The NFC’s version of the Wild Wild West has not been the most glamorous conference in recent memory. In fact, they have not sent 2 teams to the playoffs since 2003. They also have not had more than one team with an above 500 record since 2003. So generally, you have one team do solid, another team do around 500, and the other 2 just finish absolutely abysmal. This year appeared like it could be different. It appeared that there could possibly be 2 teams with a fighting chance to make their way into the playoffs. That was until Arizona lost their quarterback to retirement and one of the best receivers to the Ravens (Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin).
NFC West: Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, 49ers (alphabetical order)
St. Louis Rams (4th place): The Rams had a nightmarish season last year. And though I think they will do better than one win this season, I do not see them finding themselves out of the division cellar just yet. Sure they drafted a very talented quarterback in Sam Bradford. And sure they have an outstanding running back in Stephen Jackson. But really what else is there? I mean Albert Pujols cannot suit up for this squad. This squad featured one of the worst passing games I have ever seen in recent memory. And to think, we are only 10 years removed from the “Greatest Show on Turf.” Guys like Donnie Avery and Laurent Robinson must step up and provide the rookie Bradford with some targets. Sure Stephen Jackson is a great guy to have for rookie Sam Bradford to hand the ball off too. But the NFL has become a pass first League. You cannot win without some sort of passing attack. The Rams, unfortunately, are going to struggle in this department all year. The Rams defense is not to amazing either. In fact, it looks to be on its way to a horrific year. I guess a team that goes 1 and 15 generally is not too strong in many areas. James Laurinaitis will have a ton of weight put on his shoulder to anchor the defense. He is no longer a rookie and will be expected to be the engine that makes the defense go. But other than that, there is not a whole lot of promising prospects on this defense. I do think they will finish better than 1 and 15, but not much.
Seattle Seahawks (3rd place): Rainy Seattle will once again fail to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007. This team features both a sub par offense and defense. Matt Hasselbeck is a very savvy veteran that really just does not have much to work with. Sure TJ Houshmandzadeh is a great possession receiver, but the loss of Nate Burleson hurts. Golden Tate, the outstanding receiver out of Notre Dame will be expected to produce from Day 1. He will be expected to be a big play guy similar to a Steve Smith type of mold (lots of pressure on the little guy). This team cannot survive simply with Houshmandzadeh. I mean this team does not have much of a rushing attack. Justin Forsett and Leon Washington are not necessarily gamebreakers. Maybe Washington will surprise some people and start to really produce, but I wouldn’t count on it. Then you look at the Seahawks on the other side of the ball. And there really isn’t a whole lot of star power to look at. Who will step up? Nobody really knows. The main thing Seattle has going for them is the arrival of former USC Head Coach, Pete Carroll. Now normally coaches do not do so hot going back and forth between the League and College in any sport. But this guy has been running a professional program for years now. Plus he had 15 years of “official” professional coaching experience before he arrived in Trojanville. Just ask USC what they think about it. Maybe he could get this team to come somewhere near 8 and 8? I would say it is highly doubtful they win 8 games, but who knows, it could happen.
Arizona Cardinals (2nd place): This is a team that probably lost the most of any team in this division. They lost a big time number 2 receiver in Anquan Boldin. They lost a big time quarterback in Kurt Warner. And with Kurt and Anquan, goes a major part of the high-flying attack that has carried the Cardinals for the past couple of years. This is a team that has lived and died on the pass reminiscent of the way many college teams play today. They had a rushing attack that did not even average 100 yards a game. Yet they advanced to the playoffs? Go figure. Times have really changed. Offenses have slowly but surely turned into pass first teams all around the League. I mean the Cardinals do have 2 decent running backs in the massive Chris “Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower. But neither of these guys get many opportunities in this pass happy Cardinal’s offensive scheme. If Steve Breaston does not emerge as a big time number 2, Arizona’s offense could collapse in that teams will double on Fitzgerald and the passing attack will die. And this does not even get me started on Matt Leinart. The man came into the League with so much upside but has vastly underachieved. This year will be his chance. There is also a defensive side of the ball. And the Cardinals are not too good at defending. They like to play shootout style games where they score a ton of points, and give up lots of points. A way that you can tell this team has struggled defensively is players like Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle are 2 of the top 4 tacklers on the team. These guys both play in the secondary. So I feel like this team will probably win 6 to 8 games. But there have been too many losses on the offensive side of the ball for them to outscore all of their opponents and their defense does not appear too promising on paper.
San Francisco 49ers (1st place): Yes, this is the year we have all been waiting for. The 49ers long awaited return to the playoffs. There were the Joe Montana days. Then the Steve Young days. Now there are the..Alex Smith days? You better believe it. This team has not gone over .500 since 2002. Well that all changes this year. There will be a changing of the guard, or at least a retro look in the West. With the 49ers back on top. This team has been knocking on the door for a few years now and is ready to come inside. The 49ers have a solid defense that is led by in my eyes the best linebacker in the game, Patrick Willis. You should have heard of this guy already, but if you have not, he is here to stay. They also have the veteran leadership of a linebacker that has been around the block in Takeo Spikes. This team boasts arguably the best linebacking core in the League. They also have a solid secondary led by former Pro Bowler Nate Clements, and the veteran Mark Roman. So expect this team to be ranked among the League’s elite on the defensive side of the ball. And on offense, this team looks to improve from a dismal showing last year. They will be led by a young group in Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, and Josh Morgan. These guys are all young, but ready to show that they are entering the primes of their careers. Also do not forget about the always dangerous Ted Ginn Jr. This team will not be one of the League’s elite offensively, but you better believe that they will put on a much better performance than last year as they begin to gel and enter the primes of their careers. Hopefully the 49ers can keep this core group on the offensive side of the ball together for years to come. San Francisco will return to the playoffs for the first time in 8 years.
So there you have it, a changing of the guard in the NFC West. A return to the old. The 49ers are back and look poised to be solid for the next few years with a relatively young group.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.