Wednesday, September 8, 2010

NFC West Preview and Predictions

1. San Francisco 49ers - 10-6
Former top overall pick, Quarterback Alex Smith played his way into another shot to the the starter in San Francisco. In his first few seasons, Smith could not live up to the expectations of being a franchise QB. In his first three seasons as a starter, Smith threw 19 TD's and 31 interceptions, that's not the output a team wants from a player they build their franchise around. Midway through the 2007 season, Smith was benched, and he didn't play at all in 2008. Last season, however, Smith got a second chance, and he took advantage of it. In 10 starts in 2009, Smith threw for 18 TD's, 12 interceptions and 2,350 yards. That career best 10 game stretch that Smith put together solidified him as the starting QB in the 2010 season. The 49ers have quietly put together a good offense around Smith. Frank Gore is one of the best RB's in the NFL and TE Vernon Davis has tremendous speed and skill at his position. The only question mark I see with this offense is at the Wide Receiver position. Michael Crabtree has yet to prove himself as a NFL wide out, but he does have the ability. Ted Ginn Jr. came over from Miami in the offseason, and he fits in as a slot receiver that Smith can count on to make sure handed catches. Overall, if Alex Smith can keep it together for an entire season, I like the 49ers offense.
The defense in San Francisco is nothing to sleep on. They have one of the NFL's best group of Linebackers with Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes, Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson. In 2009, those four guys combined for 19.5 sacks, 7 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions. The Niners also have a lockdown Cornerback in Nate Clements, and another Cornerback who is primed for a huge year in Shawntae Spencer. San Francisco is gonna benefit greatly from the departure Kurt Warner.

2. Arizona Cardinals - 6-10
I think the Cards will quickly get over the break up with Matt Leinart, but with Kurt Warner gone, the starting QB job has been handed over to Derek Anderson. Some of you may remember the one taste of success that Anderson had with the Browns back in 2007 when he threw for 29 TD's and nearly 3,800 yards, the Cardinals hope that Anderson can come up with another season just like that in 2010. There are plenty of guys on the Cardinals offense that can help Anderson achieve success in 2010, WR Larry Fitzgerald is easily a top five wide out in the league, Steve Breaston is a good slot receiver, and the combo of Tim Hightower and Chris " Beanie" Wells in the back field can be very effective. It's up to Anderson to keep the offense on track.
Arizona's defense took a huge blow when LB Karlos Dansby left for Miami, but the Cards defense should still be feared a bit. Defensive Tackles Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell each had 7 sacks in 2009, and the Linebacking core led by veterans Joey Porter and Clark Haggans has the chance to be very dangerous. Arizona's secondary is also very dangerous, starting with CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who had 6 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles in 2009. Safeties Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson combined for 8 interceptions last season.

3. Seattle Seahawks - 4-12
First year Coach Pete Carroll has his work cut out for him. Many were surprised that he left his lofty position as Head Coach at USC, but soon realized that Carroll was escaping NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations. Carroll inherits a Seahawks team that is not exactly a well rounded team, especially on offense. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is still a serviceable player, when he is healthy, and staying healthy has been his biggest problem over the last few seasons. Seattle will start third year RB Justin Forsett who had a very productive 2009 season despite limited action. Forsett ran the ball only. 114 times but gained 619 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and scored 4 TD's. Carroll surprisingly cut WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who was the Seahawks best receiver only a year ago. What was even more shocking was that Carroll cut him in favor of former USC WR and draft bust Mike Williams. Williams was drafted 10th overall in 2005 by the Detroit Lions, but never lived up to the high expectations. Carroll must be trying to get back the USC glory days.
The weakness of the Seahawks defense is their Defensive Line, their front four only combined for 4.5 sacks in 2009. The Linebackers are led by sixth year man Lofa Tatupu, but second year LB Aaron Curry will be the anchor of this defensive unit. Seattle's secondary is mixed with experience, Marcus Trufant and Lawyer Milloy, and inexperience with rookie DB out of Texas, Earl Thomas. Thomas will learn a lot from Trufant and Milloy this season, let's just hope he's listening.

4. St. Louis Rams - 3-13
The Rams are in rebuilding mode, and Sam Bradford is not a bad way to start the process. I can't give many stats on Bradford because college football doesn't come close to the NFL, but the Rams didn't make him the first overall pick in 2010 for no reason. Like any rookie, Bradford will have some major growing pains. I think he has the skill and maturity to handle the rough times with an open mind and work through them properly. Bradford will eventually be a good QB in the NFL, but 2010 will be a true test of will. Running Back Steven Jackson will provide Bradford with someone who can bail him out. Not only is Jackson a fantastic runner, but in my view, he is the best receiving RB in the NFL. Bradford can find a lot of peace in handing or throwing the ball to the ultra talented Steven Jackson. The Rams receivers will not provide Bradford with the same sense of peace, however, their inexperience may be detrimental to the development of the highly touted QB. Their number one WR Laurent Robinson's highest catch total in a season is only 37, I am extremely surprised that the Rams front office didn't make a move for a veteran receiver who could give Sam Bradford some stability.
The Rams defense has a couple of nice pieces with third year DE Chris Long, veteran LB Na'il Diggs, rookie LB James LaurinaitIs and Free Safety OshIomogho Atogwe. The good players this defense possesses will not make up for how many holes opposing offenses will be able to expose.

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