NFC West Preview: San Francisco Sleeper
The NFC West has been anything but wild in recent years.
In fact, the West is the weakest of all the divisions in the NFC and probably the league.
Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis combined for 22 wins last season—the fewest of any NFL division. Only the Cardinals had a winning record against the conference (7-5), but six of those wins came against feeble divisional opponents.
The weakness of the NFC West yields a balanced division. No team is head and shoulders above the others so any of the four clubs could snatch the title. Of course the favorite at the Vegas window is the team that went 6-0 against the fellowship of the West.
Attempt to let the reality soak in that the Cardinals did reach the Super Bowl last year. Arizona finally cast away the curse, made some correct coaching decisions and won a few playoff games, but came up one defensive play short in the end.
It would be unwise to expect the same outcome in 2009.
Kurt Warner elected to delay retirement plans and agreed to quarterback the Cardinals for two more years. The $23 million question remains, how long will his 37-year-old skeleton hold up against the beating the NFL administers?
Another looming matter is the status of Anquan Boldin—will he sit on the sidelines in a contract holdout or get traded? If either of those scenarios plays out, double coverage will haunt Larry Fitzgerald in his dreams.
And a trio of horrendous losses this team suffered last season cannot be ignored. The Cardinals must become more balanced on offense while the defense can’t take weeks off. Arizona tied the Giants for most points scored in the NFC in 2008, but gave up the third-most points.
The Seahawks once held a West Coast swagger that collected four consecutive division crowns. But then the injury plague rained down like the dreary days in Seattle, and Mike Holmgren decided to embark on a sabbatical.
Now the Seahawks have a fresh, young coaching staff that is faced with the challenge of revitalizing an ailing quarterback. Matt Hasselbeck’s back is fragile, but a true No. 1 receiver in T.J. Houshmandzadeh could help alleviate the pain.
When will Steven Jackson finally accept his role as one of the elite running backs in the NFL? Perhaps when teams respect the Rams air attack and quit stuffing the box with eight or nine players.
And the latter can only happen if the St. Louis offensive line can keep quarterback Marc Bulger upright for more than a handful of plays each series.
For the 49ers to have a shot at capturing the NFC West, the team will have to take advantage of the meager division. Another 3-3 divisional record won’t be enough which makes it imperative San Francisco takes care of teams they should beat.
A split with the Cardinals and Seahawks while taking two from the Rams positions the Niners with a 4-2 divisional record. A couple of defensive wins could propel the Red and Gold to a 9-7 mark which will probably be enough to win the division…again.
The Cardinals will try to coast to the playoffs, but if Singletary and his team apply a few ounces of pressure, the 49ers could sneak, spook, and shock the West.
The obvious deterrent in falling short of this goal is consistent play from the quarterback. Five months into the offseason and the coaching staff has yet to decide on either Shaun Hill or Alex Smith as the man under center.
In all actuality, quarterback questions abound with every team in this division so it is unlikely more than one postseason berth will be spawned from the NFC West.
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