Today’s portion of the preview will be looking at the NFC West Division, a division that, from top to bottom, may be the deepest division in all of the NFL. With the strength of the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers, the emergence of the Seattle Seahawks and the youth and overall development of the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals, the NFC West looks as though it could be a division that could produce some surprises in the league this year, but for this post, there has
to be direct predictions, so without further or due, let’s look at the NFC West and my predictions for the upcoming season.
San Francisco 49ers
(13-3, NFC West Champions, 2nd in NFC Playoffs)
The 49ers come back absolutely loaded from last year’s SuperBowl 48 trip and loss against the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is growing and maturing as a player in the league – which says a lot considering that he had to deal with quarterback drama last year with the now Kansas City Chief Alex Smith, getting the job, and then leading the team to the SuperBowl. With Kaepernick’s unorthodox style of play that shows off his athleticism, the question will be can he lead the team down the field as a traditional pocket passer at times and know when to not show off all of the athleticism and be a true leader and motivator on the field through a 16-game season.
Kaepernick has help once again this season with Pro Bowl RB Frank Gore in the backfield and dynamic TE Vernon Davis who may see time at WR with the injury to WR Michael Crabtree possibly sidelining him for a short time. When Crabtree returns to the WR core, he will be paired up with newly signed Anquan Boldin, who played on the Ravens’ SuperBowl team of last season. With Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams, the 49ers have the skill positions taken care of and the team is going to be physical, big and nasty on the line on offense and defense particularly with tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati – the intimidating factor that coach Jim Harbaugh loves to have on his teams going back to his time at Stanford.
If there was fantasy football for defensive players, the 49ers would have the ultimate squad, starting with the outstanding LB core of Ahmad Brooks, Alden Smith, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. Those 4 LBs can hit, cover, stop the run by shutting down the gaps, and rush the passer as good as any core in NFL history.
The 49ers also bolstered their secondary by signing former Pro Bowl Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to go along with Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown.
This team is as strong as ever and I feel that their only real competition in the NFC in terms of seeding will be the Atlanta Falcons. I can’t see why the 49ers don’t end up back in the SuperBowl competiting for a championship, especially if Kaepernick plays at the same level as he did last season.
(9-7, 2nd in NFC West, Misses Playoffs)
The Seahawks made major strides last season, getting into the playoffs and into the divisional round before losing to the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome. I believe in Quarterback Russell Wilson. He came out of the blue last season, and truly became one of the elite rookie quarterbacks in the league, definitely in the same category as Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck.
With the loss of WR Percy Harvin and letting go of kick returner Leon Washington in the offseason, the Seahawks take a major hit on offense, which I do believe will stop them from progressing this season. The team still has Marshawn Lynch has a dynamic running threat who has proven over the years that can run through or around anyone in the league, as well as WR Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, but that’s it for help for Wilson. Wilson will have to win many games this season by scoring under 25 points a game, and the big question will be can the defense, which basically is a dominant secondary led by Richard Sherman, can hang in games the way they did last season and pull out those close games again?
I think the Seahawks will be competitive, but not the dominant force as they were last season.
St. Louis Rams
(8-8, 3rd in NFC West, Misses Playoffs)
The Rams are an organization on the upward swing. They have cornerstone pieces in place, but I think this will be the year that the Rams learn how to put all of the pieces together and to have them all work as one.
The team definitely has the franchise QB in Sam Bradford, a potential big-threat WR in rookie Tavon Austin and an anchor at LT in Jake Long, who signed in the offseason from the Miami Dolphins. But around those guys isn’t much else. The team lost WR Danny Amendola to New England, who was a dominant possession receiver and an always reliable target for Bradford. I think the offense will be average, but not over the top exciting this year until the team puts more supplemental pieces that Bradford can use.
On defense, the Rams have a chance to truly shine with LE Chris Long and MLB James Laurainitis anchoring the unit. The secondary consists of physical, in-your-face corners led by Cortland Finnigan and second-year player Janoris Jenkins.
The Rams are putting all of the pieces together to make the team competitive every week, as every Jeff Fisher-coached team seems to be, but will they overtake the San Francisco 49ers? Not right now.
(5-11, 4th in NFC West, Misses Playoffs)
The Cardinals have a long way to go to get back to the SuperBowl year of 2009, and until they find a true franchise quarterback, its not happening right now. Carson Palmer is a good filler until a true franchise player comes along in the draft (ala Teddy Bridgewater next year) and can zing the ball around the field, but hasn’t won very much in his career.
The team has RB Rashard Mendenhall from Pittsburgh, who could rush for around 1,000 yards this season, and as always, WR Larry Fitzgerald is an All-Pro caliber playmaker. But, like so many teams in the league in the lower tier, not much in terms of supplemental pieces. Michael Floyd is a big, physical WR, but not ready to take the double-teams away from Fitzgerald consistently.
On defense, the team has LE Darnell Dockett, who is a very good piece to build around, and CB and KR Patrick Peterson, one of the most dynamic players in football, but that’s about it.
This is going to be an uphill climb for the Arizona Cardinals for this year and possibly next, but when the franchise QB comes in, I do believe things will change quickly.
Hope everyone has a great night!