NFC West Preview: 10 Questions for 2009

Seth Cox@sethcoxtshqCorrespondent IJuly 8, 2009

The NFC Worst.  A moniker that has been very accurate the last few years.

I mean, the division had three of the first 10 picks of the draft. 

So is their a chance for the division to shed that label?

Can the NFC West continue to make noise in the playoffs when they get there?

Those are good questions to ask...but they are not questions that can just be answered.  They are questions that will be answered within the 10 questions we pose here today.


Biggest Free Agent Pickup

There were some great acquisitions throughout the offseason in the NFC West.  The Cardinals were able to bolster their secondary with the addition of Bryant McFadden.

The 49ers took a bit of risk in my mind and picked up Marvel Smith.  Is Smith washed up?  Maybe.  Is he an upgrade over what they had on their roster?  Yes.  So you really can't get to up in arms about a two year contract.

The Rams made two smaller, yet solid pick-ups that I would identify as their best.  The signing of James Butler gives new coach Steve Spagnuolo a familiar face in his new secondary.

Along with Butler, the Rams signed a new lead blocker for their offense, Mike Karney.  Karney is a prototype fullback and should help clear lanes for Steven Jackson, who will no doubt have more pressure on him to carry the offensive load.

The best signing of the free agent period to me was that of T.J. Houshmandzadeh by the Seattle Seahawks.  The Seahawks were desperate for a new target for the returning Matt Hasselbeck.

Some big names and games came into the NFC West this offseason via free agency, but to me the clear winner was the Seahawks and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Coach on the Hot Seat

To me this question is a little loaded.  This is a division with basically three new coaches, along with a coach that took one of the most inept franchises in sports to the Super Bowl.

So how could anyone be on the hot seat?

It is simple really, in the win now or go home NFL the 49ers are putting all their eggs in the Mike Singletary basket.

Let me first say that I think Singletary will no only make it through the year, but he will have the 49ers making a run at the playoffs.

That being said, no coach is in a worse situation. 

The 49ers organization and their fans are expecting a winner or at least visible improvement.  Yet, the front office decided to stand pat in the quarterback department.

Before 49ers fans get up in arms I have a question for you...Are you really satisfied going into the season with Shaun Hill and Alex Smith?

Do you want Michael Crabtree coming into your offense with those guys throwing to him?

I like the way the team is built, outside of the quarterback spot.

Maybe I am wrong and Hill or Smith will be not only competent game managers, but able-bodied play makers.  To me though, Mike Singletary has the most pressure to win now and is in the worse situation to do so.

But, like I said earlier, I don't expect anyone to be fired from this division, I just believe Singletary is in the worst situation. (Again, due to expectations, not roster and players.)

Player on the Hot Seat

I am going to take a cop out here, and actually choose one position on each team that is on the hot seat.

Every quarterback position in the division is on the hot seat.  Not in the sense that they are going to lose their jobs, but in the sense that every team has a quarterback that has something to prove.

The Cardinals and Kurt Warner hope to prove that they were not a flash in the pan type team.

Warner hopes to show that it was not lightning in the bottle last year, but more of a triumphant return to the top of the quarterback heap in the NFL.

The Seahawks and Matt Hasselbeck are back to prove that last year was a fluke.

They are out to prove that they are still top bird in the division.

Not only that, but Hasselbeck has to prove that his back is healed and he can still play the game of football.

The Rams passed on a potential franchise quarterback in Mark Sanchez.  They did so in order to get Marc Bulger some help along the line and drafted Jason Smith. 

The Rams have a new coaching regime in place and that usually means one year to prove that you are the guy at the QB position.

Can Bulger get back to being the calculated gun slinger that earned him that huge payday from the Rams?

Can he get the Rams back to relevance?

I have gone over why I believe the 49ers QB situation is on the hot seat.

They, too me, are the one team that is literally a position away from being big time contenders.

The problem is that position is the quarterback.

Can Alex Smith or Shaun Hill step up and deliver?

These questions put the QB position on the hot seat in the NFC West.

Biggest Rookie Impact

Each team landed a big time draft pick in the first round.  The Cardinals and 49ers had potentially great players fall into their laps in Chris Wells and Michael Crabtree respectively.

