Can the Arizona Cardinals win 10 or more games for a third straight season?
One of the best races in the NFL will occur in the NFC West. The defending NFC champs are there in Seattle with Arizona and St. Louis nipping at their heels. San Francisco is a bit of an enigma especially after their odd offseason which saw several players retire out of the blue.
Much like I did with the college football win totals, I will break down the schedules in terms of home and road opponents outside the division. In most situations, I'll give a split to each team in divisional play with them winning at home and losing on the road. Vegas is much more on the ball in the NFL compared to college football so the numbers are a lot sharper.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
(Over 8.5 wins -105, Under 8.5 wins -115)
Record Last Year: 11-5
Offense: Carson Palmer's health will be paramount for Arizona in 2015. As last season (especially in the playoffs) showed, the Cardinals can't survive with Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas at quarterback. The Cards added Mike Iupati to the offensive line and the Pro Bowler will be an instant improvement. The WR corps will be fine with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown. They also have several options at running back.
Defense: Arizona's defense won't be as good as it was last year. Antonio Cromartie, Darnell Dockett and Larry Foote are all gone. The Cardinals still have Patrick Peterson to shut down one side of the field along with Tyrann Mathieu at safety. The team also has to hope that kicker Chandler Catanzaro's rookie season wasn't a fluke and that he can lock down field goals once again.
Schedule: Arizona begins and ends its season with a stretch of three home games in its last four. The Cardinals close out the year with a road game at Philly followed by home contests against the Packers and Seahawks.
Prediction: The under is the play here. There are a lot of question marks with the 2015 Cardinals. Can Palmer make it all 16 games and what will happen at RB? The defense was ranked 24th in 2014 and lost several key pieces. Will this unit be better or take a step back this season?
(Over 8 wins +120, Under 8 wins -140)
Record Last Year: 6-10
Offense: Sam Bradford's out and Nick Foles takes over at quarterback. Foles had an uneven 2014 for the Eagles and moves to a team with fewer weapons on the outside. The Rams hope their running game can take some pressure off of the passing game with Tre Mason leading the way. They also hope that first-round pick Todd Gurley is healthy at some point to give Mason a break.
Defense: One of the best defensive lines in the league got better with the addition of Nick Fairley. Robert Quinn and Chris Long are great bookends with Aaron Donald pushing up the middle. The team also has solid safeties in T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod, who had to clean up the mistakes the mediocre corners made.
Schedule: Three times this season the Rams have back-to-back road games. They also have a three game homestand from Weeks 13-15 when they host Arizona, Detroit and Tampa Bay. St. Louis has an early bye in Week 6.
Prediction: The Rams are building a nice nucleus, but it won't pay off this year. Foles is probably not the long-term answer at quarterback. The defense will keep them in games, but if the run game can't get going, it'll be a long season.
(Over 7.5 wins +173, Under 7.5 wins -205)
Record Last Year: 8-8
Offense: Colin Kaepernick is back and he looks to try and improve from last year when he took a step back. Kap lead the 30th-ranked passing offense in the NFL in 2014. This year he'll try to improve with Torrey Smith at WR, who replaces Michael Crabtree (Oakland). This side of the ball also lost Frank Gore, Mike Iupati and Jonathan Martin. Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush and Kendall Hunter form a nice group of RBs.
Defense: The 2015 49ers defense will not be as strong as it has been in the past. One can point to the departures of Chris Borland, Chris Culliver, Ray McDonald, Patrick Willis and Perrish Cox. Darnell Dockett came over from Arizona and will help get pressure on the quarterback.
Schedule: San Francisco hosts Green Bay, Baltimore and Seattle in an 18-day stretch in October. The 49ers play three of their first five on the road and don't have too many friendly stretches.
Prediction: I don't have to tell you what the selection is here. The only chance for this team is if Kaepernick takes a leap forward in his game. New head coach Jim Tomsula's got his work cut out for him.
(Over 11 wins -125, Under 11 wins +105)
Record Last Year: 12-4
Offense: The rich got richer this offseason as the Seahawks picked up Jimmy Graham via trade. He will represent a nice go-to target for Russell Wilson in the clutch and in the red zone. Marshawn Lynch is back and he continues to be spectacular. The loss of center Max Unger is big, but the rest of the offensive line is going to be fine.
Defense: Seattle experienced some personnel losses here, but the biggest departure was coordinator Dan Quinn to Atlanta. He was the architect of this unit. Byron Maxwell, Malcolm Smith and Jeron Johnson also left. Ironically, Maxwell went to Philadelphia and his replacement is Cary Williams, who was terrible for the Eagles himself. Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are the best safety duo in the league.
Schedule: Seattle has five of its first eight on the road including trips to the Rams and Packers in to open the season. After the Week 9 bye, the Seahawks host Arizona, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. Revenge will be on their mind Nov. 1 when they travel to Dallas after the Cowboys beat them in Seattle in 2014.
Prediction: The over is right. Eventually this ride has to end, but the addition of Graham makes Wilson that much better. Seattle haters will have to hope that the Seahawks experience injuries, which they seemingly haven't had the past few years.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.