Friday, September 10, 2010

NFL Preview: Day Eight- NFC West

All the big things are new in the NFC West in 2010. There's a new hope in San Fransisco, as the 49ers look to be back on top and back into the Playoffs behind Alex Smith. There's a new quarterback in Arizona as Derek Anderson looks to replace potential future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. A new coach resides in Seattle, who looks to make his own mark and whose success rides on the back of Matt Hasselbeck. Finally, a new franchise start in St. Louis as Sam Bradford looks to enter the NFL and make his mark. It's an all new NFC West in 2010.

The NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

2009 Record: 10-6

He was the savior of the franchise, leading the team to it's first ever Super Bowl. He made them respectable with his throwing arm. The only bad part was his time was brief. Only five years, but he made the last two count. Now, Kurt Warner is gone. Matt Leinart was tabbed to be the next franchise quarterback, but he lost out of that job to Warner and he lost it again to the man who is tasked with replacing Kurt Warner and running the offense for the Arizona Cardinals after several rough seasons struggling with the Cleveland Browns.

It was an off season of departures for the Cardinals, who not only lost Kurt Warner but solid second receiver Anquan Boldin to a trade to the Ravens. Not that Larry Fitzgerald cares much but the burden of the passing game now lies in his hands. New secondary receiver Steve Breaston has proved in the past to be a solid third option, can he be the second man the Cardinals need? Either way, it's like that the air game will see a lot less love in Arizona this year. This means more work load for Chris "Beanie" Wells and Tim Hightower, who will look to have career years if the Cardinals want to have a winning season.

Another loss in the off season was the departure, via release, of Safety Antrel Role. While not a replacement, the big signing for the defense in the off season was former Pittsburgh Steeler and Miami Dolphin Joey Porter, who will look to be an important piece in boosting the poor defense of 2009. Ranking 23rd in pass defense and 17th in run defense, if the Cardinals want to return to the Playoffs for the 2010 season, they need to lock it up and hope for the best.

2010 Prediction: 5-11

St. Louis Rams

2009 Record: 1-15

It didn't take long for his name to be called. He was taken first overall in this years NFL Draft. With that, Sam Bradford became the face of the St. Louis Rams. He expects to be thrown to the fire and for the competitive Bradford, who was a winner at Oklahoma despite a bum shoulder in his final season, he expects to succeed despite the lack of help outside of Stephen Jackson.

2009 was a very disappointing year for the Rams and their fans but they did have two bright spots: the steady Stephen Jackson and the continued success of receiving star Donnie Avery, whose speed and game breaking ability continued to be the only real threat for the passing game. While racking up less than 600 yards, he was playing under a passing corps that (between Kyle Boller and Marc Bulger) barely threw for 2,000 combined yards. He was slated to be the perfect crutch for Sam Bradford to lean on. Instead, he's out for the season with a torn ACL. This leaves the only weapon for the Rams as Stephen Jackson, who comes off of a 1400 yard campaign.

Even more woeful for the Rams than their offense was their defense. Ranking 27th in passing defense and 25th in run stopping, the Rams poor defense took a beating in 2009. They gave up an average of 27 points per game. It's not a shocker then that they only managed one win in the entire 2009 season. 2010 is not a year for competition for the Rams on either side of the ball. It's the time for Sam Bradford to grow, for the defense to toughen up, for Stephen Jackson to do what he can to make the team respectable, and plan for the 2011 Draft. It'll be another rough year for a once proud franchise.

2010 Prediction: 3-13

San Fransisco 49ers

2009 Record: 8-8

He's been "their guy" since being drafted from Utah in 2005. However, Alex Smith has rarely been given a fair shake. After a respectable second year performance (2890 yards thrown, 16 TDs and 16 INTs), he lost his starting job in 2008. Last year he re-claimed that spot. This year, the 49ers are the team to beat in the NFC West and this year Alex Smith gets to decide just how far they will go in the regular season and the post season.

There to be a big help to Smith in his efforts in the 2010 season in the air is 2009 draft pick Michael Crabtree, who still managed over 600 yards from Smith's arm despite only playing in 11 games after a contract hold out kept him sidelined. Third year receiver Josh Morgan will look to catch what Vernon Davis isn't thrown. Also the little known Frank Gore continues to impress, being the catalyst for the run game. Gore has run for over 1,000 yards in four straight campaigns. Despite the addition of Brian Westbrook to the back field, Gore will still likely get the majority of carries.

The defense is where the true bread and butter of the 49ers lies. Coach Mike Singletary was known for his defensive abilities in his time as a Chicago Bear and the run stop clearly showed the improvements brought upon by Singletary in 2009, when it ranked as the 6th best run defense in the league. The big chink in the armor was that of the pass defense, which ranked 21st in the league. The loss of Kurt Warner in Arizona, the question of Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle, and the rookie starter for the Rams in Sam Bradford should mean that in division this won't be much of an issue but in a largely passing league it could be a problem come Playoff time.

2010 Prediction: 11-5

Seattle Seahawks

2009 Record: 5-11

He's been there since being traded from the Packers in 2001. He's been a big part of the team's success along the way. He's outlasted other franchise players like Shaun Alexander. The problem now lies with the fact that Matt Hasselbeck has only played one full season since the Seahawks Super Bowl run in 2005. A bad back and age have taken it's toll on him. New head coach Pete Carroll already has his replacement behind him in Charlie Whitehurst, but how long will Matt get the chance to prove he can still bring it?

When Hasselbeck (or Whitehurst) snaps the ball, he will have a brand new weapon to throw to in 2010 draft pick Golden Tate out of Notre Dame. No longer there, last year's free agent acquisition T.J. Houshmandzadeh in favor of former USC Trojan (and Pete Carroll pet project) Mike Williams. Rounding out the top three receiving corps for the Seahawks is Deion Branch. Julius Jones and Justin Forsett round out the running game. None of it seems terribly impressive and isn't much of an improvement over last year's 26th ranked rushing attack and 15th ranked passing attack.

Also little improvements were made over last year's defense, which is far from a good thing. The Seahawks pass defense ranked 30th overall in the league in 2009, and had the 15th ranked run defense in the league. The 2010 off season saw little in terms of impact signings on the defensive end, with a few depth men added outside of 2010 Draft pick Earl Thomas, who looks to play a prominent role in the Safety position. It's another year of the youth looking to grow as Hasselbeck continues his swan song, with a franchise doing the classy thing of letting him play. How long that will continue with injuries is a question mark, as is the biggest Wild Card of all for the Seahawks: How will Pete Carroll do? He, like the team, will grow. They won't reach the stars yet.

2010 Prediction: 6-10

NFC West Final Projected Standings-

San Francisco 49ers- 11-5
Seattle Seahawks- 6-10
Arizona Cardinals- 5-11
St. Louis Rams- 4-12

Bold= Division Winner
Italics= Wild Card team

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