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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - NFC West

Rick Gagliano | July 28, 2011

NFC West

With NFL teams now able to move players, there will be a flurry of player changes to all rosters. Due to the unprecedented nature of this short-time free agency period, team-by-team previews will be updated in piecemeal fashion until rosters appear set. Previews will be updated regularly and likely complete by August 15, following the first week of preseason games.

St. Louis Rams

2010 record: 7-9

Predicted finish: 10-6

Head Coach: Steve Spagnuolo

Departed: WR Laurent Robinson, TE Daniel Fells, G Jacob Bell, RB Chauncey Washington

Incoming: WR Mike Sims-Walker, OT Quinn Ojinnaka, RB Cadillac Williams, LB Brady Poppinga, RB Jerious Norwood, DT Justin Bannan, CB Al Harris, G Harvey Dahl, S Quintin Mikell, DT Daniel Muir; Rookies: DE Robert Quinn (North Carolina), TE Lance Kendricks (Wisconsin), WR Austin Pettis (Boise St.), WR Greg Salas (Hawaii), S Jermale Hines (Ohio State), CB Mikail Baker (Baylor), LB Jabara Williams (Stephen F. Austin), S Jonathan Nelson (Oklahoma).

Strengths: Passing game. With Sam Bradford back for his second season, the Rams added Mike Simms Walker and draft picks Austin Pettis and Greg Salas to the receiving corps. They will augment Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola and give Bradford a plethora of targets downfield. The passing attack will benefit from the rushing threat of hard-hitting Steven Jackson, who piled up 1241 yards rushing in 2010.

Weaknesses: If anywhere, it's in the secondary, where St. Louis allowed 223.6 yards passing per game, which was 19th in the league.

Key Games: Sun, Sept. 11 vs. Philadelphia (season opener), Mon, Sept. 19 at NY Giants, Sun Sept. 25 vs Baltimore, Sun, Oct 16 at Green Bay, Sun, Oct. 30 vs. New Orleans. Five of the first 8 weeks (plus a bye in week 5) has the Rams playing many of the NFL's best teams. If the Rams are just 3-4 by the time they head to Arizona (week 9), they'll probably win the division handily, as the only really tough game is at Pittsburgh in week 16.

What if?: The linebackers become dominant?

If Na'll Diggs has his usual season of excellent, James Laurenaitis continues improving and Brady Popinga supplants Zac Diles at RLB, this could be a very tough group and it would make for a runaway in the division for the Rams, who probably already have the most potent offense in the NFC West.

San Francisco 49ers

2010 record: 6-10

Predicted finish: 8-8

Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh

Departed: LB Takeo Spikes, CB Nate Clements, K Joe Nedney, C Eric Heitmann, K Jeff Reed, NT Aubrayo Franklin, DE Travis LaBoy, C David Baas, LB Manny Lawson.

Incoming: K David Akers, WR Braylon Edwards, S Madieu Williams (from Minn.), LB Carlos Rogers, S Donte Whitner, QB David Carr, LB Blake Costanzo, C Jonathan Goodwin, LB Antwan Applewhite; Rookies: RB Bruce Miller (UCF), G Daniel Kilgore (Appalachian St.), WR Dontavia Bogan (South Florida), LB Kenny Rowe (Oregon), CB Anthony West (Nebraska), NT Ian Williams (Notre Dame), QB Colin Kaepernick (Nevada).

Strengths: Stability at QB, with Alex Smith having signed onto a one-year, $5 million deal and the addition of Braylon Edwards from the Jets.

Kicker David Akers should be better than Joe Nedny was, even though he had an off year in 2010. Akers is very accurate at anything under 45 yards.

San Fran had one of the better run defenses last season, allowing just 96.7 ypg and that total could go even lower this season.

Weaknesses: Secondary. Too many games were lost because of receivers wide open downfield. The 49ers let go of safety Nate Clements and acquired Madieu Williams from Minnesota and Donte Whitner from Buffalo to fill the void. That's all well and good, but the problems are at cornerback, where rookie Anthony West of Nebraska may end up one of the starters.

