A rundown of the NFC West, with analysis of each team, stats on key players, and record predictions.
Does Kurt Warner have one more season in him? How about a couple more? The defending NFC Champions’ season comes down to the answer to those questions. Warner was outstanding last season at the age of 37. He benefited greatly from the best receiving corps in the league. Anquan Boldin didn’t let a contract dispute stop him from hauling in 89 catches and 11 TDs in only 12 games; Larry Fitzgerald seamlessly picked up the slack after Boldin went down, and Steve Breaston had a breakout year. The Cardinals released aging RB Edgerrin James, but he was not that effective last season, and Tim Hightower appears ready to fill in. The Cardinals’ defense was average last year. They have a strong secondary, whose yards allowed are misleading because teams were forced to throw so often to keep up with the Cardinals’ offense. The front 7 need to find a way to put more pressure on the quarterback. The Cards benefit from a weak division, which they should easily win.
QB: Kurt Warner – 4,583, 30 TD, 14 INT, 67.1 comp. pct.
WR: Larry Fitzgerald – 96 rec, 1,431 yards, 12 TD
WR: Anquan Boldin – 89 rec, 1,038 yards, 11 TD
LB: Karlos Dansby – 119 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 INT, 2 forced fumbles
Projected Record: 11-5
The Seahawks were decimated by injuries last season. QB Matt Hasselbeck only played in 7 games, and none of their top 3 receivers played in all 16 games. Seattle brought in T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Edgerrin James to help inject some life into the offense. The biggest concern for the offense, though, is Hasselbeck’s health. If he can remain healthy, that should add 3 or 4 wins to their record; that is, as long as the defense can improve. Last season, the once vaunted Seahawk D was ranked 2nd to last in yards allowed, even though they seldom led big, so teams were not forced to throw excessively while playing from behind. This is a unit with some big names on it, so it is not entirely clear what went wrong. Injuries certainly played a part, but the unit was simply not cohesive last year. However, there is too much talent on this unit to expect another off year.
QB: Matt Hasselbeck – 1,216 yards, 5 TD, 10 INT, 57.8 comp pct. (7 games)
RB: Julius Jones – 158 car, 698 yards, 2 TD
WR: T.J. Houshmandzadeh – 92 rec, 904 yards, 4 TD
CB: Josh Wilson – 76 tackles, 4 INT, 3 forced fumbles, 1 sack
Projected Record: 8-8
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers finished strong last season behind new head coach Mike Singletary. Players have reported that Singletary’s training camp was one of the most grueling they have been through; it remains to be seen whether that will translate to success in-game. Shaun Hill has won the quarterback competition over Alex Smith. Hill was average in his time last season, and the Niners’ success depends in large part on how he progresses over the course of a full season. San Fran will rely on a hard-nosed running game and strong defense – a hallmark of the Bears teams Singletary played on. Defensively, the 49ers were steady, led by LB Patrick Willis and DE Justin Smith. The 49ers could really go either way this year, but they do appear to be on the rise.
LB: Patrick Willis – 141 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumbles, 1 INT
DE: Justin Smith – 73 tackles, 7 sacks, 1 forced fumble
RB: Frank Gore – 240 carries, 1,036 yards, 6 TD
WR: Isaac Bruce – 61 rec, 835 yards, 7 TD
Projected Record: 8-8
St. Louis Rams
The Rams figure to be quite bad this season, plain and simple. Stephen Jackson is their lone offensive threat, and he hasn’t been able to stay on the field for a complete season. That being said, having Jackson for a full 16 games won’t help that much if the rest of the team plays as poorly as it did last season. Poor Marc Bulger was among the most pressured QBs in the league last season, and the 45 times he was sacked didn’t help to keep him healthy. Both of the team’s former All-Pro wideouts are now gone, and Bulger will be hard pressed to find a replacement among the current corps. Defensively, the Rams addressed their weak secondary with several signings, going the quanity over quality route. A lack of big plays hurt St. Louis last season, as they amassed a -9 turnover margin. Unfortunately, this franchise faces several years of rebuilding.
RB: Stephen Jackson – 253 carries, 1,042 yards, 7 TD
QB: Marc Bulger – 2,720 yards, 11 TD, 13 INT, 57.0 comp pct
FS: Oshiomogho Atogwe – 88 tackles, 6 forced fumbles, 5 INT
Projected Record: 4-12
Dan Mason is an accountant by trade only – he would much rather write. He constantly daydreams about being in the woods or on the water, in the middle of nowhere. He resides in the Rochester, NY, area and is thankful the Adirondacks are only a few hours’ drive away. He is happiest when there is a pen (read: keyboard) or a canoe paddle in his hand.