NFC West preview: Carson Palmer and other division quarterbacks looking for a fresh start

on Sep4

By season’s end, Carson Palmer could be in the top 10 in NFL history in an array of passing categories, among them yardage, touchdowns, completions and attempts.

Yet, the Arizona Cardinals quarterback has won only one postseason game in his career.

That factored into Palmer’s decision to return for a 15th season after flirting this offseason with the notion of calling it a career. But he hasn’t decided whether he will play beyond this season.

“I love every facet of it,” said Palmer, 37, according to the Cardinals website. “I don’t want to stop. But I’ll have to wait and make that decision after the season.”

The Cardinals are hoping they get the Palmer of 2015, not the one of 2016. Two years ago, he was a legitimate most-valuable-player candidate, throwing 35 touchdowns with 11 interceptions as Arizona finished 13-3 and made it all the way to the NFC championship game.

But last season, Palmer and the team took a big step backward. He had 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, and the team was 7-8-1 and did not reach the playoffs.

Basically, all the quarterbacks in the NFC West could use a fresh start.

Seattle’s Russell Wilson is coming off an injury-hampered year in which he threw 21 touchdowns and a career-high 11 interceptions. His passer rating also was the lowest of his career: 92.6. The Seahawks won the division at 10-5-1, aided by the fact that the other three NFC West teams were lousy.

In an offseason television interview, Wilson said he has changed his diet, is eating nine times a day and has eliminated dairy (except on rare occasions) and gluten. He consumes 4,800 calories per day, up from 2,700 a year ago, and has had his weight drop from 225 pounds and 16% body fat to 214 and 10%.

“He looks pretty slim,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s excited about it too. This is the lightest he has reported by quite a bit. He is in fantastic shape. He has really had a hard-working, diligent offseason. You can see it.”

While Wilson has trimmed down, Rams quarterback Jared Goff has worked on bulking up. It’s coming slowly. He’s up to 220 pounds after weighing 215 as a rookie.

“Did my best in the months we had off to continue to train hard and my body continues to grow,” Goff said. “I understand I’m still young and there still is going to be some growing. I’ve said this for a while now, I’ve gained about 10 pounds every year of my life.”

What Goff is really looking to do is add heft to his NFL body of work. This is his team now, and he has capable targets in former Buffalo receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods.

The Rams offensive line should be somewhat better, improving the likelihood Todd Gurley can get some traction in the running game. There’s also hope that new coach Sean McVay will know what he’s doing offensively and breathe some life into a team that showed no pulse on that side of the ball last season.

San Francisco didn’t take a quarterback in the draft and instead has a placeholder in Brian Hoyer, who knows coach Kyle Shanahan’s system from their days in Cleveland.

Hoyer might be a stopgap, but sometimes that works.

“Well, so was I,” former 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia said in a radio interview. “It’s all about opportunities in the NFL and taking advantage of those opportunities. … This is his opportunity to … take the bull by the horns.”

The unheralded Garcia, who took over as starter when Steve Young retired, wound up going to three consecutive Pro Bowls.

Here is a capsulized look at each team in the NFC West in predicted order of finish:

1 | SEATTLE

2016 | 10-5-1, 1st in West

Last year in playoffs | 2016

Going all the way: The Seahawks have the core group of players who over the last five years have won three division titles, two conference championships and a Super Bowl. Russell Wilson is a dangerous quarterback, and Richard Sherman plays that role on defense. They remain the team to beat in the division.

They’re doomed: This offseason has been marked by dissension and tumult — although Pete Carroll has turned that in his team’s favor before. The ever-shuffling offensive line remains suspect. Seattle showed some vulnerabilities last season. Eddie Lacy has yet to prove he’s a consistent running back.

Now hear this: “It’s put us through the ringer because it would’ve done that with anybody, with any team, the difficult nature of handling such an emotional loss. But it didn’t kill us. It’s going to make us stronger, and it has made us stronger.” —Doug Baldwin, receiver, to “PFT Live,” on the Super Bowl loss to New England in 2015.

2 | ARIZONA

2016 | 7-8-1, 2nd in West

Last year in playoffs | 2015

Going all the way: The most positive development at Cardinals training camp was the outstanding play of safety Tyrann Mathieu. He looked like the player he was in 2015, when he was a defensive-player-of-the-year candidate. That could be huge for a defense filled with new faces. On offense, running back David Johnson is coming off a season in which he gained at least 100 yards from scrimmage in 15 consecutive games, tying an NFL record he now shares with Barry Sanders. When Carson Palmer is sound and upright, he can be exceptional.

They’re doomed: Palmer was sacked 40 times last season, and his protection is still dubious. He’s 37, and star receiver Larry Fitzgerald is 33, so they’re in the final chapter of their careers.

Now hear this: “Obviously, to be a Super Bowl champ, you have to have great individual play that leads into the collective play to ultimately get you that goal. But as far as getting the gold jacket, I control every bit of that.” — Patrick Peterson, cornerback.

3 | L.A. RAMS

2016 | 4-12, 3rd in West

Last year in playoffs | 2004

Going all the way: It’s already clear this Rams team has something last year’s didn’t: an offensive pulse. Coach Sean McVay worked wonders with Kirk Cousins in Washington and hopes to do the same with Jared Goff. The addition of receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods is sure to help, and a revved-up passing game should help spring loose Todd Gurley. The defense figures to thrive under new coordinator Wade Phillips.

They’re doomed: Goff is largely unproven, and Gurley needs to show he’s more than a one-season wonder. It doesn’t help that the team’s best player, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, held out of training camp. The Rams added some pieces to their offensive line, most notably 35-year-old tackle Andrew Whitworth, but they have to do more to revamp this unit.

Now hear this: “He’s been getting better. Obviously, he didn’t go No. 1 for no reason.” — Gurley, to SiriusXM NFL Radio, on second-year quarterback Goff.

4 | SAN FRANCISCO

2016 | 2-14, 4th in West

Last year in playoffs | 2013

Going all the way: Coach Kyle Shanahan might be the best play-caller in the game at this point, and although he doesn’t have an elite quarterback in Brian Hoyer, the two know each other well from their Cleveland days. Receiver Pierre Garcon is a strong route-runner, and Carlos Hyde does a respectable job at running back. Rookies Solomon Thomas (end) and Reuben Foster (linebacker) should help this defense.

They’re doomed: The 49ers won two games last year and has no long-term answer at quarterback. They ranked last in total defense and last against the run in 2016. They are young and inexperienced in the secondary too, giving up 30 passing touchdowns last season (tied for 25th). Even with the offseason additions, the 49ers don’t have an elite group of receivers.

Now hear this: “I think calling the play is half the battle, and it’s something I really don’t think about anymore. It comes naturally to me.” — Hoyer, on his second go-round with Shanahan.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer



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