Key Games: Sun, Oct. 2 at Philadelphia, Sun, Oct. 16 at Detroit (week before bye), Sun, Dec. 4 vs. St. Louis, Mon, Dec. 19 vs. Pittsburgh, Sun, Jan. 1 at St. Louis

What if?: Alex Smith isn't the answer at quarterback?

That poses a real problem for the 49ers, who are counting on Smith to be around for a long time. In 2009 and 2010, he played in only 11 games each season, so his durability is also a question. The 'Niners will stick with Smith for as long as they remain in contention, which could be a long time in the NFL's weakest division.

If Smith doesn't get the job done, David Carr is a reasonable replacement, but Colin Kaepernick is waiting in the wings, a dynamic player who can run and throw, and would be a great fit for a wildcat offense.

--- Story continues below ---

Looking for the best NFL Handicapper? Good luck. Most of them suck.

Arizona Cardinals

2010 record: 5-11

Predicted finish: 4-12

Head Coach: Ken Whisenhunt

Departed: WR Steve Breaston; DT Alan Branch, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Trumaine McBride, DT Gabe Watson, RB Tim Hightower, QB Derek Anderson, LB Gerald Hayes.

Incoming: G Daryn Colledge, QB Kevin Kolb, CB Richard Marshall, TE Todd Heap, WR Chansi Stuckey, OT Floyd Womack, LB Stewart Bradley, DE Vonnie Holliday, Rookies: RB Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech), CB Patrick Peterson (LSU), TE Rob Housler (Florida Atlantic), LB Sam Acho (Texas), FB Anthony Sherman (Connecticut), LB Quan Sturdivant (N. Carolina), DT David Carter (UCLA), WR DeMarco Sampson (San Diego State).

Strengths: Playing in a weak division. If anything is going to help the Cardinals improve off last season's 5-11 finish, it will be playing in the NFC West, which sent a team with a losing record (7-9 Seattle) the the playoffs. This year, it may take 9-7 to get into the post-season, but the Cardinals still have little hope.

Weaknesses: Running game. The Cards were the worst in the NFL running the football, at a mere 86.8 ypg. The Cardinals hope that Beanie Wells performs better than he did in his rookies season, or that Ryan Williams, a rookie from Virginia Tech, snatches the starting job. The Cardinals weren't much better throwing, coming in 31st of 32 teams in total ypg, at 269.3 and the same ranking for passing yards, 182.6 ypg.

Making matters even more alarming, the defense gave up the third most points in the league in 2010, at 27.1 ppg. Only the Cowboys and Broncos were worse.

Key Games: All division games against the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams. If Arizona can win 4 of those 6, they might have a shot.

What if?: Kevin Kolb doesn't pan out?

Ouch. Don't even mention that happening. With Max Hall as a backup, there really isn't a plan B. If Kolb can't deliver to Larry Fitzgerald, then he can't make it anywhere in this league.

Seattle Seahawks

2010 record: 6-10

Predicted finish: 3-13

Head Coach: Pete Carroll

Departed: QB Matt Hasselbeck

Incoming: QB Tarvaris Jackson, WR Sidney Rice, DT Alan Branch

Strengths: They're out in the upper Northwest, so most people won't have to suffer through their games. Except for the local fans, who must be bored to tears.

Weaknesses: Let's start with a mobile quarterback with limited experience and then work backwards from there. There's discredited coach Carroll, a defense that allowed 25.4 ppg and 368.6 of offense per outing, and an offense that rushed for 89 yards per game last season, better than only Arizona.

Key Games: None. If they win any, they'll be lucky, but they have a pretty soft schedule.

What if?: Tarvaris Jackson breaks the NFL rushing record?

That would be more likely than him being in the top 10 QBs by season's end. He is mobile and big and pretty fast. Since his receivers are running mostly circle routes or staying out of the action altogether, Jackson should have room to ramble.

Copyright 2011, 2012, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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