Thursday, August 8, 2013

NFL Preview: NFC West

Arguably the best division at the top, the NFC West has come a long way from where it was just a few short years ago when the "winner" of the division finished with a 7-9 record. Today, the NFC West boasts two legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the 49ers and the Seahawks. Both teams will make the playoffs this year, but don't be surprised to see the other two teams make a push either. Let's take a look:

San Francisco: The 49ers represented the NFC in the Super Bowl last season, and are an early favorite to get back there this year. With a training camp and preseason under his belt as the starter, Colin Kaepernick should only improve upon his breakout season last year, and with the addition of Anquan Boldin to his wide receiver corps, it should only improve his down-field numbers. The loss of his favorite target, Michael Crabtree, for the season is a big loss, but the 49ers should have the weapons to overcome.

Seattle: The Seahawks were arguably just a play or two away from being right there with the 49ers last season, and made several moves in the off-season with the hopes of getting over the hump and taking the division crown. The addition of Cliff Avril should give an already elite defense even more pop. The Seahawks boast the best secondary corps in the league and the addition of Avril will only work to make them better. Avril is a pass-rush specialist who should finish the year with double-digit sack numbers. A scary thought on a great defense already.

Arizona: The Arizona Cardinals have been a bottom feeder in this division for quite a while (really since their Super Bowl appearance in 2008), but the addition of Carson Palmer should give a huge boost to this offense. Though he is on the downward slope of his career, Larry Fitzgerald is still an elite receiver in this league, but has been toiling way with mediocre (at best) quarterback play in Arizona. Bringing in Palmer should go a long way towards boosting Fitz's numbers and giving him a rejuvenation. I expect the Cardinals to surprise some people this year, and am looking for a huge season from Fitzgerald.

St. Louis: The St. Louis Rams actually finished with the best record inside the NFC West last season, going 5-0-1 (yes people, THERE ARE ties in the NFL), with the lone blemish coming in their first match-up against San Francisco. They brought in former Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long to bolster their offensive line in hopes of keeping the oft-injured Sam Bradford on the field. When on the field, Bradford has shown that he can be a very good quarterback in this league and gives the Rams a chance to win every week. It's going to be a tough season in St. Louis, though, as I think they are clearly a level below the other three teams.

Prediction: The Cardinal did a lot for their chances in the division by bringing in a competent quarterback for Larry Fitzgerald, but it's not going to be enough to overtake either San Francisco or Seattle. The Rams are looking at a fourth-place finish in the division as they just haven't done enough in the off-season to be able to compete week after week. I'm torn as to who I think is going to win this division, but I think I have to give a slight edge to the 49ers, if only because they are the defending champs and they have earned that respect. Seattle should easily make the playoffs as a Wild Card though, and as we've seen time and again recently, once you get into the playoffs...anything can happen.

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