The NFC West has been the shame of the league, and possibly the weakest division in any sport. Optimism has been high for many teams, but there has been a lot of disappointment. This division has a lot to prove this season to lose the reputation of the weakest link.
St. Louis Rams – The St. Louis Rams finished with the worst record in the league with a 1-15 record. This landed them the first pick in the NFL Draft in which they selected former Oklahoma Sooner Heisman QB Sam Bradford. The Rams have not had much success with only had 4 winning season in their 15 seasons in St. Louis, and this upcoming season can be written in as another losing effort. Their only win last year came against the worst NFL franchise, the Detroit Lions. Bradford has a huge task in front of him. The Rams were rumored to sign Terrell Owens but decided to skip out on him, which may have been the best move since Bradford already has enough pressure being thrown into the league with the worst team. The problem with not signing TO is that Bradford has virtually no targets. The Rams are a long way from the “greatest show on turf” as they were known as under the Mike Martz campaign. Second year coach Steve Spagnuolo is on the hot seat; I expect him to lose his job by their Week 9 bye-week if they aren’t able to win 2 games by then (Week 5 vs. Lions, Week 7 vs. Buccaneers respectively). The only shining star left in St. Louis is RB Steven “Action” Jackson. Jackson had a good year in 2009, compiling his career high 1,416 rushing yards, but only had 4 rushing touchdowns. The TDs will have to increase this season and Jackson will have to push the team to earn wins. The young offensive line has potential but a lot of pressure on them this year to protect #1 pick Bradford and Jackson. The Rams will be swept by their division and will have to aim pick up 3 wins this in order to consider it a successful season.
Seattle Seahawks – The big news in Seattle is the hiring of new head coach Pete Carroll. Carroll brought in his own coaching staff but will need to bring in more players if he wants to be successful in Seattle. The Seahawks finished last season with a 5-11 record putting them at 3rd in the division. QB Matt Hasselbeck appears to have one last ride this season in attempt to resurrect his career and get back to his 2007 season stats in which he threw a career high 28 TDs. Hasselbeck was plagued with injury in 2008 and only started seven games. Last season, he started 14 games, but threw 17 interceptions with his 17 touchdowns. Hasselbeck will lose one target this season after trading Nate Burleson to the Lions. The two receivers suffered injuries in the offseason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (sports hernia surgery) and Deion Branch (knee scope) have both resumed practicing at the start of training camp and have a lot to prove. Houshmandzadeh has to live up to his $40 million contract to prove that he is capable of being a number one receiver. To do so, he will have to bump up his TD total of four from last year. The Seahawks have a slew of RBs with Justin Forsett, Julius Jones, and Leon Washington (LenDale White was cut in May), who will all have the potential to create a real ground threat in Seattle. They had 3 picks in the first round with Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, and Golden Tate. Seattle will need them to be impact players this season. This will be a building season for the Seahawks under a new coaching staff, but I think will be able to build on some positives to become a playoff contending team in the next three seasons.
Arizona Cardinals – The Arizona Cardinals made it back into the playoffs after their Super Bowl appearance in 2008. The Cards entered the 2009 season with expectations but were barely able to sneak into a wildcard playoff spot with a 10-6 season record. They were able to beat the favorite Packers in a 51-45 thriller in OT in the wildcard playoff game and went on to lose to the future Super Bowl champ Saints. This brought an end to future Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner’s illustrious career. This set up the scene for a passing of the torch to 2006 #10 draft pick Matt Leinart, who still will have to battle in camp with veteran Derek Anderson for the starting job. Assuming that Leinart gets the start with the money investment the Cardinals have made in him, he will have a lot of pressure to perform up to his potential this season. The Cardinals took a big loss when trading number two receiver Anquan Boldin to the Ravens. Leinart will still have good targets with Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Early Doucet who all just need a good ball thrown to them to make big plays. The running game is below average with Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells, so a lot of the offense will have to come from the air. The defensive line is still solid with DE Darnel Dockett (who’s ready for the season judging from this) and Joey Porter at LB, and a secondary highlighted by Dominque Rogers-Cromartie and Adrian Wilson. The Cardinals playoff hopes will be decided by the two head to head match-ups with the up and coming 49ers, which is their only real competition in the division.
San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers have been building up the last two seasons with a 7-9 record in 2008 and 8-8 record in 2009. This year expectations are high, and the missing the playoffs is not an option for Mike Singletary’s team. Alex Smith was benched the first five and half games but came in and threw for a career-best 2,350 yards, 18 TDs, and 12 INTs. There is no doubt, all the pressure falls on Alex Smith’s shoulders this year. He will get the full season to start barring any injury and he has a lot to prove in what could be his last chance. The Niners picked up receiver Ted Ginn Jr. from the Miami Dolphins who is a speedy receiver and good punt returner. Michael Crabtree has also had one more season to develop and will have to be ready for the number one option role this season. This athletic receiving crew has been put together to challenge the divisional rival Arizona Cardinal’s strong secondary. The stable of the offense will still be RB Frank Gore who will have to continue running downhill to pick up the tough yards and keep the offense moving. Gore ran for 1,120 yards for 10 TDs in 14 games last season and received help from back up Glenn Coffee as well. Gore will have to have stay healthy this season and rush for more yards this season to secure a spot in the playoffs. The Niners have not made any drastic moves but have allowed their players to develop nicely, and this year they will be put to the test. Bay Area fans are hungry for the playoffs, and their hopes rest in the arm of Alex Smith. I think the Niners have what it takes this year to make it on top of a very weak division.
- 1. San Francisco 49ers (11-5)
- 2. Arizona Cardinals (7-9)
- 3. Seattle Seahawks (6-11)
- 4. St. Louis Rams (2-14)
Check out my preview of the AFC West. Check back for my next division preview of the AFC East.