On the day Carson Wentz injured his knee in Los Angeles last season, the last thing anyone in the NFL expected was that the Philadelphia Eagles would win the Super Bowl. But they did, didn’t they?
The thing is, you can never tell during the season where or when the next surprise is coming from. That’s what keeps the fans coming, the machine rolling.
Soon, the 2018 season will kick off and there’s always hope that your team will be in the middle of it when it ends. Here is a look at the NFC West as NFL training camp gets set to begin next week:
San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo. You may have heard of him? He’s the quarterback the San Francisco 49ers acquired from the Patriots last season, and after being installed as the starter in week 13, brought back that loving feeling to a franchise that’s desperately been searching for its next Montana or Young.
The 49ers won their last five games with Tom Brady’s longtime understudy at the helm, salvaging what was a 1-10 season before Garoppolo was tossed the keys by coach Kyle Shanahan.
And all it cost the 49ers was $137.5 million over five years.
San Francisco wants to keep the momentum building so it spent another $30 million on running back Jerick McKinnon, who basically was little more than a serviceable player with the Vikings.
Defensively, linebacker Reuben Foster has been suspended two games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct and substance abuse policies, But safety Richard Sherman, a four-time All-Pro, was acquired in a trade with Seattle and returns from a torn Achilles tendon that ended his 2017 season.
Sam Bradford will continue his tour of NFL huddles this season with the Cardinals, who gave him a two-year deal in hopes he will be able to replace Carson Palmer until first-round draft pick Josh Rosen is ready.
That seems like an overly optimistic plan since Bradford has rarely been able to stay healthy, like last year in Minnesota where he appeared in only two games because of a bum left knee still suffering the effects of multiple surgeries.
If all goes bad, it will be veteran Mike Glennon who will play before Rosen.
What’s clear is the Cardinals need help after finishing 8-8. The return of injured halfback David Johnson will no doubt help and let’s not forget the great Larry Fitzgerald, who has caught at last 100 passes for at least 1,000 yards for three straight seasons.
The defense will again be led by the durable and talented cornerback Patrick Peterson, but there isn’t a lot of experience on that unit.
Los Angeles Rams
There was no greater surprise in the NFL last season than the quick ascension of the Rams into the playoffs, even though they lost to the Falcons in the Wild Card round.
If nothing else, it helped calm the organization’s nerves about taking quarterback Jared Goff (3,084 yards, 28 TDs) instead of Carson Wentz. The Rams led the NFL in scoring last season (29.9) and that 42-7 demolition of Seattle in Week 15 was something to see.
Things will be a little different this season. They acquired Brandin Cooks from the Patriots to replace Sammy Watkins, who went to play catch with Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.
If the Rams have a problem, it’s with defensive lineman Aaron Donald, the defensive player of the year. He wants to be the best paid defender in football and made his point by being the only player on the team to not appear at OTAs. Donald also used his leverage to skip training camp in 2017 to protest the meagerness of his deal.
The Rams did give Ndamukong Suh $14 million to help bolster the line and dealt a bunch of draft picks to get Marcus Peters from the Chiefs and Aqib Talib from Detroit. But they also traded linebackers Robert Quinn (Miami) and Alec Ogletree (Giants).
That was Russell Wilson taking swings during spring training with the Yankees this season. But there was nothing more do it, just an effort to scratch an inch the former professional baseball player has always had.
Wilson, who led the NFL with 34 touchdown passes, will be back, no doubt about it. But Seattle needs to figure out what to do to put some offensive players around him or run the risk of missing the playoffs again.
The Seahawks are trying. They used their first-round pick on Rashaad Penny, the nation’s leading rusher. They need him. Check out their stat sheet. Wilson had 586 rushing yards, almost 350 more than Mike Davis, the guy who finished second.
But how much longer can Seattle wait to build a competent offensive line? Wilson has been sacked at last 40 times in each of the last five seasons. And they lost three of their top receivers, including tight end Jimmy Graham (Green Bay) in free agency.
The defense also has some rebuilding to do now that Sherman, Kam Chancellor (retired) and Michael Bennett (traded to Philadelphia) are gone, too.