NFC West Up For Grabs: Cardinals Sit on Perch, 49ers Look to Overtake

Joseph Hawkes-BeamonContributor IMay 12, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 10:  Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals can't catch a pass over Nate Clements #22 of the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL game on September 10, 2007 at Monster Park in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Okay, is this the season that one of these four teams in the NFC West wins 10 games? Can someone please step up to the plate and take this division by horns instead of having it being called a "mockery" by football experts?

Arizona Cardinals Prediction for 2009: (9-7); NFC West finish: second.

How can we forget about the Arizona Cardinals who finished (9-7) and on top of the division? Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner a stellar season passing for 4,583 yards and 30 touchdowns while guiding the Cardinals to the NFC Championship.

Warner led a Cardinals offense that finished fourth in the NFL in total offense by averaging 26.7 points a game.

Wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin were major factors in Warner's season.

Fitzgerald was dominating opposing cornerbacks, leading the team in catches (96), receiving yards (1,431), and touchdowns (12). Fitzgerald played even better in the playoffs, registering 546 yards receiving and seven touchdown catches.

Boldin,who has been rumored in many trade talks, had a great season of his own hauling in 89 catches with 1,038 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns while playing in 12 games.

The Cardinals', which finished 19th in the NFL in total defense, has play makers on defense. Linebacker enforcer Karlos Dansby made plays all over the field, raking in 119 tackles and four sacks.

Adrian Wilson is a versatile strong safety that is dynamite against the run, and fast enough to cover tight ends and wide receivers. Rookie phenom Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played well at cornerback last year showing toughness lining up against receivers like Terrell Owens and Steve Smith.

Rodgers-Cromartie finished with four interceptions.

So the question remains, can the Cardinals repeat as division champions and play in January?

With conference road games against the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears, and out of conference road games against the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cardinals are going to have their work cut of for them. Both the Giants and the Titans finished in the Top 10 in the NFL in total defense last year.

The Cardinals will hope to rekindle the magic that carried them to the Super Bowl, but as we have seen over the past few years that the teams that have played in the NFC Championship game the previous year did not make it back to the game the following year.

Just like Cardinal red, the Cardinals will have a huge red spotlight on their backs this upcoming season.

San Francisco 49ers Prediction for 2009: (10-6); NFC West finish: first.

Hey 49ers fans, do you remember the heartbreaking 29-24 loss to the Cardinals on Monday Night Football back in October? Well for those of you that painfully remember that, it is time to get over it and move on. This is a brand new season and with a brand new season comes optimism.

That was the first game for interim head coach Mike Singletary, who took over for the fired Mike Nolan. After that loss, the 49ers were at (2-7) and again another staring at a sixth straight loosing season.

The following week, Singletary got his win as an NFL head coach when the 49ers dismantled the St. Louis Rams 35-16 in front of raucous Candlestick Park crowd. From there on, Singletary guided the 49ers to an impressive finish leading the team to a (5-2) record down the stretch and earning the permanent head coaching job.

After the team's final home game, a 27-24 win over the Washington Redskins, 49ers young team president Jed York stated, "this is the last time that our season ends in December."

With Singletary in place as head coach, the 49ers should take a step forward this year rather than take a step back like last year's (7-9) season showed. The main question that will be continually asked, who will be Singletary's main guy at quarterback?

Will it be the former number one overall draft pick Alex Smith? Smith, who has been placed on injured reserve the last two years needs to remain healthy if he expects to play.

Smith entered last year with a (7-5) record in the last 12 games that he played in. It doesn't hurt either that Smith has had to learn a new offense every year since being drafted back in 2005.

Shaun Hill has played well when he has stepped on the field for the 49ers. Hill started the Monday night game against the Cardinals and showed that he is more than capable of leading the team. In the eight games that Hill started, he passed for 2,046 yards with 13 touchdowns to eight interceptions.

With the drafting of Texas Tech's weapon wide receiver Michael Crabtree with the 10th overall pick, the 49ers are hoping that they have found a guy who is going to make plays in crucial situations.

The two-time Fred Bilentnikoff winner, given to college football's best wide receiver, should greatly upgrade a position that showed inconsistencies at times through out the season.

Frank Gore is still the 49ers work horse, but needs to hold on to the ball more. Even though he still managed to rush for 1,036 yards and score six touchdowns, Gore still manage to fumble the ball six times which was second to only Minnesota Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson.

