams have the QB or Receivers to have than backup Plan B. Which takes me to San Francisco 49ers, all year long it was supposed to be a historical dumpster fire type season, and yes they will finish bottom of the West with a chance of one of the higher draft picks next April, but against the expectations this hasn’t been that bad a season.  I would argue that there is even a positive feel since Blaine Gabbert took over QB responsibilities from Colin Kaepernick, Gabbert has looked far superior to his Jaguars form and played most of his games with basically one receiver, and practice squad running backs and tight ends, yet still managed to look good, Kaepernick for his games this year had the starters around him before they got hurt or traded and may well have been the worst QB in the league, despite rhetoric to the opposite, expect Kaepernick to be wearing a different uniform next year.  Also the Niners defence has not been that bad, led by the returning Navarro Bowman who should be in consideration for comeback player of the year, possibly with Gabbert, Bowman has returned to his old form and the Niners have pushed most opponents all the way, not many have thrashed them.  Time spent on the field in that there was far too much of it has cost the Niners defence which does not have the depth it once did, but again when Gabbert took over and the offence suddenly kept drives alive for longer, the defensive starters had more rest and came out and played better.  There is a long way to go of course, and Coach Jim Tomsula may yet not get a second season but there things to encourage Niners faithful for the coming years. Whoever you support, enjoy the playoffs and of course Happy New Year!
Article by Rob Newell We have reached that part of the season where everything in the NFC West starts to change, it seems to be an annual thing and this year seems to be no different.  Just a few weeks ago, we all thought that the San Francisco 49ers were sure fire number one pick contenders, the St Louis Rams were good shots for a Wild Card and the Seattle Seahawks were as likely to beat themselves than the opposition.  Now just a few weeks later, all that has changed, but first let's have a quick look at the division leading Arizona Cardinals.   Coming off a run which has seen them beat their 3 divisional rivals the Cardinals are rolling and look to be on course for a bye week and the number 2 conference seeding, also the Cardinals had their own moment of history in the 4th quarter of their blowout road victory over the Rams when Larry Fitzgerald hauled in the 1000th catch of what will be a Hall of Fame career.  The Cardinals 27-3 victory was only that close thanks to the quality of the Rams defence who spent a lot of time on the field in this one.   Seems a long time ago that Todd Gurley went 4 straight weeks over 100 yards and was being crowned rookie of the year already, add in a Wide Receiver core missing its safest pair of hands in Stedman Bailey, and has now developed a case of the drops, with a QB competition between Nick Foles and Case Keenum, neither of whom would start elsewhere based on this season's evidence, and you see why Head Coach Jeff Fisher felt the need to fire his offensive coordinator on Monday.   Might this be too little too late, there is a groundswell of opinion that Fisher himself may be in danger in St Louis, or indeed even Los Angeles, we await to hear more on that, I am sure it was just coincidental that just after the league have met to discuss LA the Rams chose to wear the old LA Rams throwback uniforms.  Speaking of uniforms, have you seen the Rams colour rush uniforms for the final home game of the year?  Let's just say if the lights in the dome go out you may not know for a while.   Any remember this time last year when the Seahawks were trying to be more of a passing team, it wasn’t working so they went back to what they did best with Beast Mode and suddenly the Super Bowl run started.  Then in the offseason Jimmy Graham was bought in as the missing piece, and one again we were looking at a Seahawks passing game, which up to now hasn’t really worked and this time Beast Mode is out injured when Graham also is lost for the season.   Time to panic for Pete Carrol? Not a chance, the next man up at Running Back is undrafted rookie Trevor Rawls who this year has outbeasted the beast mode.  The Seahawks have once again reverted to their strengths and getting Jeremy Lane back in the Legion of Boom has helped too, but the Seahawks are rolling again.  The division may be unreachable now but they have got themselves into a playoff spot and after the way they dismantled Adrian Peterson and his Vikings in Minnesota, there will not be any NFC team happy to play Seattle come January even without the Seahawks 12th Man advantage.   What about the 49ers?  After their offseason, they could be relied upon to suck surely? Well maybe why Colin Kaepernick was playing they could, but Jim Tomsula a few weeks ago decided to give Blaine Gabbert a chance, and things have looked up for the Bay Area team ever since to the point where the 49ers are now tied record wise with the Rams and most people believe Kaepernick is likely gone elsewhere next season.  