With the National Football League teams going through their preseason schedules, determining their rosters and getting ready for the start of the NFL season on September 8, it is time to start taking a look at the upcoming regular season.
In this segment, we’ll take a look at the NFC’s West Division. Long the doormat division of the NFC, the West Division was highly competitive in 2012. Coming down to the last week of the season, the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks vied for the division crown, with the 49ers eventually earning the title and both teams going to the NFC playoffs. Those two teams will once again battle it out in 2013, but their brethren in the division have gotten a bit better.
The Seahawks stunned many with their run to the playoffs in 2012 and it wasn’t a fluke. They arguably got their quarterback of the future in Russell Wilson, who’s rookie year statistics rivaled that of the other two more ballyhooed QBs in the draft (Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III), and have the steady Marshawn Lynch in the backfield.
Where the ‘Hawks were a bit lacking was in the receiving corps. They have attempted to address this issue by trading for wide receiver Percy Harvin, but he was injured in one of the first practices of this preseason and may be out for the year due to that damaged hip. Sidney Rice and Golden Tate were adequate at the position in 2012 and, with that year of experience under the belt, should be able to raise their game.
Along with a strong defense, the Seahawks should be able to take the next step this year and eke out the division title over the 49ers (they will probably win the head to head matchup and have a better in-division record). If they falter early, however, it could be another story.
Prediction: First (Record: 11-5)
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers steamrolled the NFC on their way to the Super Bowl last year in one of the most unlikely occurrences you will ever see. With a stud quarterback in Alex Smith, the ‘Niners were charging along and seemingly couldn’t be stopped. When Smith went down with a concussion, however, the team put the offense in the hands of the unproven Colin Kaepernick.
So what happened? Kaepernick proved to be a top-flight NFL quarterback, unseating Smith from the starting job, leading the team to the Super Bowl and sending Smith out the door to the Kansas City Chiefs. Kaepernick will avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump” as the 49ers have surrounded him with excellent talent in the durable Frank Gore, tight end Vernon Davis and traded with the team that beat them for the NFL Championship, the Baltimore Ravens, to get Anquan Boldin (the other stud at the wide receiver position, Michael Crabtree, is going to be out until at least the late half of the season due to an Achilles’ tear).
Defense is also a strong point for the 49ers, but they will have to contend with complacency that a trip to the Super Bowl (and a loss) always seems to happen. If they still have the drive, they will battle with the Seahawks for the division title once again and, to be honest, either team could take the crown down.
Prediction: Second (Record: 11-5)
After a dismal season in 2012, the Cardinals decided on a complete housecleaning of their coaching and their roster. Out is Ken Whisenhunt as the head coach, with Bruce Arians coming over from his interim leadership of the Indianapolis Colts (and their playoff performance) to take over and lead the team back to glory.
Arians will have nearly an entirely new roster to go along with the beginning of his tenure. In at quarterback will be Carson Palmer, who didn’t do the job in Oakland and was traded to the Cardinals in the offseason. Beanie Wells is out at running back, with Rashard Mendenhall coming over from the Pittsburgh Steelers to take his place. The constant for the offense this year is wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who should benefit from having a steady quarterback instead of the “QB by committee” system that he has had over the past couple of seasons.
The defense will be the question mark on this Cardinals squad as their best player, linebacker Darryl Washington, will be out for the first four games of the season due to a violation of the NFL drug policy. The schedule is also not kind to the Cardinals; a four game stretch beginning on October 13 will see them travel to San Francisco and then welcome Seattle, Atlanta and the Houston Texans (all playoff teams in 2012). That could be the spot when we will see just how good this Cardinals team is and it could be the “make it or break it” point of their season.
Prediction: Third (Record: 8-8)
St. Louis Rams
As difficult as the 2012 season was for the team, the Rams performed admirably in coming up just short of .500 with their 7-8-1 record (the tie was against the 49ers). Offseason moves, however, has decimated what was a solid unit that could have been a contender in 2013.
Two of their most prized offensive players, wide receiver Danny Amendola and running back Steven Jackson moved on in free agency (to the Patriots and the Falcons, respectively), leaving the cupboard fairly bare for quarterback Sam Bradford. It is unclear who will step in to take the workload that Jackson carried and, other than Austin Pettis and Chris Givens, no other wide receiver has more than two years of NFL experience.
It is going to be a long season in the Gateway City as head coach Jeff Fisher attempts to revamp this squad and make them the contender that he did with the Tennessee Titans during his long tenure there. While the team may be down now, if Fisher is given some time, he should get the ship righted eventually.
Prediction: Fourth (Record: 5-11)
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