The New Beasts of the NFC (2013 NFC West Preview)

nfc_west

The NFC West has come a long way since the time that they were the joke of the NFC with terrible teams. There have been the odd strong team in the NFC West as some teams have broken out to have great seasons. Every year that a team has gone to the Super Bowl the other three have given almost no resistance to the division champions. All of that has changed though as the NFC Wet has become one of the most competitive and toughest divisions in the league. There are not four teams that can win or even three but the two top teams in the division rank as two of the best in the league. The battle between the Seahawks and 49ers has been one of the best in the last two years and is only getting better. Both teams have risen at the same time and have had very similar paths to getting where they stand today. In Seattle the Seahawks would sign a fiery college coach in Pete Carroll from USC and last year would draft a young QB that would put them over the top. In San Francisco the 49ers would sign a fiery head coach from Stanford in John Harbaugh and draft a young QB that last year would put the team over the top. The similarities continue for these two teams and that coupled with a longtime rivalry between John Harbaugh and Pete Carroll from their college days have made this one of the best rivalries in the NFL. Meanwhile the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams are getting buried under the talent and are trying to regain their foothold on the division. Despite the lack of competition between all four teams the top two teams have made this one of the most competitive divisions in football. This year they will once again go at it as the top two teams could be on their way to the Super Bowl while the bottom two teams try to regroup and cause a surprise this year.

 

Arizona Cardinals

arizona_cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals had this division on lock a few years ago when they went to Super Bowl XLII. Since then they have struggled to keep a hold on the division as they have not been able to find a QB. When they went to the Super Bowl it was Kurt Warner leading the way after draft pick Matt Leinart did not work out. Since Warner retired the Cardinals have continued their quest for a long-term answer under centre and they have yet to find it. That coupled with a porous defence and the rest of the offence unable to carry the team and the Cardinals would finish in last place with a 5-11 record. The finish would be the last straw for Ken Wisenhunt who would lose his job at the end of the season leaving room for a new regime. Leading the way will be Bruce Arians who proved that he has what it takes to be a head coach in the NFL. Taking over the Indianapolis Colts when head coach Chuck Pagano took a leave of absence to deal with his cancer treatment, Arians would help guide the once bottom of the league Colts to the playoffs. Arians is a leader and will look to bring a new attitude to the Cardinals as he tries to turn them around like he had helped do in Indianapolis. Along with the new head coach the Cardinals are hoping that their newest addition is what they have been looking for in Carson Palmer. After holding out in Cincinnati and being relegated to the dysfunctional Oakland Raiders Palmer is now taking over the Cardinals where he looks to start his comeback. He will have one of the best receivers in the league to help him in Larry Fitzgerald and young receiver Michael Floyd giving him some weapons in the passing game. The running game will be led by Rashard Mendenhall who will look to overcome his injury history to provide an upgraded rushing game. The defence will have to go through a transition this year as they have lost a number of key players and will try to overcome the losses with some younger talent. The Cardinals are a team that needs to rebuild but not from the ground up as they will have their bright spots this year but making the playoffs in this division will be too tough for the them.

 

Strengths:
New Regime
– Ken Wisenhunt was not getting things done but locking down one of the most sought after head coach in Bruce Arians should bring in new life and a new attitude to a team that has become used to losing

Weakness:
The Rebuild
– They may not be at square one with their rebuild with plenty of young talent but there is still a lot of work to do and it will not be done before the season is finished meaning they will see plenty of struggles this year

Biggest Addition:
Carson Palmer, QB (Free Agent, Oak)
– After trying to get Kevin Kolb and John Skelton in the last few years the Cardinals have decided to go with a veteran as Palmer will bring in a new leadership in the huddle that may have been missing since Kurt Warner left

Biggest Loss:
Paris Lenon, LB (Free Agent, Den)
– The Cardinals have lost a lot of key players on defence and one of them will be the leader of the defence in Paris Lenon who will no longer lead the middle of the defence leaving no real replacement for him

