Ah yes, super bowl Sunday 2010, at the mansion with Hugh and the girls watching my Arizona Cardinals win the game. What’s that girls? You want me to come out to the grotto? Sure, I’ll be there in a minute. Honey, honey, wake up…… smack! Huh?!? Peg Bundy, a trailer home, a 25” Zenith console TV with rabbit ears? Where am I? That's right Cardinal fans, not even Calgon can take you away from the reality that there will be no super bowl repeat for you.
Ok, I know the NFC champion Cardinals are from the NFC West, but seriously, this division stinks! Let's start at the bottom and work our way up.
First we have the St Louis Rams, who have a revamped O-line, new head coach and O- coordinator, and that's about it. Head coach Spagnola comes from a successful team and brings structure, organization and a winning attitude, something the Rams have not had for a while. He expects to win, and will be demanding of his players. The offensive line is improved with the addition of first round pick Jason Smith at right tackle and free agent center Jason Brown from Baltimore who will join returning guards Jacob Bell and Richie Incognito, and fifth year tackle Alex Barron. The addition of Smith allows Barron to slide over to his natural left tackle position which should help protect injury prone QB Marc Bulger, and provide better running lanes for Steven Jackson. Unfortunately, those are the only bright spots. Gone are Torry Holt, Orlando Pace, and Pisa Tinoisamoa, all veterans who brought stability and leadership to the team. In their place are young, inexperienced players. With a new offensive system and very young receivers there will be a significant learning curve, and a lot of 3 and outs. Which means the already weak defense will spend significant time on the field getting worn down by opposing offenses, and giving up a lot of points, sounds familiar doesn’t it.
The Seahawks also have a new head coach, Jim Mora, who should be very happy with the improvements made through free agency and the draft. On the defense side of the ball they acquired Cory Redding, Colin Cole, Ken Lucas, drafted Aaron Curry, and resigned Leroy Hill. Coach Mora is licking his chops at the thought of unleashing this defense on the opposition. The offensive side however has some questions. Yes, they signed key addition TJ Houshmandzadeh, who along with returning veterans Deion Branch and Nate Burleson bring experience to a solid receiving group and give QB Matt Hasselbeck quality targets to throw to. But, they have no running game and made no improvements to the O-line, which means Hasselbeck will be on his Hassel-back most of the time. The key to the Hawks success is Hasselbeck has to stay healthy, because if Charlie Frye or Seneca Wallace take over, the result will be the same as last year.
The Niners liked what they saw after Coach Singletary took over last year. Well, everything other than the belt malfunction and accidental pants dropping in the locker room that is. He’s intense, demands commitment, tells you like it is and will weed out the players that do not want to work hard and win. It’s old school, you’re either here to win or you’re gone, I like it! Problem is, at the most important position on the field, QB, they have unproven players. Mike Martz is gone and whoever wins the starting QB job will have to learn a new system, which may not be all that bad considering the complexity of Martz’s system, but there’s still a learning curve. Singletary has a solid defense, and along with a conservative ball control offense the 49ers will be competitive in most of their games. Unfortunately, due to the lack of leadership at the QB position and their brutal non conference schedule, I don’t see them improving over last year.
Last but not least, we have the Arizona Cardinals. Sorry Cardinal fans, but it’s time to come back to reality. You limped into the playoffs last year with a 9-7 record and made in improbable run to the Super Bowl. Bravo, I’ll give you that. But the element of surprise is no longer on your side, and this year opponents will bring their A-game each week, wanting nothing more than to knock off the NFC champs. Yes, you will win your division and make the playoffs, but only because you play in the worst division in football! Edge and JJ Arrington are gone leaving you with an inexperienced backfield made up of the rookie Beanie Wells, second year man Tim Hightower and five year veteran Jason Wright, doesn’t exactly scare opposing defenses does it. Everyone loves first round pick Wells but his work ethic is questionable, and as big as he is, even he will not be able to run behind an offensive line that has problems creating running lanes. The defense is solid, but the loss of starting CB Roderick Hood will hurt. Then of course there’s still the distraction of holdout Anquan Boldin, plus the unresolved contract situations of key veterans Karlos Dansby, Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett. Put this team in any other division and they’re home watching TV when the playoffs start.
Here are my predictions for the NFC West:
San Francisco 6-10
St Louis 4-12