The regular season is here, as of Thursday, though our San Francisco 49ers don't play until Monday when they take on the Minnesota Vikings under the bright lights of Monday Night Football. Throughout the offseason, we've covered the dumpster fire of misery that is the 49ers, but we've also followed their NFC West rivals -- the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams. The division has been one of the strongest in the NFL in recent years and it could be again this coming season ... but will the 49ers be a part of that? Who knows! Before Sunday's NFL games, I'm going to quickly take you through all three of the 49ers' rivals and what happened in their offseasons.
2015 record: 11-5
Draft Picks: OT D.J. Humphries, DE Markus Golden, RB David Johnson, DT Rodney Gunter, DE Shaq Riddick, WR J.J Nelson, TE Gerald Christian
Additions: G Mike Iupati, LB LaMarr Woodley, CB Alfonzo Dennard, RB Chris Johnson, DE Cory Redding
Departures: DT Darnell Dockett, DT Dan Williams, TE John Carlson, CB Antonio Cromartie, WR Ted Ginn
The Arizona Cardinals have found success in recent seasons, despite expectations being relatively low across the board. Nobody expected anything from them in 2013, but when Week 17 rolled around they were threatening to bounce the San Francisco 49ers out of the playoffs. Last season, there was some thought they might be good, but still there weren't really expectations.
Somehow, the Cardinals overcame a ton of injuries, especially at the quarterback position, to field a competitive team in either season. But they can't keep doing that -- they can't keep skating by with nothing at the quarterback position. That isn't to say that they don't have a solution, as Carson Palmer was fantastic last season, but keeping him healthy is a never-ending job that Arizona's offensive line hasn't been able to do effectively in recent years.
Arizona tried to help things out a little bit by signing left guard Mike Iupati in free agency and offensive tackle D.J. Humphries in the NFL Draft. The Cardinals won all six games Palmer started last season, and averaged over 350 yards on offense in those games. He was incredibly effective, and the Cardinals' absolute top priority this season is keeping him upright.
If they can do that, then I see no reason he can't find Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown. If they can do that, I see no reason he can't shred defenses and I see no reason why that wouldn't open the door for Andre Ellington and David Johnson to have productive seasons rushing the football. The offense can actually be pretty good, but the Cardinals really need to keep Palmer protected. If they can't, I don't see how it works out for them.
On defense, they lost Darnell Dockett, which is weird and will certainly impact the locker room, but if we're being honest Frostee Rucker replaced him just fine last season. They also lost Dan Williams and Antonio Cromartie, and added Cory Redding, LaMarr Woodley, Alfonzo Dennard and draft picks Markus Golden, Rodney Gunter and Shaq Riddick.
The defense is what saved the Cardinals when the offense faltered, for most of last season. Then again, it wasn't enough to get them out of the worst case scenario, like the wild card playoff game against the Carolina Panthers where Arizona had under 80 yards of total offense. That was disastrous, and the Cardinals have to avoid being in a similar place this coming season.
I wasn't too impressed with their free agent haul, and aside from Johnson I don't see a whole lot with the draft class, either. It's been a pretty lukewarm offseason overall for the Cardinals, but if they can fix their offensive line issues they'll have made huge strides regardless. I'm not sure anything is really fixed though, especially right now given that they're set to take on the New Orleans Saints without Iupati and Bobby Massie.
Still, the Cardinals are happy with where they're at. They believed that a few tweaks here and there would be enough to get them over the hump and while I'm not sold, they could easily be right.