The NFC West division has the kind of talent that keeps coaches up at night, mostly because they are afraid of the nightmares it gives them.
The Seattle Seahawks have the core of their championship team still in place. Quarterback Russell Wilson has done nothing but improve since getting the starting job. He’s rather unfairly been tagged by some with the dreaded “game manager” title, which is what happens when a player at that position doesn’t fit the physical or statistical mold. But Wilson wins, he’s energetic, smart, and most importantly, he makes others around him better.
While there’s no questioning their ability to run the ball still, the team has receiver issues that are just huge. Wilson has very few targets now and Percy Harvin, while very talented, has proven to be very fragile.
One big concern is the Seahawks have lost five starters on a defense that began dominating opponents in the second half of the year. This time out, even more demands will likely be made on what were last year’s part-time players. Since no one really knows what previous draft picks can do when finally given consistent playing time, we’ll reserve judgment.
They play in the toughest division and will be facing a tougher schedule. On top of that, the league’s “changes in emphasis” regarding defensive penalties will really hurt how these guys have been playing. Expect more defensive holding calls and more downfield calls limiting plays in the defensive secondary.
Hard to see enough going right to make up for all that where the defending champs are concerned. It looks here like they are as apt to finish third as first again.
The San Francisco appear to be locked and loaded for a run at taking the division crown away from Seattle with their run-first philosophy using one of the best and most durable backs of this generation, Frank Gore. He’s not alone in the backfield by any means, and Colin Kaepernick’s abilities to run off the passing spread when necessary are well documented. Nobody has a bigger stable of receivers (except perhaps Cincinnati) and the offensive line is probably the second best in the game today.
Three years of losing to the Super Bowl champion is like bile rising in their throats. Playoff teams face tough schedules, but these guys are used to that now that they are about to do it for the third straight year.
While not as deep on the defense, they are very stout up front and should generate a strong enough rush to help hide whatever weaknesses might develop in the secondary as the season progresses. A new stadium and field may present some unknown challenges for players and fans alike. It will certainly take some getting used to before it feels like home. Winning would help, and beating your divisional opponents so you can get all those home playoffs games would help even more.
The guess here is they get it done and christen their new place in fine style.
The Arizona Cardinals always seem to be an afterthought. You know times are tough when even a 10-6 season isn’t good enough. Did you even remember Arizona had the league’s best defense against the run last year? (No? Neither did I.) It was a unit that finished sixth overall but has had significant changes in the off season, including two suspensions for substance abuse violations. Still, the defense as a whole got better and better as last year played along, so there’s more than a little reason to believe the second year under coach Bruce Arians and crew will approach an equal level.
But Carson Palmer isn’t getting any younger, and while he can still chuck it downfield with some accuracy, he’s not that great in the short game and his quick reads have never been…well…quick. The team simply cannot afford to have him getting sacked a lot again, which means he’s got to get rid of it sooner. Hence the team has stocked up a bit on receiving talent to give him some options. They’ve also done a little to shore up a hit-and-miss offensive line. They don’t have to be great, but they do have to be good enough to give Palmer some time.
If this team was in the AFC West, they’d be a solid competitor for Denver. In the NFC West, at their best they are likely to be no better than 2-4 again in the division and that’s not even good enough to be an also-ran.
The St. Louis Rams lack the critical mass necessary for a successful offensive line. The durability doesn’t appear to be in place yet. Facing the toughest defenses of the league in the NFC West for more than a third of the schedule doesn’t bode well.
The offense depends upon an underperforming quarterback Sam Bradford who is coming back from a serious knee injury, a stable of very young receivers that have often been schooled by the defense rather than their coaches, and a running game built on…what exactly?
Everything about this team now is focused on the defense and how good that front four are and how strong the front seven have the potential to be. Maybe so. That’s all well and good, but at some point in time you have to be able to score some points and strong defenses, while critical to that effort, do not rack them up in great abundance.
The rebuilding work in St. Louis appears to be only a half done job at this point. They will be lucky to post a winning record this season, which as we’ve seen by Arizona’s example, doesn’t even get you a more comfortable seat at your house for the playoffs.