NFC West Preview
How will the teams finish in the regular season?
1. Arizona Cardinals – A sudden change in QB has left Matt Leinhart in Houston and former Pro Bowler Derek Anderson leading the offense. Anderson has a strong arm and is not scared to throw downfield. The knock on Anderson is that his downfield throws are often bad decisions, and lead to INTs. It helps that Anderson gets to throw down the field to Larry Fitzgerald, who might just be the best WR when fighting for the ball in the air. The Cards are also looking to shift to a more power running team, and are well equipped with RBs Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower. The most underrated aspect of the Cards is their defense. They were able to let players such as Antrelle Rolle and Karlos Dansby go, because they have others willing to step in to those spots. People look for there to be a huge shift in the regular season record, with Kurt Warner gone, but they will still compete. Instead of of them being a high powered pass team, they should have success being a power running team with a strong defense. (8-8)
2. San Francisco 49ers – The preseason favorites to win this division, have high expectations for this year. The only thing is that they are not favorites based solely off the talent that possess, but because the rest of the division is rebuilding. QB Alex Smith comes in with knowledge of the same offense he ran last year, and confidence being the undisputed #1 QB. The 49ers do have the core pieces in place, such as RB Frank Gore rushing for 1,000 yards 4 years in a row, TE Vernon Davis emerging as a top receiving tight end, LB Patrick Willis thought to be competing for Defensive MVP, and 2nd year WR Micheal Crabtree playing the full season. The 49ers should field a top 10 defense, but speed receivers are still a big threat to expose them. (9-7)
3. Seattle Seahawks – Former College football guru Pete Carroll takes over as head coach and instantly starts to build the team in his vision. They bring in untested QB Charlie Whitehurst to try to push Matt Hasselbeck for a starting job, but it didn’t turn out that way. At the WR position, former bust Mike Williams has earned a starting spot, leaving room for them to cut TJ Houzemensadah. The other WRs that the Seahawks will rely on are 2nd year speedster Deon Butler, former Superbowl MVP Deion Branch, and rookie Golden Tate. This is another team in the division that possesses an underrated defense. Last year the had many injuries to their linebacker core, but now that they are all healthy, look for them to create many turnovers. The DBs are good in coverage as well as against the run. The biggest question is the RB position where Justin Forsett never fully gained the coaching staffs confidence, but with the lack of depth he remains the #1. (6-10)
4. St. Louis Rams – The new era has officially began. Rookie Sam Bradford has been named the starting QB for week one. There will be growing pains but he looks to add some hope for an otherwise uninspired team. Luckily they still have RB Stephen Jackson to carry most of the load. Jackson ran hard every week, every game, every down last year, despite the hole his team was in at the time. He is always a threat for a big game, and the Rams hope that Bradfords presence can move some defenders out the box, who are stacked up to stop Jackson. A season ending injury to WR Donnie Avery has left the Rams with no threats on the outside. The rams defense is also 1 of the worst in the league, so look for them to be competing for the #1 pick once again. (3-13)
Who To Watch For?
Arizona Cardinals –Larry Fitzgerald. The WR should benefit the most from Derek Andersons willingness to throw down field in coverage. Braylon Edwards was able to take advantage of the many jump ball opportunities and Fitz is 10 times the WR Braylon is. The absence of Anquan Bolden should also give Fitz more targets in the redzone.
San Francisco 49ers – Alex Smith. The pressure is fully on. No excuses for the QB going into this year. He is in the 2nd year of an offense that he has led and has numerous weapons around him.
Seattle Seahawks – Matt Hasselbeck – The savvy veteran QB is a former Pro Bowler. Look for him to bring out the best in these young, fast receivers. Injury last year derailed his season, but he says he’s back at 100% now, and many forget he is the most proven QB of the division.
St. Louis Rams – Jason Smith. It would be easy to say QB Sam Bradford, but it will be just as interesting to watch the LT taken last year to protect the next franchise QB. Smith struggled some, but many think that was due to injury. Bradfords success is directly affected by Smiths.
Don’t Be Surprised If He Plays Poorly…
Arizona Cardinals –Derek Anderson. He won’t check down to the RB every play like Matt Lienhart was said to have done, but is throwing in triple coverage down field really better? Look for numerous turnovers from Anderson.
San Francisco 49ers – Nate Clements. He has never lived up to the big contract he signed years ago. He has had trouble shutting down the opposing #1 receiver, and was even benched at a point in time last year. If he doesn’t step up this year, he will be cut.
Seattle Seahawks – Aaron Curry. He had success early in the year last year but faltered at the end. His production dropped and he was not much of a contributor. Curry was the safest pick in last years draft, but doesn’t seem like he’ll be much of a dynamic player.
St. Louis Rams – Sam Bradford. Don’t be alarmed Rams fans. Bradford might have a real rocky 1st year, but will be just fine for the future. He has no help at the WR position and is stuck behind a suspect line. The defense won’t help him get into high success field position either.
Storyline Of The Year
The 49ers stability coming into this year actually adds to the REAL storylines of the NFC WEST….Who will respond best to the rebuilding efforts? The Cards and Seahawks each have a chance to either surprise the league, or show their instability.