NFL season preview – NFC West

 

1. San Francisco 49ers

It was great to see the 49ers back on top last season, even though this team was nothing like the Walsh/Montana niners.  This team was all about smash mouth football.  There was nothing finesse about it.  Jim Harbaugh made his mark in a big way and proved he won’t be one of those gimmicky college coaches that fades out after 2 seasons.  He’s here to stay and he’s staying with Alex Smith as his QB.

I’m not in any way an Alex Smith fan.  I wrote about it after last year’s NFC title game, they got that far despite Alex Smith.  I stand by that.  But he will definitely have his chance to prove that wrong this season.  He has a great offensive line to protect him which is always key for a QB to gain confidence.  The WR’s are revamped this year with a rejuvenated Randy Moss returning after a year away from the game.  A.J. Jenkins was a surprise 1st round pick to say the least, but they believe he can become a great weapon.  They also signed Giants Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham who will provide speed on the outside and big play ability.  Michael Crabtree is still around and needs to have a big year otherwise the word “bust” my start being included in his conversations. Vernon Davis was facing that same word until last season when he broke out in a big way!  So Smith has no excuses, he should be able to take more steps this season towards being the QB he was expected to be when picked 1st overall in 2005.  I like the running game, although Frank Gore is getting long in the tooth.  I don’t know how they will use LaMichael James, especially when they have Kendall Hunter, but both are explosive guys in the open field.

The defense is among the league’s elite, and Patrick Willis might be the best ILB in football.  Aldon Smith was picked 7th overall in the 2011 draft and had an amazing rookie season.  Carlos Rogers much like Vernon Davis and Alex Smith was back from the dead last season with an incredible season at corner.  Quite frankly I just don’t know what else I can say about this defense other than it’s one of the best and because of it the niners have a shot to win every game they play.

A lot went right for the niners last season, and I don’t expect 13 wins again this season.  But the division is still weak and there for 10 or 11 should get the job done and get them home field.

 

2. St. Louis Rams

The Rams were a lot of people’s sexy pick last season to win this division and start making some real noise.  Injuries didn’t help, but more than that this team just wasn’t that good and people expected Sam Bradford to just make this jump to elite QB with a bad offensive line and a bad group of receivers.

Bradford is talented but has a long ways to go before he can be considered elite.  Getting new head coach Jeff Fisher will help.  Fisher is one of the best coaches in football and while he is by no means known as a QB guru, they will always be a team that is great in the trenches.  Despite the o-line still being below average, they will be better under this coaching staff.  Steven Jackson is still playing good despite a poor o-line to run behind and despite pushing 30.  They drafted Isaiah Pead to give them a good inside/outside run game.  They some what addressed the talent at WR in the draft by getting Brian Quick with the first pick in the 2nd round, but the word is they were devastated when Jacksonville traded up to snag Justin Blackmon.  Quick will help, but they will need others to step up big.

The big area where this coaching staff could make their mark is on defense.  It’s led by James Laurinaitis who is a stud at MLB.  Their 1st round pick was Michael Brockers who most considered the best DT in the draft.  This d-line has big talent with Brockers flanked by Chris Long and Robert Quinn, they have a chance to be one of the best lines in football.  The secondary got a big overhaul in the offseason.  They brought over one of Fishers favorites Courtland Finnegan in free agency, and in the draft they picked up Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson.  Both Jenkins and Johnson are guys with big time talent but have big time off field issues.  If Fisher can somehow keep both these guys in check they will be total steals.

The Rams will make a big jump one of these years, and I’m saying it will be this year.  Not a jump like the niners made last season, but I don’t think 8-8 or 9-7 is out of the question in this division.

 

3. Seattle Seahawks

Year 3 of the Pete Carroll regime and thus far all he has to show are two 7-9 seasons.  Granted 1 of those seasons they won the division and won a playoff game, but let’s be realistic here he has taken the Seahawks nowhere so far, and it seems like it gets to be more and more of a mess as the days go by.

Now he is turning to the rookie out of Wisconsin Russell Wilson.  Undersized, very mobile, great arm, Wilson looked amazing in the preseason.  But it’s the preseason.  I remain skeptical of how good Wilson can be.  Even when you face the first team defense in preseason, it’s still preseason.  They brought in Matt Flynn for pretty big money and he was expected to be the starter.  I can’t imagine Flynn who could have got a starting gig in Miami, Arizona and other places is anything happy about this situation.  Then you have a lot of question marks at wide out with Sidney Rice (injuries), Braylon Edwards (inconsistency), Doug Baldwin (undersized) and Golden Tate (untalented).  Then at TE they made a big splash last season going out and signing the Raiders Zach Miller, only to replace him this season by trading for Kellen Winslow Jr, who they then cut at the end of camp!  This is a recipe for disaster.  Add to this, Marshawn Lynch has finally found his game in Seattlebut he is a guy that can’t keep his head off the field.

They drafted Bruce Irvin (a drastic reach) with the 15th pick in the draft and he is a guy that has big time off the field issues.  However I do like their D, and Pete Carroll is a defensive guy.  Bobby Wagner in the 2nd round looks like a good pick, the secondary is led by former Longhorn Earl Thomas, and so if you’re looking for a bright spot with this team it is on defense.

But it is just incredible how toxic this team is right now.  They got talent, I won’t deny that.  But they have a lot of guys with huge question marks and I just can’t see it going well.  No matter who is at QB, Wilson or Flynn, it’s going to be tough task with such drama going on around this team.  Yet they aren’t bad enough to bottom out and get the top pick.  BAD situation if you’re a Seahawks fan.

 

4. Arizona Cardinals

It’s got to be tough to be a Cards fan.  You FINALLY get a QB who takes you to a Super Bowl, 2 division titles and 4 playoff wins in 2 seasons…and then he retires and you immediately become the same old Cardinals.  And unfortunately for Cards fans I don’t see the solution coming this season.

As much as I just ripped apart the Seahawks and like the Cards coaches, WR’s, RB’s, better and think there defense is solid…John Skelton won’t have anyone excited in the desert.  He is better than Kolb (I can’t believe how bad Kolb is!) but he in no way is a franchise QB.  It’s not like he will lack weapons.  Larry Fitzgerald is obviously still a top 3 WR in this league, and 1st round pick Michael Floyd has the talent to be a number 1 wide out in the league some day.  The running game will be great provided both Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams can stay healthy.  Williams going into last season was a guy some thought could steal the number 1 gig from Wells until he got hurt in the pre season and was done for the year.  However things will be tough on both those guys if the offensive line doesn’t overachieve this season.  This group doesn’t win many battles in the trenches and make things difficult on both the pass and run games.

One thing that has turned around from the Kurt Warner days is the defense.  They have drafted extremely well on that side of the ball.  Calias Campbell has a great last name and is very difficult to block at 6’8 and 300 pounds.  Darryl Washington out of TCU was a great find in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, and has established himself as one of the best ILB in football in just 2 seasons.  Then of course you have 2011 1st round pick Patrick Peterson.  He had an ok season at corner for the Cards, but it won’t be long until he is an elite corner.  Meanwhile his ability as a return man has already been on display.  5 PR’s in his rookie season, he was incredible.  He won’t get as many chances to return this season, but when he does look out!

Unfortunately for the Cards his talents don’t include running the offense and that could mean another long season in Arizona.

 

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