 

St. Louis Rams

st_louis_rams

The St. Louis Rams have been rebuilding for years starting with when they drafted Sam Bradford in 2010. They are one of the more frustrating teams to following in the NFL as they have been up and down since that time. The Rams have looked like they were building a winner at times and then looked like a lost team. As they slowly rebuilt their team the two new powers in the division have rapidly built theirs and overtaken the Rams. Now they sit in a position where they need something to happen before the franchise goes through another major rebuild period. They have had plenty of pieces in recent years but have never seemed to be able to put it all together and produce a strong team. On offence Sam Bradford could be as advertised if he can stay off of the ground after being sacked 105 times in his three seasons in the NFL. It has been a major problem as Bradford has never been able to show just how good he can be as he has been running from the defence for his entire three years. In 2013 the Rams looked to try to change that as they would sign left tackle Jake Long to protect Bradford’s blindside. Long is a great lineman and is a major upgrade that will hopefully end the protection issues. If Bradford can get more time he may be able to help his offence produce which will be a true test of his skills with some of his best weapons now gone. Bradford’s favorite target, Danny Amendola, is gone along with running back and offensive leader Steven Jackson. In their place will be Tavon Austin who had a reputation in college for being so athletic he can play anywhere while the running back position will be held by a committee of backs. The defence will have stability this year with a new coordinator and few big losses. They will not be the best defence but with Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, and Cortland Finnegan on the field they are no pushovers. The Rams are not so much rebuilding this year but they are not a rebuilt team as they sit in the middle in a strange place. They may not be the worst team but they are not the best and the playoffs might be too tough in this division.

 

Strengths:

Stability on Defence
– Last year Greg Williams should have been the defensive coordinator for the Rams but his involvement in the bounty scandal would leave them without a coordinator that will change with Tim Walton now on the sidelines and a lot of starters returning

Weakness:
Offensive Weapons
– Without Danny Amendola and Steven Jackson the Rams are lacking the fire power on offence and even though they added Tavon Austin they are still lacking enough firepower to help Sam Bradford lead this offence

Biggest Addition:
Jake Long, OT (Free Agent, Mia)
– The Rams have allowed far too many sacks over the last three years with Sam Bradford going down 105 times and the addition of Jake Long will give them the anchor with the most important part of the line now solidified

Biggest Loss:
Steven Jackson, RB (Free Agent, Atl)
– For years the Rams have relied on the run game to produce as it has given them plenty of production and some relief for Sam Bradford but without Steven Jackson that insurance policy is gone as they will miss the veteran running back this year

 

San Francisco 49ers

san_francisco_49ers

The San Francisco 49ers have turned their team around after years of sitting at the bottom of the division. It all started with John Harbaugh who would bring in his no-nonsense attitude to a team that seemed to be losing their way. Last year was the pinnacle for this team as they would finally find a game changing QB that would carry them to the Super Bowl. The Niners would fall just short of a major comeback in the Super Bowl but the warning shot had been fired. The Niners are preparing to be a force in the NFL for years to come and a mix of young talent and veteran leadership that have become a team to be feared in the NFL. As with every year the Niners will look to their defence for leadership as the John Harbaugh era has been defined by one of the best defences in the league. Led by veteran linebacker Patrick Willis this defence is lights out against the run and is very good against the pass. They have been one of the best squads in the NFL and they are not slowing down with Justin Smith and NaVarro Bowman back along with Carlos Rogers and new addition Nnamdi Asomugha the Niners will once again be one of the stronger defences in the league. On offence the Niners are finally looking to a QB that has everything a starting QB needs and more. Colin Kaepernick is one of the most exciting players in the NFL right now as he has the arm to go deep and the athletic ability to make something happen. Kaepernick was a big reason to the success of the Niners last year but this year he will have a bit of a harder path. The 49ers have not had a great offseason as Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are both hurt and could miss significant time. This leaves Vernon Davis and new addition Anquan Boldin as the only real threats in the passing game. The running game will be a great insurance for them though with Frank Gore, LaMichael James, and Kendall Hunter all looking to split time this year. The Niners are one of the teams to beat this year and they will be fighting until the end of the season to battle for the division and even if they lose the playoffs are in the future.

