NFL Preview: NFC West

Bryan Montgomery
NFC West
1.) St. Louis (10-6) In Sam Bradford’s rookie campaign, he had the Rams one
win away from a division title. This year, he won’t have the pressure of
having to win the final game of the year to make the playoffs. The Rams are
clearly the class of the NFC West. Bradford overcame a rash of injuries to
his receiving core to pass for more than 3,500 yards and 18 touchdowns in
2010. Surprisingly, the Rams cut Donnie Avery and (less surprisingly) Mardy
Gillyard and considering Mark Clayton won’t be ready until at least Week 6,
it is easy for St. Louis fans to wonder what the front office is thinking. What
they are thinking is that they will be fine. They signed Mike Sims-Walker and
if he is on his game he provides Bradford with a No. 1 caliber pass catcher.
The biggest benefit of the injuries was the emergence of Danny Amendola,
who is a poor mans Wes Welker. Plus, Clayton will return this season and
in his brief time with the team last year, he and Bradford were a potent
combination. The offense will only be better in Bradford’s second year and
the defense will be vastly improved in 2011. This is coach Steve Spagnuolo’s
third year in St. Louis and this will be the year the NFL sees a true Spagnuolo
defense. The defense has a pair of pass rushing defensive ends in Chris Long
and James Hall. The defensive line’s play allows James Laurinaitis to do his
thing and in 2011 I see a breakout performance for the former Buckeye. In
2010 the NFC West had the first every sub-.500 division champion (Seattle
at 7-9). That won’t happen again this year thanks to the improved and young
Rams.
2.) Seattle (7-9) Seattle became the first team to qualify for the playoffs with at
record under .500 last season. To the Seahawks’ credit, they did pull off an
upset of New Orleans in the Wild Card round, but fans who cried foul that
a 7-9 team could make the playoffs have nothing to worry about this year.
Seattle will finish with the same record, but won’t sniff a playoff spot. Now, IF
the Seahawks realize they have the weakest set of quarterbacks in the league
and sign David Garrard (as they should) they could challenge St. Louis for
the division title. But, until they upgrade the quarterback position, they will
play second fiddle to the Rams. That is a shame really because the talent level
in Seattle, particularly on the offensive side of the ball is much higher than
the casual fan realizes. Seattle signed Sidney Rice, Zach Miller and Robert
Gallery. They already had Marshawn Lynch, Mike Williams and Golden
Tate. The talent surrounding quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (and eventually
Charlie Whitehurst) offensively will make him by default OK. Aside from the
quarterback issue, the biggest problem for the Seahawks is the play of the
defense. Linebacker Aaron Curry has been underwhelming thus far and gone
is Lofa Tatupu. Aside from Chris Clemons, the defensive line scares nobody.
Seattle botched this offseason by not adequately addressing the quarterback
position and it will come back to bite them. Luckily for them, they have
enough offensive talent to make them respectable and in the NFC West that
will get you close to .500.

3.) Arizona (6-10) When Arizona was making its Super Bowl run, they had the
great quarterback Kurt Warner under center. In the first year AK (After Kurt)
the Cardinals realized how important he was to their success. Cardinals fans
had to suffer through watching Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton
under center last year and their record reflected the state of the quarterback
position (5-11). Arizona knew it had to address the position to get back to
respectability and perhaps more importantly, keep franchise icon Larry
Fitzgerald happy. So they traded for Kevin Kolb, and instantly expectations
in Phoenix skyrocketed again. Not so fast. While Kolb is unquestionably
better than any quarterback that lined up under center last year, he is by
no means a sure thing. He has never started more than half of his teams’
games and last year had just as many touchdowns as interceptions, seven
and that was with the Eagles’ high-powered offense. The Cardinals of 2011
are completely different than the Cardinals of 2009 that featured Anquan
Boldin and Fitzgerald. Boldin has since been traded to Baltimore and No. 3
receiver Steve Breaston bolted for Kansas City. Until another receiver steps
up, defenses will take away Fitzgerald and make someone else beat them.
That job will fall to Todd Heap, Andre Roberts and Early Doucet, who is
entering what is almost a make-or-break year. As much as Arizona would like
to believe that it is close to recapturing the magic of the Warner era, they are
realistically a year or two away from climbing back to those heights.
4.) San Francisco (4-12). As you can probably tell by the rest of this preview,
the NFC West has a number of quarterback questions and the 49ers are no
different. Instead of pursuing a quarterback like Kevin Kolb, they decided
to bring back Alex Smith, the former No. 1 pick. That move wasn’t received
to well by the San Francisco fan base and after watching the preseason, it’s
obvious that Smith isn’t the answer (any person with any type of knowledge
knew that was the case before the preseason, but that is a story for another
day.) That is unfortunate for first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, but it may help
him reunite with his former quarterback: Stanford’s Andrew Luck. The
defense may have lost some big name players, but they are poised to be even
better in 2011. The 49ers brought in Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers and
the talk out of camp was that rookie linebacker Aldon Smith was impressive.
The defense will have to be stout to make up for what will be a lackluster
offense.

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