Welcome back friends! It’s time to take a look at the NFC West.
Two years ago, this was easily the worst division in football. If you don’t recall, the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West in 2011 with a whopping 7-9 record. Oh how things have changed. Nowadays, the West features two of the best teams in the NFL. Even the bad teams in the division aren’t all that bad. The Rams are on the rise and the Cardinals finally have a functional (albeit washed-up) Quarterback. There won’t be any 13+ win teams here, simply because each divisional match-up will be a god damn blood bath. You won’t be seeing any (6-0) divisional records in the NFC West. Meaning that this division will be fun to watch.
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Additions: WR Percy Harvin (MIN), RB Christine Michael (Draft), QB Tarvaris Jackson (BUF), QB Lady Quinn (KC), DE Cliff Avril (DET), Antoine Winifield (MIN)
Losses: QB Matt Flynn, RB/KR Leon Washington
Offensively, Russel Wilson has plenty to work with. Even with the injury to Percy Harvin; the remaining receivers Sidney Rice, Zach Miller and Golden Tate are still dangerous targets. Beast-Mode will continue to do his thang and the Offensive Line will continue to be dominant (They gave up the 5th least amount of QB hits last season).
PED’s or not, the Seahawks defense is easily in the top-5. The addition of Cliff Avril will help make up for the injured Chris Clemons at Defensive End. The Linebacker core is solid. K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner combined for almost 250 tackles last season. The defensive backfield is THE best in the league. Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman are All-pro caliber. Earl Thomas is just about to enter his prime at 24 years old. Brandon Browner is solid on the corner. Not to mention, Antoine Winifield is set to play the Nickle back. I don’t know of another defensive backfield with more physicality. The Seahawks are poised to make a run deep into the playoffs. I think it’s fair to say that if they can survive their own division, this team is a lock for an NFC Championship appearance.
2. San Francisco 49ers (11-5)
Additions: WR Anquan Boldin (BAL), RB Marcus Lattimore (Draft), QB Colt McCoy (CLE)
Losses: QB Alex Smith, WR Ted Ginn Jr.
Fresh off a Super Bowl loss, the 49ers look slightly worse off than they did at the beginning of last season. Two things are going to happen offensively: First, Colin Kaepernick will struggle to move the ball through the air due to his lack of weapons. He still has Vernon Davis and the addition of Anquan Boldin will help, but only a little. The loss of Michael Crabtree for the foreseeable future will put this offense in a huge hole. The second thing that will happen offensively is that teams will adjust to the Read-Option offense that made the 49er’s offense so successful last season. Defenses always adjust. Just as they did with the Wildcat offense, defenses will be on a mission to discover a way to shut down the Pistol. It will be up to Colin Kaepernick to adjust to the adjustment, so to speak. When defenses take away Kaepernick’s ability to run, how will he respond? That is the single biggest question facing the 49ers this season.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers won’t have to change much. Their front seven is the best in football, bar none. Everyone knows about the great linebackers in Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. However, the real key to that defense is a guy that no one talks about. I’m my opinion, he’s the best 3-4 defensive end in the league. I’m talking of course, about Justin Smith. He doesn’t show up on the stat sheet but Smith’s unique ability to occupy blockers is crucial to that defense. He’s the biggest reason that Aldon Smith got freed up enough to record 19.5 sacks last season. In fact, Aldon Smith recorded his 19.5 sacks in the first 13 games of the season. With three games to go, Justin Smith went down with an injury. Sure enough, Aldon Smith’s sack totals in the final three games were 0.0, 0.0 and 0.0.
Okay Jon Gruden, enough Justin Smith boners. The 49ers will struggle a bit in the beginning of the season until Michael Crabtree returns. Once #15 gets back into the line-up, the 49ers should be in position to fight for a wildcard berth.
3. St. Louis Rams (8-8)
Additions: WR Tavon Austin (Draft), RB Zac Stacy (Draft), T Jake Long (MIA), TE Jarred Cook (TEN), OLB Alec Ogletree (Draft)
Losses: RB Steven Jackson, WR Danny Amendola
The Rams are going to beat a lot of good teams this year. They’re not a great team yet, but they’re a dangerous. I equate them to Northwestern in the Big10. The “Cardiac Cats” always seems to sneak up on ranked teams like Michigan or Wisconsin and take them down to the wire or even beat them. We saw it last year when they went (1-0-1) against the eventual NFC Champion 49ers. This team could go 10-6 easily if they were in another division.
Offensively, Sam Bradford will have to improve this year. He turned the ball over a little too much last season with 13 INT’s and 4 fumbles and his completion percentage was below average at under 60%. I don’t think the Rams will lose much going from an aging Steven Jackson to a young Daryl Richardson. Richardson averaged 4.8 yards/carry to Jackson’s 4.1 last season and frankly, it was just time to move on. The Rams have a nice little receiving core with Tavon Austin, Austin Pettis, Chris Givens and Brian Quick. The addition of Jake Long should improve an already improving offensive line that went from last in the NFL in sacks given up in 2011 to 14th in 2012.
Defensively, the Rams have solid pieces. Chris Long will be strong off the edge and they have a young linebacking core with the addition of Alec Ogletree who should develop into a serviceable pro. Their two corners are solid. Cortland Finnegan is a fucking asshole but I’d still love to have him on my team. Janoris Jenkins is a stud and will be a Pro-Bowler this year. Keep an eye on rookie Safety T.J. McDonald; he’ll surprise people this year.
This simply isn’t the year for the Rams. Unfortunately, with so much young talent in their division, it doesn’t look like that year is coming anytime soon.
4. Arizona Cardinals (7-9)
Additions: QB Carson Palmer (OAK), G Jonathan Cooper (Draft), RB Rashard Mendenhall (PIT), DE John Abraham (ATL)
Losses: QB John Skelton, QB Kevin Kolb, RB Beanie Wells, WR Early Doucet
It’s possible that I’m being too generous here by giving the Cardinals seven wins. It’s not that I think that Carson Palmer will suddenly turn this team around single-handedly. I do, however think that Larry Fitzgerald is about to go OFF this year. It’s been three years of frustration for Fitz. It’s been three damn years of interchangeable Bumblefuck McShitHead’s throwing him bounce-passes. NO MORE! Now he has a somewhat functional Quarterback and he’s about to ruin your life.
As far as how the rest of the roster is constructed, well, it’s a team. That’s more than the Oakland Raiders can say. It’s not a great team but it’s good enough to win six or seven games. Rashard Mendenhall is WAY past his prime but he’ll get most of the carries unless Ryan Williams can get his head out of his ass. The Receiving core is very top-heavy with Michael Floyd along with the aforementioned Fitzgerald. The Tight ends suck and the offensive line is still shit.
Defensively, the Cards are a little better. The front seven is strong with Darnell Dockett and Karlos Dansby. Patrick Peterson will be a borderline Pro-Bowler this year. The suspension of Daryl Washington for the first four games will hurt their pass rush. Overall, there’s not much to say about this team. They’re certainly not good enough to make a run into the playoffs. Yet their not bad enough for me to make fun of. Just another Arizona Cardinals season for ya’: Perpetual mediocrity.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my input on our NFL Preview here at Sports Blog Movement. Let’s hope you’re as excited for the start of the season as I am! HUCK IT, CHUCK IT, FOOTBALL!!!!!!