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2014 NFC West Preview

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Are you ready for some football? The NFC West proved to be the cream of the crop last season and now this year it appears to be even tougher. Of course the Seahawks and 49ers are going to be tough to beat but the Rams and Cardinals are far from the doormat they have been in past seasons. This should be the best division in football by a landslide and should create some of the seasons most enjoyable games to watch.

4. St Louis Rams (+850 to win the division)


It’s a damn shame the Rams are in this division. If they were in any other division they might have what it takes to compete for the division crown. Their biggest move this offseason was the acquisition of new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Their front seven is going to be as active a group as any in the NFL this year, and they are going to need to be. While you could argue they have the best defensive line in the game, especially after drafting Aaron Donald, they are going to have to make up for their shake pass coverage. Last year they were 19th in the league against the pass and have now lost Cortland Finnegan as well as a few other defensive backs, while they brought nobody of note in to replace him. They are going to need that front seven to pressure the quarterback even more than they did last year to make up for the young/inexperienced secondary.


While I may sound a bit down on the Rams defense from that last paragraph, I’m really not because that front seven should be absolutely outstanding, dare I say potentially the best in the division. Chris Long and Robert Quinn have proven to be arguably the best defensive end duo in football but the Rams bolstered their front line by bringing in Alex Carrington and drafting the best defensive lineman in college football in Aaron Donald. Then you take a look at their linebacking core, and while they are a little thin, if Laurinaitis, Dunbar and Ogletree can stay healthy they could be amongst the best in football and those guys should be enough to help protect that secondary that could use some help.


The problem with the Rams team lies in their offense, specifically Sam Bradford and their quarterbacks. Bradford has done nothing but disappoint and I am really surprised they are even giving him another shot at it this year. They did not even bring someone in to challenge him this offseason. However, he should have some nice weapons to work with this year and an offensive line that should keep his jersey nice and clean. If Kenny Britt can finally get his head on straight and give them even a fraction of what he gave the Titans his first two seasons in the league then the Rams have quite a few threats to catch passes. By the way Kenny Britt is only 25 so let’s not give up on him just yet. But pair him with Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Austin Pettis, Chris Givens as well as tight ends Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks and you have plenty of options.


If the Rams are smart they will once again be a run heavy team and let Tre Mason carry much of the load. They have a few young kids they seem to really like in Zac Stacy and Isaiah Pead but Mason is who I would want to live and die with. They should let their defense win them games and not rely too heavily on Sam Bradford. The Rams feel like a team sitting on top of a fence. If one mouse farts they could fall and I’m starting to lean towards them falling off that fence. They have some great pieces there but again any injuries to the front seven is going to kill that defense and Sam Bradford isn’t helping them on the offensive end. I have them finishing 6-10 but being out of the playoff picture early before the schedule eases up towards the end of the season, maybe saving Jeff Fisher’s job.

3. Arizona Cardinals (+850)


The Cardinals have quite a nice team in place. Their biggest questions are all on the offensive side of the ball. Mostly because their defense is absolutely loaded. Their defensive backs include Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and now they brought in Antonio Cromartie to bolster an already stout secondary. Not to mention that defense also allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL last year. They should be even better on the whole than they were last year.


The offense is what will make or break this team in 2014, but Bruce Arians is among the best offensive minded coaches in the lead. The first half of last season this team struggled to learn his system. They didn’t top 25 points until week eight a year ago. But after that they seemed to pick it up rather nicely. They closed the season with a 7-2 record and averaged over 27 points per contest. They found a rhythm and now with a full offseason under their belts in this new system they should pick up where they left off to start this season, especially now that they sured up that offensive line and brought in a couple tight ends as well as Ted Ginn Jr as a third receiver that can stretch the field. With Cromartie joining the secondary it might open up the option to bring Patrick Peterson in at wide receiver and give them even more flexibility with the offense. Also a nice added bonus to that offense was Rashard Mendenhall retiring. They rode him a little too much last year and now that he is out of the picture they are free to unleashing Andre Ellington in the backfield.


I like this Cardinals team this year even though that means relying on Carson Palmer to defy the odds to being a serviceable quarterback again this season but I believe that Bruce Arians is a great offensive mind and he will figure it out one way or another. They could be good enough to post a 12-4 record but I have them finishing up at 10-6.

2. San Francisco 49ers (+150)


The 49ers might look like a different team this year. While they will still be amongst the best defensive clubs out there and they will still rely heavily on their rushing attack their secondary took a step backwards this offseason after losing Donte Whitner and their passing attack should be in better shape now that Stevie Johnson is their third wide receiver. Not to forget about the Aldon Smith situation. In all likelihood he won’t be helping them out at all this season, which is a big blow given how gifted a pass rusher he is. On the whole their defensive unit might have taken a bit of a step backwards but their offense should be even better than it has been in years past. Between Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde and Marcus Lattimore they have three running backs that could prove to be starters on other clubs. The biggest question in my eyes is Kaepernick. Can he be consistent enough to get them over the hump and win a Super Bowl? Will he be able to stay in the pocket and go through his reads before panicking and using his legs. While the added threat of him running certainly helps, I think the more he stays in the pocket the more dangerous that offense can be.


I think the 49ers are going to play some real pissed off football this year but I don’t know if they are going to be all that much better. I think they still finish up at 11-5 but will get torched from the pass heavy teams unless they can stay healthy on the defensive side of the ball and get to opposing quarterbacks. They should have plenty of long dragged out scoring drives but they need to offset that by not allowing the big pass plays and quick scores against them. Not many teams are going to be able to run the ball with any success against this team but that secondary would scare me a bit if I were a Niners fan.

1. Seattle Seahawks (+130)


The defending champs are back and may be even better than they were last year. Yes they lost some helpful pieces like Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond, Chris Clemons and Golden Tate, they still have one of if not the best secondaries in the game, they just aren’t as deep as they were a year ago. Their defensive front seven is what I would be worried about. They still have one of the best groups in the game but they aren’t going to be as good against the run this year but still should be able to make up for some of that with their exceptional secondary. Their defensive backs should allow some guys to cheat up against the run in certain situations. Luckily for them there aren’t all that many run first teams out there and there really isn’t anyone that can threaten them through the air and on the ground to thin them out a bit. They may have lost some key pieces but they were still 353 yards better than the second best pass defense and while I know the schedule favored them a bit in that statistic, that’s still a full game better than the second best team, and a damn good full game at that.


The Seahawks should make up what they lost on defense with their offense this season. A healthy Percy Harvin should really make that offense much better. That being said it should be business as usual with a heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch. As long as Russell Wilson can keep that head nice and cool they should be an even better unit than they were when they won the Super Bowl last year.


I still like the Seahawks to win this division, but don’t be surprised if the Cardinals sneak up and win this thing. Last year we knew there were two clear cut favorites in this division but this year I really believe it’s a three horse race. That being said I still have the Seahawks coming in at 12-4 and winning this division. However I wouldn’t go betting them at +130. I would sit and wait until that week 4 bye to place that bet because they start the season off vs GB, @SD, and vs Denver. If they start off this season with big heads thinking they are the champs they can roll on through teams, they could very well start the season off at 1-2. Even factoring that in I have them finishing up at 12-4 and winning this division.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

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