The next stop on our NFL season preview tour is the NFC West where Alex Smith hopes to lead the 49ers over the hump and Matt Leinart works to replace a legend in Arizona. In Seattle, an iconic college coach is back for redemption. Oh, the Rams get some love too.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Over the past three years the 49ers have been considered a sleeper pick, a “this is the year they break through” pick, and a “look out for San Francisco, they’re going to surprise some people” pick. Not only were all three forecasted picks incorrect, but I’m pretty sure I was on board with each one. Nevertheless, THIS is the year the 49ers finally fulfill their destiny and reclaim the NFC West division title. While he may not be the top X’s and O’s coach in the league, Mike Singletary gets the most from his players. In fact, a large part of San Francisco’s growth on offense can be attributed to Singletary’s success in motivating his younger players, most notably Vernon Davis. Davis and Frank Gore have developed into elite players at their respective positions, and Michael Crabtree impressed last season despite limited playing time after an extensive holdout (thank you, Deion Sanders). The wildcard is quarterback Alex Smith. After fighting through shoulder injuries, the former number one pick has been presented one final shot to prove he’s a starting NFL quarterback. I for one would love to see him succeed. In fact, I think he’ll have an excellent year. Barring injuries, the NFL playoffs will return to the Bay Area.
DWC’s Take: 49ers – Their defense is scary because Patrick Willis is scary. He is the vocal, physical, and emotional leader of that unit (think Ray Lewis, but not as scary). The offense has the potential to light up the league. They have a top ten back in Frank Gore, a potential stud receiver in Crabtree, and Mr. Universe tight end Vernon Davis. They also have a no nonsense coach who will bench, slap, punch, kick, tackle, or knock out anyone who tries to test the boundaries (just ask Vernon Davis). The only problem is quarterback, and that’s a big problem. If Alex Smith can be the guy drafted number one overall, then this team will head deep into the playoffs. If he is the quarterback who loses his starting job only to play well enough to get it back only to play poorly enough to lose it again, then this team is doomed. Sure, they can probably take the division, but Singletary won’t be satisfied with just the division. And when Mike Singletary ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
2. Arizona Cardinals
Though Kurt Warner isn’t stocking shelves at a local grocery store; he’s no longer quarterbacking the Arizona Cardinals either. Cardinal fans are well aware of this fact as they’ve been reluctant to pull their hands from over their eyes. Can’t say I blame them. I was a big supporter of Matt Leinart out of college. Unfortunately for him, he may not have a job much longer. Without solid play at the quarterback position the Cardinals will struggle to get the ball into the hands of their best player (Larry Fitzgerald). With a shaky defense and the departure of Anquan Boldin to boot, I just don’t see Arizona winning the division for the third consecutive year.
DWC’s Take: Seahawks – Pete Carroll coached the New York Yankees of college football as well as anybody could. I think he was way past due to get another job in the NFL. Seattle has talent, but they are getting up there in age. Matt Hasselbeck can still play, but the question is can he stay healthy? Their depth chart at wide receiver looks like the fantasy all-stars of 2005. Since the magical disappearing act of Shaun Alexander, they have been unable to boast a decent running attack. Hopefully Carroll can help change that this year. What he really needs to fix is the defense. Remember when they went to the Superbowl via a stellar defense? Me either. I think the refs stole it along with the title that year. If Carroll can get that defense back on track, the division is for the taking.
3. Seattle Seahawks
So while I was staring at Seattle’s third jersey (this one) to get the creative juices flowing, I was tempted to pick Seattle as the division champ. Then I realized a few things: 1. Their injury-prone quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck) hasn’t delivered a solid season since 2007. 2. Their running game was dismal last year and won’t be any different this year. 3. Head coaches who transition from college to the NFL never have success in year one, if ever. 4. Staring intently at that lime green jersey makes one think irrationally.
DWC’s Take: Cardinals – If you’re quiet, you might be able to hear Ken Whisenhunt crying in the corner somewhere. He is fully aware of what he had and what he’s been left with. If you’ve watched the Cardinals at all in the preseason, you would understand why the organization offered Kurt Warner best-quarterback-ever type money to pry him away from retirement. Matt Leinart is not Kurt Warner. Combine the loss of Boldin with Leinart’s glaring lack of pocket presence and accuracy, and you can see why this team is doomed. True, Larry Fitzgerald is a great receiver. The problem is that now he’ll see a lot more double and triple teams. As for the defense, Adrian Wilson is still a stud, but he is aging with little help around him. For at least this season, I think the Arizona Cardinals from my childhood days are back.
4. St. Louis Rams
The 2010 season looks to be another developmental campaign for Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams. Other than RB Steven Jackson, St. Louis is light on pro-bowl caliber players. However, St. Louis continues to build a strong nucleus by adding young talent to its roster. If all goes according to plan, Sam Bradford, Chris Long, Jason Smith, and James Laurinatitis will have the Rams competing for the division crown in 2012. In the meantime, St. Louis can enjoy Albert Pujols’ pursuit of baseball’s first Triple Crown in decades.
DWC’s Take: Rams – What’s there to say? They have Steven Jackson, but that’s about it. The days of “the greatest show on turf” are long gone. Sam Bradford will probably have himself a nice career, but rookie quarterbacks never do well when they come into an existing mess. This isn’t Big Ben joining the already stout Steelers and simply needing to throw for 150 yards and a touchdown behind a great run game and dominant defense. Bradford doesn’t have that luxury on defense and the lack of star power on offense won’t help either. I foresee an injury around week 8 as a result of the constant beating he is about to receive. I hope I’m wrong on that one.
If you’re wondering, last season’s NFC West predictions were:
Me: SEA, AZ, SF, STL
DWC: AZ, SEA,SF, STL
Actual Results: AZ, SF, SEA, STL.
Thus, DWC 2, Me 0