Defensively, the 49ers should remain much improved this season.

Middle linebacker Patrick Willis remains a stud for the 49ers. Willis finished second in the NFL with 141 tackles and is the type of player that Singletary loves. Tough, hungry, and fast, Willis has a motor that continues to run which helps fuels that defense. Defensive end Parys Haralson led all 49ers with eight sacks.

Three of the 49ers' first five games are against division opponets. The 49ers are going to be tested early when they have the Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks on back-to-back weeks. Then they face the Rams two weeks later.

If the 49ers can open up the season winning those early games  within the division, it will speak volumes for them the rest of the season.

Seattle Seahawks Prediction for 2009: (8-8); NFC West finish: third.

This year's theme for the Seattle Seahawks: Rebuilding. That's right, rebuilding.

The Seahawks are sure in a rebuilding year, coming off a (4-12) season that saw its franchise quarterback Matt Hasselbeck loss for the majority of the season with a back injury. 2008 was a nightmarish season for Hasselbeck, who threw only five touchdowns  with 10 interceptions.

Should Hasselbeck go down again, backup quarterback Seneca Wallace is more than capable of leading the Seahawks. Wallace passed for 1,532 yards with 11 touchdowns to only three interceptions in the eight games he started last year.

Either its Hasselbeck or Wallace, neither one of them should have problems completing a pass to the Seahawks new number one receiver.

When T.J. Houshmanzadeh left the Cincinnati Bengals and signed a five-year $40 million deal with the Seahawks back on March 4th, the Seahawks hit a home run. Houshmanzadeh, along with Chad Ocho Cinco put up some gaudy numbers as a unit. Now that Housmanzadeh is flying solo, his numbers could be even better this year.

Mike Holmgren, who spent nine seasons in the Emerald City as the man controlling the side lines, retired. Former Atlanta Falcons head coach Jim Mora takes over for Holmgren who wanted to spend more time with his family.

Mora a defensive guy, will have arguably the best linebacker in the division not named Patrick Willis calling his defensive schemes.

Lofa Tatupu has become a fan favorite of Seahawks fans and is one of their most recognizable players. He makes huge plays for a Seahawks defense that finished 30th in the NFL in total defense. Tatupu finished with 94 tackles one the season and provides leadership in the locker room, and off the field.

With the trade of five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson to the Detroit Lions, the Seahawks spent their fourth overall draft pick on Wake Forest beast Aaron Curry. The Dick Butkus Award winning linebacker given to college football's best linebacker, should come in and become the replacement for the departed Peterson.

By Thanksgiving, the Seahawks will know if they are playoff bound. Four of their five November contents this season will be on the road.

St. Louis Rams Prediction for 2009: (5-11); NFC West finish: fourth.

Another team in the division with a new head coach, the St. Louis Rams (2-14) was a team in disarray last season.

Gone is offensive minded Scott Linehan, and in comes defensive lobbyist Steve Spagnuolo the former Giants defensive coordinator.

Spagnuolo is inheriting a team that has not made the playoffs since 2004, and not won a division title since 2001. As a first year coach, Spagnuolo is going to have a tough time trying to mold the Rams back into competitors.

Rams quarterback Marc Bulger needs to have time and protection in order for the Rams to go any where.

In 15 starts last season, Bulger threw for 2,720 yards with 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Bulger's numbers could have been better if his offensive line could have kept him upright. Bulger was sacked 38 times last year, fourth in the NFL.

Offensive tackle Orlando Pace, the team's number one overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, was cut in a salary cap move. The Rams believed that they have found Pace's replacement in Baylor University's offensive tackle Jason Smith.

Smith, is a mountain. 6'5", 309 lbs and will be tabbed to protect Bulger's blind spot. Not only will he protect Bulger's blind spot, but should open up holes for running back Steven Jackson so that he can have the chance to make some big runs.

With the release of former star wide receiver Tory Holt, the Rams will look to second year wide receiver Donnie Avery to become the team's new go-to wide receiver.

The former University of Houston receiver showed great promise last year, finishing second  behind Holt on the team in catches (54) and receiving yards (684) while tying for the most touchdowns (3).

The Rams are about two to three years away from being serious contenders in the NFC West. With five of their first eight games of the season on the road, the Rams are going to seriously struggle and Spagnuolo will be wishing that he stayed with the Giants.


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