 

Strengths:
Stability
– The Niners have been trying to find a QB for the last few years and have finally found one as Colin Kaepernick is ready to take control without Alex Smith looking over his shoulder and that means he can focus on winning instead of a QB battle

Weakness:
Receiver Depth
– With the loss of Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham the Niners are in trouble with their receiving corps as they will have TE Vernon Davis and WR Anquan Boldin along with a lot of young receivers to try to lead this passing game

Biggest Addition:
Anquan Boldin, WR (Free Agent, Bal)
– Although he might be the only threat in the passing offence for most of the season it is a good option as Boldin has become known for coming up big when it matters and he showed that in the Super Bowl run last year for the Ravens

Biggest Loss:
Dashon Goldson, SS (Free Agent, RB)
– The Niners have a good defence but one of the key pieces was Goldson who brought a ferocity to the safety position that will be missed in the secondary and will not be replaced this year leaving a hole

 

Seattle Seahawks

seattle_seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks have taken the same path as the San Francisco 49ers to success with a fiery coach and a young QB. Last year Russell Wilson would push the Seahawks over the edge and made them one of the toughest teams in the league. Still they went through some growing pains and could be beat but would find their rhythm and move into the playoffs. They would lose in the Divisional playoffs but they had shown the NFL that they are here to win. Much like their divisional rivals, the 49ers, the Seahawks are based on their defence but unlike the 49ers they are built to stop the pass. The Seahawks have the best defensive backfield in the NFL, even if they have been embroiled in PED scandals, with Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas, three of which are over 6’0”, patrolling the passing lanes. Their job is made easier with Chris Clemons at defensive end pressing the QBs to make mistakes. Last year the defence was a big part of the Seahawks winning percentage but their offence was catching up. Led by rookie QB Russell Wilson the Seahawks had one of the most unpredictable offences of the year. Wilson has forced Pete Carroll to make Seattle a Read-Option offence that allows Wilson to take over and use his athletic ability. This year Wilson looks to do the same as he tries to avoid a sophomore slump and carry the Seahawks once more. Around him the Seahawks will have Marshawn Lynch to provide some relief but the passing offence may suffer. Golden Tate and Sidney Rice have been good but the addition of Percy Harvin may have been what they needed. Unfortunately Harvin would not last long landing on the PUP list during the preseason and may miss significant time. Wilson will have a limited number of people to throw to but if he can read defences better this year it may not be a problem. The Seahawks are the other great team in the West and have a shot at winning the division. They will fight with the Niners all season and like the Niners will likely make the playoffs with or without the division title. Beyond that the Seahawk’s season will rely a lot on the ability of Russell Wilson to manage his sophomore season.

 

Strengths:
Stability from the Start
– Last year the Seahawks would be embroiled in a QB controversy to start the season as Russell Wilson would battle their big offseason acquisition Matt Flynn but this year the team is all for Russell Wilson leaving only football for him to think about

Weakness:
Sophomore Slump
– Russell Wilson was one of the best rookie QBs in recent history and is a part of one of the best rookie QB classes in NFL history but can he overcome the thing that most rookies suffer as he needs to overcome the sophomore slump to lead this team

Biggest Addition:
Percy Harvin, WR (Free Agent, Min)
– With no other big additions Harvin was the man who was to put the passing game over the top and he could do it once he gets back from injury as his debut in Seattle will be highly anticipated

Biggest Loss:
Leon Washington, WR/KR (Free Agent, NE)
– One of the strengths of the Seahawks in recent years has been their special teams as Leon Washington has given them great field position and game changing plays but he is now gone leaving a big hole on the team

 

Prediction:
1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Seattle Seahawks
3. St. Louis Rams
4. Arizona Cardinals

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