NFC West Division Preview & Prediction

September 10, 2011

In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks emerged from a putrid NFC West Division to be crowned (term used very loosely) Divisional Champs, albeit with a losing 7-9 regular season record.

Although all four teams in the division had losing records, the 'Hawks were able to silence all those naysayers claiming that there should be a revamping of the playoff system, and earned back some respect by upsetting the defending Super Bowl champs from New Orleans.

This year the division should be drastically improved, as perhaps as many as two clubs could have winning records. Most in the know are forecasting that the race for the Divisional Crown will be a two-horse competition between the Rams and the revamped Cardinals.

So without further adieu, here are the DSH's fearless predictions for how the West will be won in 2011:

St. Louis Rams

2010 Season: 7-9, no playoffs
NEWCOMERS: WR Mike Sims-Walker, RB Cadillac Williams, G Harvey Dahl,TE Lance Kendricks, S Quintin Mikell, DT Daniel Muir, LB Brady Poppinga, CB Al Harris, DE Robert Quinn
DEFECTIONS: S OJ Atogwe, LB Larry Grant, OL John Greco, TE Daniel Fells

2011 Outlook: The Rams were a pleasant surprise last year, but this season most have them winning the Division. Sophomore QB Sam Bradford was uncommonly sharp last year for a rookie, and if the exhibition season was to be believed, it seems he is adjusting quite well to the system installed by new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Outside of the newly-acquired and injury-prone Cadillac Williams, St. Louis has little depth behind their sturdy and durable workhorse Steven Jackson. If he should go down, they'll be in big trouble. Mike Sims-Walker will give Bradford the best deep threat he has had as a pro.

Prove it: The Rams will have it rough this year, not only because of the seemingly high expectations most have for them, but also due to the fact that they will play an unfavorable schedule. Tough road games include trips to play the Giants, Green Bay, Dallas, and Pittsburgh, and will definitely force them to show and prove their worth.

Bottom Line: Can the still young St. Louis nucleus, led by Bradford, McDaniels, and company, handle the expectations of being the betting favorites to win the West?

Prediction: 8-8, first place in an improving, yet still woeful NFC West.

Arizona Cardinals

2010 Season: 5-11, no playoffs.
NEWCOMERS: QB Kevin Kolb, TE Todd Heap, WR Chansi Stuckey, OL Pork Chop Womack, OL Daryn Colledge, RB Ryan Williams, TE Jeff King, LB Stewart Bradley, CB Richard Marshall, DE Nick Eason, DL Vonnie Holliday, CB Patrick Peterson.
DEFECTIONS: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, LB Gerald Hayes, WR Steve Breaston, RB Tim Hightower, QB Derek Anderson, OL Alan Faneca.

2011 Outlook: The addition of former Eagles QB-in-waiting Kevin Kolb should surely lead the Cards to an improvement over an abysmal 2010 campaign in which they were dead last in nearly all offensive categories.

However, the talk by some that the addition of Kolb turns the Cards into a team that can compete for the title is a bit premature. Still, the tools are there, as Kolb can rely on All-World wideout Larry Fitzgerald to make him look great, and Beanie Wells should benefit from the absence of Tim Hightower by getting more "feature back" carries.

The loss of flanker Steve Breaston is significant. However, Early Doucette will look to make sure that he isn't missed for long. Joey Porter, best described as a bust last season, needs to rebound in a big way this year. The loss of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the Kolb deal will likely be offset by Patrick Peterson, if he is even half as good as advertised.

Prove it: Unanswered question abound with this ballclub, chief among them: Is Kolb really an elite-level NFL quarterback who is ready for prime time?

Bottom Line: 8-8, lose tiebreaker to Rams based on head-to-head matchups.

San Francisco 49ers

2010 Season: 6-10, no playoffs
NEWCOMERS: WR Braylon Edwards, QB Colin Kaepernick (rookie), K David Akers, C Jonathon Goodwin, CB Carlos Rogers, S Donte Whitner, S Madieu Williams, LB Larry Grant, LB Aldon Smith
DEFECTIONS: ILB Takeo Spikes, NT Aubrayo Franklin, OLB Manny Lawson, CB Nate Clements, C David Baas, K Joe Nedney

2011 Outlook: The once-proud Niners haven't played in the postseason for 8 years and counting, and yet new head coach Jim Harbaugh enters his first season with the dreadfully under-performing Alex Smith and unproven rookie Colin Kaepernick as his two most viable options at QB.

That being said, there is talent on the offensive side, as both Frank Gore and Braylon Edwards are solid, if under-appreciated weapons. Defensively, it should continue to be the Patrick Willis show, as he is the premier inside linebacker in the game today not named Ray Lewis. However, the loss of Nate Clements on the back end will hurt.

Prove it: Simply stated, Smith must put up or shut up in what is likely to be his last hurrah at validating his ability to be a starting NFL signal-caller.

Bottom Line: 6-10, tied for third place in the Division. The 49ers faithful likely put up more fight in the stands during a preseason game than the actual team will on the field this year. That being said, Harbaugh -- and any other number of coaches around the league -- could be sandbagging in order to enter next year's Andrew Luck sweepstakes.

Seattle Seahawks

2010 Season: 7-9 (Division Title), lost to Bears in Divisional Round of Playoffs
NEWCOMERS: QB Tarvaris Jackson, WR Sidney Rice, G Robert Gallery, TE Zach Miller, DT Alan Branch, OL James Carpenter
DEFECTIONS: QB Matt Hasselbeck, C Chris Spencer, OL Sean Locklear, MLB Lofa Tatupa, S Lawyer Milloy, S Jordan Babineaux

2011 Outlook: The 2010 Seahawks were the lucky winners (or least losers) of the worst division in football when they stumbled into the NFC West Crown. However, the Hawks did exact a small amount of revenge against all their critics by pulling off the unexpected and unthinkable win over the Saints in the playoffs.

This team continues to get younger, and although Pete Carroll's passion and enthusiasm is contagious, there has to be something tangible behind it. Tarvaris Jackson doesn't seem to be the long-term answer at quarterback, but will have to do for now.

Aside from vet Marcus Trufant, the defensive secondary is very green, to say the least. However, CFL standout Brandon Browner could prove to be a playmaker in a secondary devoid of any.

Prove it: Pete Carroll we love you here at the DSH, but you have got to prove that your rah-rah outlook and successful philosophy at the collegiate level can work in the paid ranks with grown men.

Bottom Line: 6-10 tied for third place. Seattle is a team on the rise, but still looks to be a few years -- and a few pieces away -- from serious contention.

By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for The Daily Sports Herald

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