Writing about sports should be simple—inform fans about the score of the game and try to explain why it turned out that way. That's our function in the world, nothing less, nothing more.
I suspect sports reporters, as a group, feel guilty for trying to earn money in such a simplistic way, so some of us arrogant assholes don't limit ourselves to writing simply about what HAPPENED, we think that we can also use our writing prowess to tell you the fans what's GOING TO HAPPEN. And whenever we try to do this, inevitably, most of our predictions fall flat on their face.
No one knows for sure what's going to happen in any real, unscripted sporting event. If I did know exactly how games were going to turn out, I'd be a professional gambler, not a half-crazed writer for the website you're reading. There are thousands of intangible factors that figure in to who wins a game and who doesn't, or which team is successful and which team isn't.
If games always turned out exactly the way that fans and writers expected them to, sports would not be interesting and games would be unnecessary to watch.
So I'm not going to sit here and pretend that I know exactly how this next St. Louis Rams season is going to turn out. I can look at the current makeup of the team and say that, on paper at least, they've improved their defensive lineup and their offensive line.
I can look at the track record of the new coaches they've brought in and say that there is some evidence from their past experience that these guys know what they're doing. And I can take comfort that the team says they're adopting a "west coast" style offense, which means that Stephen Jackson will have the leading offensive role on the team that someone of his talent and ability deserves.
So, there are some small signs of hope for the team.
However, Marc Bulger still has never proven to be a very consistent or capable NFL quarterback, and even if this squad blocks for him better than last year's Rams team did, what reliable receiver does he have to throw to? And, I hate to keep harping on this, but why did the new management just release Pisa Tinoisamoa, the only defensive player last year that showed any real hustle?
Based on these factors, the upcoming season looks to be a thoroughly mixed bag for the battered fan base of the Rams, and I realize that it's almost ridiculous to expect a team that's won a total of five games the last two seasons to make too quick of a turnaround. So, my pessimism remains, but I'm also hoping for a miracle.
Of course, all of the other fans of all of the other teams in the NFC West are hoping for the same thing, and, just like me and everyone else that watches sports, no one knows how things are going to turn out.
For instance, was the Arizona Cardinals' success last year just a fluke by a team in a weak division? Any Rams fan knows the folly of underestimating Kurt Warner, but how much longer can he really be effective? Is the extremely unproven Matt Leinart ready to step into his shoes? Can Arizona beef up their defense?
Plus, the Cardinals were LAST PLACE, 32 out of 32, in rushing during last season. That can't be too comforting to fans of a team that is dependent on the health of an aging, 38 year old quarterback.
If Warner can stay healthy, it's a safe bet that, while they might not repeat last year's success, the Cardinals are at least a team to be feared. If not, I'd say they'll be as rotten as they ever were.
It's difficult to predict too much success for the San Francisco 49ers, considering that they lack a good starting quarterback. Can Shaun Hill really hack it this year? Can this team improve their struggling defense? Yet, they do have Frank Gore, arguably the most talented runningback in the NFC.
It's hard to judge the Seattle Seahawks by their performance last year, because they had such bad luck with injuries. They've made some key moves in the offseason by beefing up their defense. If they could just keep Hasselbeck from getting injured, they could be a force to be reckoned with. If their current lineup holds, they're definitely the team to beat in the NFC west.
I don't have a crystal ball or tarot cards, so I don't know how this season is going to go. I've seen things I've liked this offseason, and certainly a couple of things I haven't liked. But, like I hope I've demonstrated, there are lots of questions and issues surrounding all of these teams that need to be settled.
Maybe the new Rams management can pull something together, but, to me, the chances of the Rams being dominant in this division, at this point, don't look all that great. I could be wrong. I hope I am.