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2011 NFL Preview – NFC West

Our NFL preview tour continues in the NFC West. Otherwise known as, “the only NFL division without a legitimate contender.”

(Sorry for posting two previews today. Apparently, I forgot how to read a calendar.)

1. Arizona Cardinals
This was surprisingly more difficult than I expected. While the division lacks a great (or even really good) team, it’s highly competitive. If I woke up in January to find any of the four teams as the division winner, I wouldn’t be surprised. With that said, I’m going with Kevin Kolb and the Cardinals. In 2010, the Cards stunk because they couldn’t find a starting quarterback, or even a capable backup, for that matter. Eventually, the entire team crumbled into the crater at quarterback. Kolb brings hope, and more importantly, makes the best player in the division (Larry Fitzgerald) a potent weapon again. Kolb should get Arizona to seven or eight wins. That’s all they’ll need to win the NFC West because the division faces off against the NFC East and AFC North in 2011. The best record in those eight games for any NFC West team will be 3-5, with most going 2-6 or worse.

DWC’s Take: Rams – This is the year the Steve Spagnuolo era takes flight. Franchise QB? Check. Stable RB? Check. (Plus, they finally added quality backups to lighten Steven Jackson’s load). Stable WR? Half-check. (It’s more like a conglomeration of capable guys.) As for the defense? I have full confidence in Spags’ ability. Year by year that defense gets a little bit better. Now, they have the offense to lend a hand. But really, the Rams play in the NFC West. Someone has to win even if nobody ever seems to want to.

2. St. Louis Rams
St. Louis is primed for one of those patented “49er seasons” where they appear ready to make the leap but actually regress instead. (By the way, the 49ers have been having “49er seasons” for the past four years.) While Sam Bradford is not Alex Smith, I still can’t trust the Rams to make the leap this season. Statistically, the Rams were by far the best team in the West in 2010, so it makes sense for them to be the division favorite. Bradford looks like the real deal. The coaching staff is adequate, and Josh McDaniels brings excitement to what was mostly a mundane offense. I know everything points to the Rams winning the division, but playing the Saints and Packers while the Cardinals get the Panthers and Vikings could be the difference between a playoff berth as the NFC West champion and watching the playoffs from home.

DWC’s Take: Cardinals – First, let me say “thanks” to the Cardinals for giving the 2010 Panthers the “2” in their 2-14 season. We couldn’t have done it without you.
As if the pressure of finally becoming a franchise QB wasn’t enough, Kevin Kolb now has the LARGE weight of Larry Fitzgerald’s contract on his shoulders. For Fitzgerald to play to the level of his contract, Kolb’s going to have to be on top of his game. Otherwise, the Cardinals threw a lot of money at a really good receiver who can’t get the ball because the organization also threw a lot of money at an inadequate quarterback. Thankfully, for Kolb’s sake, it’s hard not to find Mr. Fitzgerald. Only Andre Johnson is in Fitzgerald’s league in terms of size, hands, and ability. Hopefully, Arizona’s defense can rebound from a horrid 2010 season as well.

3. San Francisco 49ers
After failing to meet expectations for what seems like the past decade, the 49ers will probably come out of nowhere to claim the division. Stranger things have happened. Unfortunately, winning the division would require a consistent and stellar season from Alex Smith (neither have occurred in his first six years in the NFL), a healthy campaign from Frank Gore (doubtful), and a miracle (always possible). The defense is certainly good enough. However, the swinging door at offensive coordinator (7 in 7 years) has hampered the offense’s ability to keep pace. If Jim Harbaugh can fix Alex Smith, a division crown is in play. But, I think we’ve heard that one before.

DWC’s Take: 49ers – I’d like to also thank the 49ers for giving the Panthers the “1” in their historic 2-14 season. As a Panther fan, I won’t forget it.
As for the 2011 49ers, all I can say is, Alex Smith. (Let it sink in for a few moments.) I was sure the left coast was jumping for joy at the thought of Smith finally leaving before learning he was leading off-season workouts. He’s like the deer tick. Not only is he unwanted, but he also leaves disease in his wake. Smith’s disease is wasting whatever Frank Gore has left, Michael Crabtree’s early years, and Patrick Willis’ prime. With a serviceable QB, the 49ers would be right there with St. Louis and Arizona. San Francisco’s defense keeps them in games. Unfortunately, Smith takes them right out of those same games. Here’s hoping 2012 sees the reunion of Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh in sunny California.

4. Seattle Seahawks
For aspiring coaches and football gurus everywhere: Signing a player 99.9% of fans, coaches, and players know can’t play, is probably a bad decision. While some of Matt Hasselbeck’s game may have deteriorated, Tarvaris Jackson never had any to begin with. Letting Hasselbeck walk and committing $8 million to Jackson was a mistake. Spending over $40 million on a receiver you won’t be able to get the ball to is an even bigger mistake. Pete Carroll is obviously too excited about the whole “it’s legal to pay players” thing. Sadly for Seattle, he’s been spending unwisely, too. The only way Seattle’s offseason makes any sense is if they’re making a run at Andrew Luck. If that’s the case, then well done. Otherwise, well, at least Seattle fans have this highlight to ease their pain until the Carroll era ends, or Luck lines up under center in 2012.

DWC’s Take: Seahawks – How do you go from first to worst in one year? You win your division with a 7-9 record. I haven’t liked one thing Seattle did over the offseason. They allowed their former franchise QB to leave town and replaced him with…Tarvaris Jackson!?!?!? Do Vikings’ games (or the internet for that matter) not reach Seattle? Sure, they signed Sidney Rice, but he comes with a bag of injury issues. Their defense already stunk and little was done to plug those holes. I used to think Pete Carroll had a good idea of how to run a football team. Seattle, I pray you get lots of sun over the fall/winter, because your football team brings nothing but clouds.

For those keeping score, last season’s NFC West predictions:
Me: SF, AZ, SEA, STL
DWC: SF, SEA, AZ, STL
Actual Results: SEA, STL, SF, AZ

Score: DWC 1, Me 1

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