The Arizona Cardinals enjoyed much success in the 2008 campaign, as not only were the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams enduring down years, but the usual division favorite Seattle Seahawks were hit with the injury bug and struggled to continue their division dominance. It wasn't a matter of if Arizona would take the West crown, but when. While many, including myself believe the Cards will once again triumph in the West, arguably last seasons worst division in football, don't be surprised to see a little more parody in 2009.
Mike Singletary will begin his first full season at the helm with the 49ers, and he brought to the franchise after being hired midway through the season in 2008 a much needed Mike Ditka-like winning attitude that the city by the bay has been hungry for since their last playoff appearance in 2002. Another plus that Singletary brings to San Francisco is a confidence in quarterback Shaun Hill that the dismissed Mike Nolan seemed to lack, as the team continued to play the musical chairs game with their QB's, shuffling Alex Smith, JT O' Sullivan, and Hill throughout his dissapointing tenure. The Niners finished 2008 winning 4 of their last 5 contests, which included a time expiring game-winning boot by the reliable Joe Nedney to cap a 27-24 victory over the Washington Redskins in week 17, giving them a 7-9 season, 2 games behind the champion Cards. Expect more of what happened in the last 5 games of 2008 to transpire in 2009, as the team sured up one of their holes with the drafting of WR Michael Crabtree in the Draft. Crabtree brings an athleticism to the position that the team has lacked since T.O. whined his way out of the bay. With a confident Hill, a game-changing Crabtree, an outstanding back in Frank Gore, and defensive leader Patrick Willis, expect the San Francisco 49ers to contend for the West crown.
The Seattle Seahawks finished 2008 a pitiful 4-12, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002. With Mike Holmgren out as head honcho, the team looks to Jim Mora to get the club back to its winning ways. Mora had served as assistant to Holmgren in the 2008 season after he had gone 26-22 with a division title in three seasons at helm in Atlanta. The savvy veteran Qb Matt Hasselbeck missed most of 2008 with lingering injuries, and the team looked to the likes of Seneca Wallace and Charlie Frye to pick up the slack, much to no avail. But it wasn't the lack of talent that accounted for the disappointing 2008 season, as not only was Hasselbeck sidelined for much of the year, but as was speedy receiver Deion Branch. Veteran running back Julius Jones also missed time, and the team failed to gain continuity at the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions. If these three can put together a healthy 2009 campaign the Seahawks, along with Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu, 4th overall Draft pick Aaron Curry addition of WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh should get back to their winning ways and also give Arizona a much tougher road in defending the West.
St. Louis, where do we begin? Although many picked the Rams, with quarterback Marc Bulger and stud running back Steven Jackson to take the division in 2008, they finished 2-14. Yes, thats what I said, 2-14. Although the hiring of former New York Giants Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo provides a much needed light at the end of the tunnel for the fans in the Show-me state, it may take a few more years until that light is burning brightly. Veterans Orlando Pace and Torry Holt, who have long been franchise icons, were given their release, officially starting the re-building process. The Rams selected offensive linemen Jason Smith out of Baylor with the 2nd overall pick in the 2009 Draft, and along with 2nd overall pick DE Chris Long in 08, the team is clearly looking to build their foundation starting with the offensive and defensive lines. I would expect much of the same for the Rams in 2009, and I would go as far to say to go ahead and put them on the clock for the first pick in the 2010 draft. Sam Bradford maybe?
In 2008, the NFC West was clearly the NFC worst. But in 2009 expect to see a three team race, with the Cards edging out San Francisco for the title. The Cards return future Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner, along with arguably the NFL's tope core Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and a disgruntled Anquan Boldin. However, If there was a team set up to handle an upset receiver, its the Cards, who have two men in Fitzgerald and Warner who seem to do or say no wrong. The team drafted promising running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, as it was certain that they would part ways with great but aging running back Edgerrin James. Along with 2nd year running back Tim Hightower, who had 13 total TD's in the 08 season, the team should have a solid 1-2 punch that will go along nicely with their prolific passing game. The defense adds Bryant Mcfadden in the secondary to play opposite sides with speedy Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and along with Linebackers Clark Haggans and Karlos Dansby, the hard-hitting Adrian Wilson and defensive end Bertrand Berry, the Cards D may rival its potent offense. Expect the Cards to repeat as division champs and even make another post-season run.