Best in the West: Ranking NFC West, No. 1 to 4

The latest addition to my NFL offseason football betting series looks at ranking the NFC West teams from top to bottom. Updated win totals, futures, trends and analysis for the Cardinals, 49ers, Rams and Seahawks.

ranking NFC West teams for NFL 2021 season

The Rams are a near unanimous choice for top spot when ranking NFC West teams, but the 49ers are climbing the charts

Ranking NFC West Teams for 2021

One thing about ranking NFC West teams for the start of the 2021 season is that you don’t have to go very far down the NFL power ranking charts. Based on the average of five reputable sports betting websites, not one of these contenders ranked lower than 13th overall.

Power rankings will fluctuate as the season goes on. Looking at rankings now compared to Week 8 or 16 will offer a much different landscape. And ranking NFC West teams based on their odds to win the Super Bowl will offer the same volatility.

Below, you’ll find the current season win total odds, plus odds to win the division and a host of NFL trends. Ranking NFC West teams ahead of Week 1 should serve as a good indicator of how the oddsmakers will set the line when all four head into battle for Week 4.

Week 4 NFC West matchups include the Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers. Current lines favor the Rams (-4.5) and 49ers (-3.5) points.

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No. 1: Los Angeles Rams

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2021 NFL Season Win Total Odds: 9.5 OV -115
Pre-draft NFL Win Total Odds: 10.5 UN -150
2020 Record: 10-6
Average Wins 2018-20: 10.7
Odds to win the Division: +195 (2nd place)
Net Strength of Schedule: T-9th most difficult  

QB Matthew Stafford joins the Rams off a 4,084-yard passing year in which he threw 26 TDs to just 10 interceptions. Synonymous with garbage time touchdowns and thrilling comebacks, Stafford’s 10 picks ties a career low for him amongst the nine seasons where he played 16 games.

HC Sean McVey isn’t giving us a glimpse of his new arm talent during the preseason but everyone knows what to expect. Stafford is a tough, smart quarterback that has been around long enough to know what kind of opportunity is in front of him. He did injure his thumb in training camp but results were negative. Other than staying healthy, the goal now is to win a playoff game (or four), something Stafford has failed to do in three attempts.

The Rams run game sustained a big hit when second-year RB Cam Akers suffered a torn Achilles just before camp. Akers led the team last year with 625 rushing yards but he’ll miss the season and Darrell Henderson (2nd with 624 yards), will look to fill the void. Depth is a concern but McVey doesn’t seem interested in the veteran backs still on the market.

This is Stafford’s time to shine and he’ll be tasked with elevating the passing game to levels that former Rams QB Jared Goff was unable to reach. Los Angeles has the O-Line, ranked 9th by Pro Football Focus, and they have Aaron Donald on D. There is great potential for a playoff run but divisional games will be a test, not to mention the Week 3 meeting with the Bucs and Week 12 trip to Green Bay.

Los Angeles Rams Trends

In four years with the Rams, HC McVay has posted a winning record straight up all four seasons. From 2017-2020, he was 32-16 SU against the NFC.

  • The past two years, McVey’s record season conference record is 16-8 ATS (67%).

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Watch for this high-percentage Over/Under angle in the second half of the season.

  • From Week 9 out, McVey and the Rams are 11-4 OVER (73%) when facing a team that scored more than 20 points last week, and the Rams also scored more than 20 points last week.

With a high average total of 47 points per game, the Rams have been an UNDER bettor’s best friend when laying points.

  • Since 2019, Los Angeles has a 18-4 UNDER (88%) when favored.

No. 2: Seattle Seahawks

When ranking the NFC West, the Seahawks are only second by a hair over the Niners and with three road games in the first four weeks, this could change in a hurry. Seattle opens at Indianapolis, where the new improved O-Line will get its first test against a Colts’ pass rush that was 11th in sack percentage, but below average in most other pass defense metrics.

2021 NFL Season Win Total Odds: 9.5 OV -170
Pre-draft NFL Win Total Odds: 9.5 OV -135
2020 Record: 12-4
Average Wins 2018-20: 11
Odds to win the Division: +260 (3rd place)
Net Strength of Schedule: 7th most difficult  

Seattle’s new O-Co Shane Waldron spend the past four seasons with the Rams. He has a good mind for the passing game and if Waldron can develop chemistry with Russell Wilson, this offense will look a lot more like the one that averaged 298 passing yards per game in the first half of 2020. Not the one that sunk to 189 yards per game in the second half.

Seattle Seahawks Trends

Here is an early-season trend worth monitoring. The Seahawks open on the road at Indianapolis and then travel again in Week 3 to Minnesota. They are currently listed as small underdogs for each contest.

  • HC Pete Carroll’s road record in the month of September is 5-13 ATS (28%).

This contrarian angle has created a massive ROI for UNDER bettors through the years.

  • When coming off a home win, the Seahawks are 23-6 UNDER (79%) in divisional road games.

On the flip side, it’s time to pound the OVER when this situation arises:

  • Seattle’s non-divisional road record when getting points off a win is 31-6 OVER (84%).

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No. 3: San Francisco 49ers

How much weight can bettors place on D-Co Robert Saleh’s departure to New York? During Saleh’s tenure, San Francisco’s defensive ranking went from 24th, to 13th and then second overall in 2019.

San Francisco has the talent and coaching to overcome the loss of Saleh. The more important thing for this Niners team in 2021 will be the ability to stay healthy. Injuries last year to Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, Dee Ford and Solomon Thomas amongst others, only set the unit back to fifth in total yards, which is a statement in itself.

The 49ers withstood 166.6 adjusted games lost in 2021, most in the NFL by a mile and more than double the league average.

