In preparation for the upcoming 2014 NFL season, Just A Guy has put together a team-by-team analysis with a run down of every division. In this article we highlight the NFC West, which includes the 49ers, Seahawks, Rams, and Cardinals.
San Francisco 49ers
A few inches on a Richard Sherman tipped pass is all that separated the 49ers and an appearance in last year’s Super Bowl. This makes a third year in a row with bitter endings for San Fran. 2014 is huge for the 49ers, as they need to rebound from this loss and the road to get there is just a difficult as before. The NFC West is stacked with talent. The big addition to the niners this year is that of rookie RB Carlos Hyde. The Ohio St alum was arguably the best back in the draft and will have a great mentor in Frank Gore to develop this year. Gore is again and on his way out, which makes Hyde an extremely smart pick. The 49ers boast one of the league’s best running game with Gore and the playmaking ability of Kaepernick. 2014 should be more of the same relying on the ground game to punish opponents. And if they do so decide to pass the ball, they have a newly acquired WR Stevie Johnson to add to a now healthy Michael Crabtree and always reliable Anquan Bolidn. The offense should be running on all cylinders again this year. The defense however is a bit weaker. The secondary took a hit losing Whitner, Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rogers. NaVorro Bowman may be available later in the season after a knee injury in the playoffs last year and Aldon Smith is looking at a lengthy suspension. The defense will need the new additions and rookies to step up and fill the shoes of some big names. The 49ers schedule is a tough one, but I can see a 12-4 record coming out of it and a wild card spot. Games to watch: @DEN Oct 19th, vs SEA on thanksgiving evening, @NO 11/9 – Chris
There isn’t much to say on the Seattle Seahawks, a team that so thoroughly won the Super Bowl it made the entire game look boring. The main story is the defense, and the team will be welcoming back its core of Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. The defenses is enough to propel this squad, but to repeat the offense will need to make some large strides. The team ranked 26th in passing yards last season and let leading receiver Golden Tate head to Detroit in free agency. Doug Baldwin and Russell Wilson will need to create instant chemistry. The rushing game was one of the tops in the league, but counting on Marshawn Lynch to gain over 1,200 yards on 300 carries might be wishful thinking, especially when the team’s second leading rusher is the quarterback. There’s no reason for the Seahawks to panic, but no reason to be complacent either. – Steve
St. Louis Rams
Yet again, the Rams are favorite dark horse picks for a playoff spot. It’s a broken record at this point. The problem? They play in what seems to be the best division…ever, really. (At least our generation’s time) The Seahawks are defending champions, and they essentially return everyone, one year better. The 49ers have suffered losses, but Harbaugh always has his team ready. They’ve been to a Super Bowl and three straight NFC title games since his arrival. Oh yeah, then there’s the Arizona Cardinals, that team with a top five defense, and burgeoning offense, who won 10 games last year. That was good enough for a third place finish and missed wild card spot. They, too, are only getting better. So where do the Rams sit?
Sam Bradford enters his fifth season, the final year on the old inflated rookie contracts. He has never been stellar in his career, and injured far too often. The Rams are banking on him to stay healthy this year, and that the young receiving corps finally gels together. But the backbone of this team is the run game. Zac Stacy proved to be a solid lead back, and Tre Mason was added out of Auburn this year to join Benny Cunningham at backup. Mauling guard Greg Robinson was picked number two overall (the last perk of the famous RGIII trade) and Aaron Donald was added at DT at thirteen overall. He joins three other first round picks on the D line, with Michael Brockers, Chris Long, and the dominant Robert Quinn, who was robbed of DPOY last season. With second year rising star Alec Ogletree, and James Laurinitis in the middle, the Rams could have the best front seven in all of football, anchored by that D line. But they need the young, inexperienced secondary to pick up the slack if they hope to compete. Unfortunately, they seem to be destined for last in the NFC West yet again, even thought that can mean a 9-7 record potentially, ironically possibly enough to win a division title elsewhere. The Rams seem to linger in mediocrity yet again in year three with Fisher and Snead, the supposed “breakthrough” yea. Then again, crazier things have happened, like the 49ers and Seahawks becoming powerhouses almost immediately in 2011 and 2012, after being laughingstocks. – Frank
I was pretty high on the Cardinals last year and they didn’t disappoint. Carson Palmer threw for over 4,200 yards with 24 touchdowns. The retirement of Rashad Mendenhall was surprise and pushes Andre Ellington into the primary running back spot with Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer behind him. Ted Ginn was picked up and replaces Andre Roberts. He should be able to provide some depth at receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd and in the return game behind the electric Patrick Peterson.
Peterson will lead the way for the Cardinals D. Antonio Cromartie and Larry Foote were brought in to bring some experience to a young defense. The loss of leading tackler Karlos Dansby to the Browns will hurt and only time will tell if the aging John Abraham can repeat last year’s 11.5 sack season. There’s no reason to be down on their defense, but it could get ugly quick if the young guys don’t step up. – Ryan