In preparation for the upcoming 2013 NFL season, Just A Guy has put together a team-by-team analysis with a run down of every division along with the staff’s picks for how they believe the division will play out. In this article we highlight the NFC West, which includes the 49ers, Seahawks, Rams, and Cardinals.
San Francisco 49ers
An unseen run by Baltimore upended the 49ers championship aspirations in 2012. The 49ers had an off season battle with Seattle. When one would make move, the other responded rather quickly with a similar move of their own. One of those moves was signing Anquan Boldin which could be big considering the loss of Michael Crabtree. Colin Kaepernick is the real deal(or 49ers fans hope so). He’s got a great arm, can run and seems very qualified to run an offense. He will have to develop a go to guy without Crabtree and that could be Vernon Davis. It also helps that he is working behind one of the best offense lines in football with a great running game. Frank Gore is consistent if anything and there’s the change of pace backs in Kendall Hunter and the lightening fast Lamichael James. The real strength of San Fransisco lies on defense. They are one of the best in the league. Aldon Smith is a sack machine. Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman are tackling monsters. Sprinkle in some Justin Smith and you have one of the best front seven’s in football. Looking for the Achilles Heal of this D, its in the secondary. Donte Whitner and Carlos Rodgers are still there. Nnamdi Asomugha has been added and is the 3rd CB which sounds good, but will it work? Also what remains to be seen is if rookie Eric Reid can successfully take over for departed safety Dashon Goldson. Anything short of a Super Bowl appearance is a fail for this team. The only thing standing in the way is their “friends” up in the Pacific Northwest. 49ers/Seahawks games are must watches this year, which hopefully will happen for a 3rd time in January.
The Seahawks won as many games in the regular season last year as the Super Bowl bound 49ers did; 11 games. Offensively they are nearly identical to what they looked like last year. The only real change was the release of their fullback Michael Robinson and backup quarterback Matt Flynn heading to the Raiders. If Marshawn Lynch can have another big year, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t, the Seahawks will be poised to make another playoff push. The real glaring weakness in Seattle was the lack of a big play receiver, which they corrected with signing of Percy Harvin from the Vikings but they will continue to rely on the run to setup the pass.
Their big defensive pick up was adding Antoine Winfield, to improve upon an already very talented defensive backfield including Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Brandon Browner. This turned out to be a failed experiment as he has since retired after being cut. Bobby Wagner leads the defensive at the middle linebacker spot, while the addition of Cliff Avril brings depth to a strong front four. The team has potential to do really well, and it seems we’re satisfied in developing their young talent instead bringing anyone new in. If the Seahawks can mantain the spark they had last year, they’ll have a strong chance to make it past the divisional round of the playoffs.
St. Louis Rams
If the Rams played in any other division, they’d be popular dark horse picks for a playoff berth. But they happen to be in the best division in football, the NFC West. The San Francisco 49ers are once again favorites to win the NFC. Their core is intact. Then there is the Seattle Seahawks, who had a big offseason in adding Percy Harvin to their offense, and Cliff Avrill and Michael Bennett to an already ferocious, top ranked defensive unit. Even with recent injuries, these teams are still powerhouses. But don’t count the Rams out. They went 4-1-1 in the division last year, and they are improved as well.
In the shadows of the arms race out west, the Rams added tight end Jared Cook on the opening of free agency. He was horribly underutilized in Tennessee, and looks to fully maximize his potential in a new look offense with QB Sam Bradford. Bradford will have the best offensive line in his pummeled 4 year career this season, thanks to LT signee Jake Long. That slides over solid when healthy Roger Saffold to the right, and veterans Scott Wells and Harvey Dahl on the inside. They also added Barrett Jones for depth. Along with Cook, the Rams traded up to grab dynamite Tavon Austin, and then took his college partner in crime Stedman Bailey in the third round. Look for Austin to produce immediately, as St. Louis will get the ball in his hands whenever they can. These two join second year players Chris Givens and Brian Quick. Givens proved to be a 4th round steal, with 698 yards and 3 TD’s. Look for him to be even better. Quick struggled coming from a small D2 school; but with his physical gifts, look for him to improve. Rounding out the group is third year man Austin Pettis, as the most tenured member. Don’t be surprised is Bradford puts up some eye opening numbers and finally transitions into the player he was envisioned to be drafted number one overall.
The Fisher bred defense was quietly in the top half of the league last year. Although safety is weak, feisty veteran Cortland Finnegan and playmaker Janoris Jenkins form one of the best cornerback duos around. With overlooked pass rusher Chris Long and his surging partner Robert Quinn, along with the impressive Michael Brockers and always solid James Laurinaitis, this defense could transition into a top 10 unit. Why? First round pick Alec Ogletree. Look for the freak athlete to chase down the dual threat division rival QB’s and cover the hybrid tight ends. This team could realistically win anywhere from 7-11 games, and snag a wild card berth. It would really be something to see the once “NFC Worst” produce three playoff teams. It all depends on the gelling and adaptation of the youngsters. For a more in-depth analysis read the full Rams season preview.
It’s very realistic to believe that the Cardinals will finish last in the division again this year, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Cards fans should be happy though that for the first time since their Super Bowl appearance, the Cardinals are actually building towards something. Carson Palmer threw for over 4,000 yards (with the Raiders!) but had a combined 21 interceptions and fumbles. Still, Palmer is a legit NFL quarterback, and his presence should be a boon for Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has long been one of the premier receivers in the NFL, but last year he was seemingly outplayed by Andre Roberts. For Fitzgerald to have less than 1,000 receiving yards is unacceptable (798 last season) and the offense will go as him and Palmer go.
Defense is an area where the Cardinals could shock some people. Patrick Peterson led the team with seven interceptions and all indications are that he’ll be even better this year. Linebacker Daryl Washington has increased his tackle count every season and has quietly developed into a 100+ tackle machine. Rookie Tyrann Mathieu will be asked to contribute on both defense and special teams. Mathieu has all the talent to be a smashing success in the NFL all he has to do is harness it. He’ll have the luxury of learning from former college teammate Peterson to aid in his development. He should be able to make some noise this year. This team isn’t built for contention right now, but they’ll be competitive, which is more than they could say last season.
|Seahawks (13-3)||49ers (12-4)||49ers (13-3)||49ers (12-4)|
|49ers (12-4)||Seahawks (12-4)||Seahawks (12-4)||Seahawks (11-5)|
|Rams (7-9)||Cardinals (9-7)||Rams (8-8)||Rams (9-7)|
|Cardinals (6-10)||Rams (6-10)||Cardinals (6-10)||Cardinals (3-13)|