49ers and the NFC West
The San Francisco 49ers shocked almost everyone in the league last season by being an overtime score away from being in the Super Bowl after finishing the season with a 13-3 record. Now teams have taken notice, and within the NFC West especially teams have retooled and are preparing to knock off last season’s divisional champions. Here is a look at what each team in the division has done so far leading into the upcoming season.
The St. Louis Rams biggest addition is their hiring of head coach Jeff Fisher. After finishing last season 2-14 a coaching change needed to be made and the Rams made a splash in outbidding the Miami Dolphins to land Fisher. It is reasonable to expect the Rams to improve just as long as they don’t get devastated by injuries like they did last season. Couple that with the drafting of running back Isaiah Pead who will complement the aging Steven Jackson as a change of pace back. They are still lacking the depth at receiver to give Sam Bradford legitimate weapons in the passing game however and will need time to gel under their new head coach and coordinators, one of whom was the head of the Bounty Gate operation in New Orleans and has been suspended indefinitely. I predict a solid improvement for the Rams but still believe they will finish last in the division this season.
The Seattle Seahawks finished third in the division last season after going 7-9. Head coach Pete Carroll has brought in two new quarterbacks, Matt Flynn whom they signed in the offseason and Russell Wilson who the team drafted in the third round of this year’s draft. They also made recent news in trading for tight end Kellen Winslow for a conditional draft pick. They have a solid quarterback competition ahead with Tavaris Jackson, Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson but whether any of them can be successful is still an unknown. There are also question marks as to Sidney Rice’s long term health as well as who on the team is capable of spelling Marshawn Lynch or even replacing him should he be injured. I predict the Seahawks to have some success with their home field advantage and finish second in the division with an 8-8 record.
The Arizona Cardinals, like the 49ers are entering the season with a little bit on continuity. They do face questions as to whether Kevin Kolb is their long term answer at quarterback or will he be outplayed by unheralded John Skelton? They have added dynamic rookie receiver Michael Floyd alongside the playmaking Larry Fitzgerald. Whichever QB they have should have some success throwing to those two players. Another question mark is running back Beanie Wells who is recovering from a knee surgery and facts about his recovery are still unknown. The Cardinals also have a serious lack of depth at RB if Wells should not be capable of a full workload this season. I predict an 8-8 season as well for the Cardinals but only have them winning 2 games within the division to finish third.
Finally the San Francisco 49ers enter the season with the same coaching staff, they have retained every starter from last season’s dominant defense. Alex Smith having the same system and coordinator along with upgraded weapons at wide receiver due to the signings of Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and drafting AJ Jenkins in the first round, Smith should be able to thrive. The team should have as much depth at running back as any team in the league with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter returning and the 49ers having drafted Oregon speedster LaMichael James and signing former Giants RB Brandon Jacobs in the offseason as well. The biggest question about the 49ers offense this season should be will there be enough footballs out there to keep all these guys happy? If the defense can perform at a level anything close to the effort they produced last season this will be a special team to watch. There will be a bulls eye on the 49ers backs this year but I suspect coach Jim Harbaugh will only use that as a way to motivate them to exceed expectations. I predict the 49ers finish the season 12-4 and win the division once again. This team seems primed for another deep playoff run.