This is going to be a regular feature. Each week of the regular season I'll be highlighting each of the NFC West games. These highlights will include injury reports, key matchups and storylines, as well as predictions. Following the week's slate of games I'll do an NFC West review where I'll wrap up the games, highlight a few key plays or drives as well as anything else that comes to mind.
The NFC West opens regular season action with action amongst the four teams. San Francisco travels to Seattle to play the Seahawks, and the St. Louis Rams will host the Arizona Cardinals.
San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks
Gametime: 4:15 PM Eastern
Location: Qwest Field
Key Injuries: For the 49ers Ahmad Brooks, Eric Heitmann and Kyle Williams are all definitely out and Will James is doubtful.. Russel Okung is definitely out. Raheem Brock (DE), Anthony McCoy (TE), and Chester Pitts are all on the injury report though Pitts will almost certainly start at either guard or tackle.
This is an interesting matchup for the two teams. The Seahawks have the edge all-time, and the Qwest stadium crowd can be a difference maker. Will Pete Carroll's revamping of the team be an improvement or lead to catastrophe? Can our rookie offensive linemen handle the noise?
The 49ers are returning to the scene of a heartbreaking loss to end the season (as Field Gulls front page author John Peel gloats) and the 49ers will undoubtedly be looking for some revenge. Alex Smith had the best statistical game of his career the last time these two teams met and will look to repeat that performance. Frank Gore had a huge running game last year to open up the season and would also like to repeat that performance.
Prediction: 34-17 49ers
Arizona Cardinals @ St. Louis Rams
Gametime: 4:15 PM Eastern
Location: Edward Jones Dome
Key Injuries: For the Cardinals, Chris Wells (RB) and Jason Wright (RB) had limited or no participation in practice. Michael Adams (CB), Will Davis (LB), Larry Fitzgerald (WR), Ben Patrick (TE), Joey Porter (LB), and Andre Roberts (WR) all were listed on the injury report but had full participation in practice. For the Rams only James Butler (S) was on the injury report.
The Cardinals are another team that has been in turmoil this off-season. Can they overcome that turmoil or will the Rams be able to exploit it for a victory? The offensive line for the Cardinals struggled in the pre-season, allowing quite a bit of pressure and not getting much push in the run game. They still have Larry Fitzgerald, who's easily one of the best WRs in the game, but instead of a Hall of Famer throwing to him they've got a journeyman QB and his backup is an undrafted free agent.
The Rams have been inept for so long that it's tough to imagine them being successful but they've quietly built themselves some nice pieces on offense. Sam Bradford looked very sharp in his preseason outings and the Rams offensive line looked much improved from last year. Defensively they'll likely struggle still, though their defensive line is also better and ought to get some pressure. The key matchup here is Derek Anderson's accuracy against the Ram's secondary and the Rams pass rush against the Cardinals offensive line.
Prediction: 17-14 Rams