Today marks the 8th and final day of my NFL preview by division. Today we wrap up with the NFC west which last year seemed like the San Francisco had this division wrapped up by mid-season. Let’s find out how this division will turn out this year!
4th-St. Louis Rams
I really didn’t want to put the Rams last but I feel like they have another year of bottom feeding before they are really able to turn this team around. The biggest improvement that needs to happen this year on offense is the rebounding of Sam Bradford. Bradford dealt with injuries and inconsistency last year. He needs to continue the progress he had as a rookie. With Jeff Fischer now at the helm, look for Steven Jackson to get plenty of touches in this offense. Think of Eddie George’s career and how many carries he got. Another big question mark on this team. Who the hell is going to line up at receiver and make a difference? Greg Salas just got traded. Austin Pettis is suspended for a few games. Looks like right now the starters are Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola. Amendola had a nice season two years ago but someone on this team needs to be the go-to-guy for Bradford.
The Rams might have lost the most cornerbacks to injury in the history of NFL. But somehow they managed to finish 7th in passing yards given up. The addition of Cortland Finnegan in the offseason and the drafting of Northern Alabama corner Janoris Jenkins will bolster this secondary. The big question will be if Jenkins can keep his composure off the field where he has been busted several times for pot. Their run defense however was pretty awful ranking 31st in the league and surrendering over 150 yards per game. The defense should improve with the progression of Robert Quinn and this years first round selection, Michael Brockers. Plus anytime you have guys like Chris Long and James Laurinaitis your defense should continue to get better.
Win meter- 3-5
Biggest Question- Can Bradford recover from last season?
This is the team I was really thinking about putting in the cellar but I think they are good enough to hold off the Rams for one more season. John Skelton has been named the starter. Both him and Kevin Kolb were lackluster in the preseason but Skelton showed more. I don’t think Skelton has this on lock-down and if he struggles I see Kolb getting back in the action. Plus Kolb is making a lot on the bench. Whoever starts throughout the year will have the Great Fitz (Larry Fitzgerald) to throw to. Also if rookie Michael Floyd develops they will have their best receiver tandem since Anquon Boldin left. The running game should be interesting with former first round pick Beanie Wells and last year’s second rounder Ryan Williams. Both have dealt with injuries so if one goes down the other might get the rock and not look back.
On defense the Cardinals have one of the most exciting young players in the league, second year corner Patrick Peterson. They also have a great tandem of of defensive ends in their 3-4 defense with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. The linebackers need to find someone who can get pressure on this team. Former second round pick Daryl Washington made a nice jump from year 1 to year 2 but someone like an O’Brien Scofield needs to make that next step to be a threat to rush which will help a defense that ranked 17th against the pass.
Win meter- 5-7
Biggest Question- Will they have a consistent QB running this offense the whole season?
2ND- Seattle Seahawks
As soon as the Packers season ended I thought Seattle would be one of the possible landing spots for backup QB Matt Flynn. Once that happened I figured it would be pretty easy to knock Tavaris Jackson out of his starting spot. Again that happened, but what I did not expect was for rookie Russell Wilson to take the job from Flynn. It’s hard to argue with what Wilson did in the preseason. He is the fifth rookie quarterback to start the season for his respected team and I am curious to see how he does for a full game against first stringers. Marshawn Lynch should give Wilson a nice security blanket but has been dealing with back spasms lately. Sidney Rice needs to stay healthy this season to fulfill his huge contract, and Braylon Edwards made the team. Could he have a bounce back 2012 campaign after a rough go in San Fran? I find the release of Kellen Winslow Jr. pretty interesting.
Seattle’s defense was one of the surprises of the NFL last season. They ranked 11th against the pass and 15th against the run. Safety Earl Thomas is a stud and will only get better. I think they still need another playmaker in the secondary to improve on the 22 interceptions they got last year. They also only posted 33 sacks which needs to get improved as well. Overall this is a defense that seems to be sound just needs more big play ability.
Win meter- 7-9
Biggest Question- Same as the Cardinals. Will they have a consistent QB all season?
1st- San Francisco 49ers
The 9ers were one of the biggest surprises last year with first year coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh is a coach where he is both a players coach and a hard ass. He made a believer out of a lot of players and a person who saw a lot of positive results was QB Alex Smith. While he wasn’t a big play guy he bought into Harbaugh’s way of taking care of the ball. This year with the additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham I want to see them make a bigger splash on offense or they will become very predictable. Frank Gore played all 16 games last season for only the second time in his career and had another season of 1200 plus yards. His health is always a concern but there is a lot of depth there this year with Kendell Hunter, the addition of Brandon Jacobs and the drafting of LaMichael James. Plus Vernon Davis is a match-up nightmare for just about anyone in the league.
On defense it will be hard to find many spots where they can get better. One place they can improve though is they had the 16th ranked pass defense. It will help to find another playmmaker on this defense to help them get more than 23 interceptions which is respectable but for a defense this good they should find a way to get a few more picks. This defense also recorded 42 sacks with rookie phenom Aldon Smith collecting 14 of them. I look for this defense to pick up where they did last year.
Win meter- 10-12
Biggest Question- Can this offense find ways to become more explosive?