In 2021, the Niners’ roster was ravaged by injuries to key positions on both sides of the football. Offensively, the team lost 78.7 games (3rd most) and not one position was immune to the injury bug. To shore up the offensive line, the Niners extended LT Trent Williams with a six-year mega deal worth $138 million. It makes Williams the highest-paid O-Lineman in the NFL, and solidifies San Fran’s spot inside the Top 10 rankings at PFF. Center Alex Mack was lured from Atlanta, as well, where he spent time with HC Kyle Shanahan.

Coach Shanahan has a decision to make between incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo and first round draft pick, Trey Lance. Each has looked good in camp and there is a strong chance that both will see action throughout the season, but Shanahan isn’t tipping his hand towards the Week 1 starter just yet.

2021 NFL Season Win Total Odds: 10.5 UN -130
Pre-draft NFL Win Total Odds: 10.5 UN -150
2020 Record: 6-10
Average Wins 2018-20: 7.7
Odds to win the Division: +190 (1st place)
Net Strength of Schedule: 6th easiest

San Francisco 49ers Trends

San Francisco is projected as the favorite in more than 10 games this season. Conference favorites off a losing season are a general fade, covering just 39% of all games the past 30 years, but note this team-specific trend for the Niners.

  • The 49ers are 16-7 OVER (70%) in games as a conference favorite since 2010 that followed a losing season.
  • Kyle Shanahan has been in this situation 14 times, going 11-3 OVER (79%). That includes a 8-1 OVER (89%) record at home.

The Niners are slated for just one Monday Night Football game in 2021, and it’s a big one. Week 10, they’ll host the Rams in a big divisional game.

  • Since 1989, the 49ers are 20-6 SU and 18-7-1 ATS (72%) at home under the Monday night lights.

The current line in this game is 49ers (-3). In the past two seasons, San Francisco is 4-0 SU and 3-1 vs. the Rams, with the UNDER going 3-1.

  • Since 2003, San Francisco is 11-7 ATS (61%) at home vs. the Rams, the UNDER going 12-6 (67%).

No. 4: Arizona Cardinals

Track NFL season win total odds from opening lines to current prices!

2021 NFL Season Win Total Odds: 8.5 OV -110
Pre-draft NFL Win Total Odds: 8 OV -110
2020 Record: 8-8
Average Wins 2018-20: 5.3
Odds to win the Division: +620 (4th place)
Net Strength of Schedule: 11th most difficult  

Has any team slipped further down the NFL power ranking charts than the Arizona Cardinals? Arizona does have some tough matchups in the first-half, but they are either dogs or laying less than -3 in every game through Week 6. There could be a couple value spots for side bettors, and Arizona made a couple nice acquisitions, but these aren’t spring chickens.

WR A.J. Green and RB James Conner join an offense that led the NFL last year in pace and ranked third with 68 plays per game (Chargers, Cowboys). Arizona drafted WR Rondale Moore, who displayed versatility during a NFLX loss to Kansas City, rushing for nine yards, catching three balls and returning a kickoff. The offense just needs to figure out how to convert possessions into points.

HC Kliff Kingsbury is thought to be on a hot seat this year but when every pundit is calling for your team to finish last in the division, there really isn’t much pressure. Under Kingsbury, the Cards went from five wins in 2019 up to eight in 2020. QB Kyler Murray is a talent but betting on him to take a major step forward in this division is a high risk. ATS covers, sure, but the Cards are looking like another 8-8 team this year.

Arizona Cardinals Trends

Arizona averaged 1.3 giveaways per game in 2020, slightly worse than the league average and a step back from 2019 (1.1). This is an area that QB Murray could improve upon in his third season and if so, you’ll want to circle the Cards at home.

  • Arizona is 36-19 ATS (71%) on home turf following back-to-back games in which they won the turnover battle.
  • As an underdog of less than +3 points or more than +7 points, QB Murray is 9-3 ATS (75%).

Arizona is slated for one, two or three indoor road games this season, depending how you want to classify SoFi Stadium (Week 4) and Dallas Cowboys Stadium (Wee 17). The third site is Week 15 at Detroit.

  • Arizona’s recent record in domed road games is 5-14 ATS (26%).  

After losing nine-straight eastern time zone road games against the spread (2015-18), QB Murray and the Cards have turned the corner.

  • Since 2019, HC Kingsbury has compiled a 6-2 ATS road record in the ETZ.

Ranking NFC West Teams: Bottom Line

Thanks to an easier strength of schedule, San Francisco is moving up the ranks across the NFL betting landscape. The likelihood that any team could get hit with injuries as hard as the Niners did in 2020 is super low, but the Rams and Seahawks aren’t sitting around hoping waiting to find out.

Los Angeles is still the clear cut leader of this division. While their strength of schedule is more difficult than that of the Niners, it has a good flow to it. The fact that a Week 11 bye separates two road games vs. San Francisco at Green Bay is a bonus. The most difficult spot is Week 16-17, when they play back-to-back road games at Minnesota and Baltimore, sandwiched between three divisional matchups. Ouch! Stafford will have to be big and the D is under a great deal of pressure to live up to last year’s high standard, but this isn’t a prediction for how the season will end, it’s a ranking for how it starts.

Seattle’s O-Line was in need of improvements and got them, but keep an eye on the Duane Brown situation. There are a lot of ‘if’s’ surrounding this offense after last year’s implosion, and not a lot of favorable matchups. If the secondary falters, Seattle stands to suffer the biggest decline in 2021.

Along with the players mentioned above, J.J. Watt and Rodney Hudson will help make the Cardinals competitive each week. But a 4-19 SU record the past three years vs. teams that are .500 or better is not going to cut it in the West. Arizona’s final three games are against the Colts, Cowboys and Seahawks. With an entire season to scout the Cardinals first, you’d be better off flat-betting those three games individually than investing long in a future and hoping for the best.

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