bill-swift - September 5, 2012
As we wait for the ball to kick-off Wednesday night between the Dallas Cowboys and the defending champion New York Giants to signify the beginning of the 2012 NFL season there is little left for the talking heads, writers, and bloggers to do. That means it is time for the one thing that everyone likes to make--predictions baby!
I've rubbed my crystal football and asked for guidance from the great Vince Lombardi. He has answered my request (either that or I really need to clean out my fridge). So here is my take on what will go down in the NFC West.
San Francisco 49ers:
Head coach Jim Harbaugh will look to repeat as division champs in his second year at the helm and righteously so. His defense will once again be one of the best in football. Rushing against them was nearly impossible last year (No. 1 in the league; 77.7 yards/game); passing wasn't much easier (16th; 230.9 yards/game). Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are likely the best inside linebacker duo in the NFL; together they recorded 240 tackles last season.
On offense Harbaugh has managed to gather a stable of running backs that Mike Shanahan is probably jealous of. Frank Gore has been one of the best backs in the NFL in recent years; Brandon Jacobs and Kendall Hunter are both capable running backs as well. If rookie LaMichael James can be half as explosive in the NFL as he was in Oregon he could be the best of the lot.
Alex Smith will remain the weak link of the offense, since he will not be asked to do a lot that will not matter much. With the play makers surrounding him (tight end Vernon Davis, the running back stable, and wide receivers Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, and Mario Manningham) the 49ers are easily the team to beat in the division if not the conference.
The Seahawks surprised people last season. No one expected Marshawn Lynch to turn into the beast that he became after a lackluster start to his career in Buffalo. Sidney Rice continued to be one of the better wide receivers in the league until he was injured; he'll need to continue to develop his game. He will be helped by Doug Baldwin, who the team hopes can get even better after a solid rookie year, and hopefully former Pro Bowl wide receiver Braylon Edwards.
On defense the 'Hawks have a quality unit that will help the offense have every opportunity possible to score. They lost leading tackler linebacker David Hawthorne to the New Orleans Saints, but No. 2 and 3 on the list remain. The problem is they are the safeties, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. If your safeties are your leading tacklers that means that your front seven is not slowing down the run enough.
Rookie QB Russell Wilson will be the x-factor. He brings an element to the offense that most teams dream of, a player that is a legitimate threat as a passer and runner. As teams try to game plan for him Marshawn Lynch will find he has more room to run. If the defense can remain in the top ten the Seahawks easily have the potential to be a serious contender.
St. Louis Rams:
The poor, poor Rams. They improved by leaps and bounds in quarterback Sam Bradford's rookie year, but the sophomore jinx combined with injuries forced him and the team back down to Earth. The Rams will improve under new head coach Jeff Fisher, but he will need some more personnel in order to have a dominant team once again.
Bradford needs to remain healthy as do his receivers. Danny Amendola is okay, but don't be shocked if rookie Brian Quick overtakes him as the team's No. 1. Stephen Jackson is still a beast, but look for him to lose carries to rookie Terrance Gannaway (his eventual successor) down the stretch.
Somehow the defense is going to need to figure out how to stop a few people. The passing unit ranked 7th in the league, but that is largely because teams were too busy running on the 31st ranked rushing defense in the league. Passing will actually get tougher with the addition of Cortland Finnegan. Janoris Jenkins was drafted to shut down one side of the field, but so far has not lived up to expectations.
End Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis are two of the best in the game, but they need someone else in the front seven to step and start making plays.
Look for these guys to possibly set an all-time low for scoring this season. The offensive line will not do an adequate job of protecting anyone that lines up at quarterback (and look for someone other than Kevin Kolb and John Skelton to do so at least once); it will not open too many holes for running backs Beanie Wells or Ryan Williams either.
Larry Fitzgerald will be the lone shining spot out in the desert, but his production alone will not be able to save these guys. Early Doucet and Andre Roberts are not bad, but rookie Michael Floyd is better. He'll move into the No. 2 slot by mid-season.
The defense is kind of hard to judge. Thanks to the offense they are on the field a lot more than they should be. Even the best players eventually get tired and have a hard time making plays. Perhaps if the offense can sustain a few drives a few guys will start to stand out as solid play makers. Until then these guys are going to continue to have a hard time.
It's going to be a two team race by far. Arizona will crash and burn in spectacular fashion putting them in line to win the 'Be Bad for Barkley' sweepstakes. St. Louis will be better under Fisher, but they are two seasons away from competing.
The race will come down to 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Should Smith start to make some plays on a consistent basis the 49ers should run away with it. On the other hand if Wilson continues to play like he did in the preseason there could be an upset in the making.
Division Winner: Seattle
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