Gabbert may not be the long term answer either, but playing behind the same offensive live as Kaepernick and with less options at RB and Receivers thank to injury, Gabbert has got this team moving and was one bad referee call away from being 3-1 since taking over.   Ironically Gabbert may be playing too well and the Niners may miss out on one of the top QB’s in the draft next year thanks to the performance of Gabbert, this may just be Blaine’s team for a season or so as the Niners look for the next QB of the future.  Also I challenge anyone to look at how well the Niners defence is playing and not agree that Navaro Bowman deserves some serious consideration for comeback player of the year, if not for second place in the JJ Watt award for defensive player of the year.   I will finish with one cautionary note for Cardinals fans, yes your team is going great but there seems to be a problem in getting the play into the huddle at times, they are a team that have been caught several times for delay of game, and in last few weeks have completed big pass plays on several other plays when the ball has been snapped late and got away with it.  The Cardinals are great and a balanced team no matter what facet of their game you look at, but I’d like to see the clock management managed just a little more carefully, manage that and we could be talking about another Super Bowl appearance fro the NFC West.  
Article by Robert Newell 'Twas the week before Thanksgiving and all through the league, not a torn shoulder was an issue as Colin Kaepernick looks set to be a former San Francisco 49er.  There was much talk that he was needing a rest, and Blaine Gabbert came in and beat Atlanta.  The narrative then changed to Gabbert being the sacrificial lamb offered up to the Seattle Seahawks, and Kaepernick would be back afterwards. Well, as expected the Niners lost in Seattle, but Gabbert showed once again that he is operating the Niners offence in a much better fashion than we have seen from Kaepernick all year long, now news emerges that Kaepernick asked to go on injured reserve and has had surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, meaning from the Niners viewpoint this is now Blaine Gabbert’s team till the end of the season.  The way Kaepernick’s contract was structured and being outplayed by Gabbert it now seems an iron clad certainty that Kaepernick has played his last down for San Francisco, if Gabbert can now keep them from the overall number one pick may influence if it remains his team next year. The Seahawks have their own passing of the torch moment, with news Marshawn Lynch requires surgery the Hawks turned to undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls, who turned it on.  Bear in mind that this same 49ers defence held Davonte Freeman, the then rushing leader to just 12 yards in their last outing, Rawls was not having any of that.  He went for over 200 yards on the ground and almost 50 more receiving with two touchdowns.  Gabbert did not disgrace himself though and he did have his first choice receiver in Anquian Boldin this time out, but the Niners are desperately missing Carlos Hyde from their own backfield, it will be interesting to see what Gabbert can do when he has a legitimate running threat behind him, and he has already rediscovered the Tight End position, albeit the week after Vernon Davis left the team. Meanwhile division leader Arizona Cardinals kept rolling in a last second win over the Cincinnati Bengals.  It was a win that maintained the Cardinals three game lead but meant a whole lot more for personal reasons to former Bengal, Carson Palmer.  This was a much stronger Bengals side than the one who didn’t turn up last time out against the Texans, but at the key moments, Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald combined to put the Cardinals in place for the winning Field Goal.  They have San Francisco next for all looks good for the Cardinals, whilst the Seahawks entertain Pittsburgh, could Bruce Arians old team do his new one a favour this time around. The Rams meanwhile seem to self destruct again, Case Keenum despite appearing to be concussed was left in the game and two plays later fumbled the ball back to Baltimore who despite losing Justin Forsett with a broken arm and as it turned out Joe Flacco with a ACL / MCL, but Flacco stayed in to end the game and moved the Ravens down to the winning Field Goal. After the game two bits of Rams news, Stedman Bailey involved in a shooting incident and had been shot in the head several times reportedly, although thankfully he remains in a stable but critical condition. Thoughts and prayers for continued swift recovery.  Also the Rams announced as playing at Twickenham in 2016 against an NFC East opponent, now we just need to know if that will be the St Louis or Los Angeles Rams coming to London.