The Rams took the safe choice and drafted a potential left tackle for the next decade in Jason Smith.

Those are all great choices, but to me the Seahawks drafted not only the biggest impact rookie in the division, but in the entire draft.

Aaron Curry not only has the physical skills to make a big impact, but he will be playing in a defense that allows him to be a  play maker.

The Seahawks boast one of the best front sevens in the league and the addition of Curry can only improve that.

Curry will not only be the rookie of the year in the division, but I have him as the rookie of the year in the NFL.

Breakout Player

Another category that will likely get me called out as a homer.  I really don't care because I think this is pretty accurate.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is probably the best young corner back in the NFL.  He has all the tools to not only be a good corner, but to become a shut down corner.

He is young and still needs to put on some bulk, but as he showed at the end of the year and through the playoffs, he has the potential to be one of the bests in the game.

Other young stars ready to breakout:

Manny Lawson

Vernon Davis

Darryl Tapp

John Carlson

Chris Long

Donnie Avery

There is a lot of good young talent in the NFC West, so sue me if I think DRC can be the best of that young talent.

Offensive Player of the Year

Larry Fitzgerald set the football world on fire during the 2009 playoffs, shattering playoff record after record.  Will that really change in the upcoming season?

To me, no.  Fitzgerald is blessed with a team that not only has a quarterback capable of getting him the ball, but he is flanked by playmakers all over the field.

Throwing in Chris Wells to a lineup that already boasts Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston seems almost unfair.

Then there is Fitz.  He is a top three receiver in the game, and in my book, he is the 1a to Andre Johnson's 1b. 

There are other definite top flight offensive talent in the division:

Steven Jackson

Frank Gore

Matt Hasselbeck

Kurt Warner

But to me, Fitzgerald stands above the rest in the offensive player of the year category.

Defensive Player of the Year

So I am taking the safe and obvious way out on this one.  The DPOY to me has to be Patrick Willis.

Willis has put himself at the top of the middle linebackers list in the NFL, and he has passed both Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher in my eyes.

Willis is not only a tackling machine, but he is the vocal and emotional leader of a young, up and coming defense.

He is not necessarily surrounded by stars like Fitzgerald is on offense, but he is good enough that he makes everyone around him better.

There are some great defensive players in this division:

Adrian Wilson

Nate Clement

Karlos Dansby

Patrick Kerney

Lofa Tatupu

But, Willis would be a hard player to beat in any division, not just the NFC West.


Another selection that will no doubt bring out the homer calls. 

Kurt Warner is the key not only to the Cardinals season, but to me he is the key to the entire division.

I truly believe that the Cardinals have the ability to win the division and make it back to the playoffs.

Yet, their entire season hinges on Warner.  If he is good and continues to produce like last season, then the Cardinals can expect to win another division title.

If he is off, that opens it up to the 49ers and Seahawks to swoop in and pick up the division.  Sorry Rams fans I think you are still a year or two away.

Others for consideration:

Matt Hasselbeck

Frank Gore

Patrick Willis

Larry Fitzgerald

Coach of the Year

Another homer pick...

No, I like Jim Mora Jr. for this.  He walks into a better situation than Mike Holmgren left in.

A healthy Matt Hasselbeck, an improved defense, and a chip on the shoulder makes this a great opportunity to get the Seahawks back to the playoffs.

Mora will add some toughness and intensity to the defense, while allowing Hasselbeck to continue to run the Seahawks offense.

The addition of T.J. Houshmandzadeh will allow the Seahawks to sneak into the playoffs as a wild card.

Others in order:

Mike Singletary:  Getting the 49ers to 7-9 and keeping them in contention for the playoffs as the season winds down.

Ken Whisenhunt:  Another division title and an improved running game and defense are not enough for the Cardinals coach.

Steve Spagnuolo:  Provided a direction and leadership for the Rams.  Kept the team competitive, but only winning four games will not get you the pick as NFC West Coach of the year.

Division Results

Arizona Cardinals 11-5 Division Champs

Seattle Seahawks 10-6 Wild Card

San Francisco 49ers 7-9

St. Louis Rams 4-12

Sending two teams to the playoffs and showing that there is great football being played on the West Coast is where I see this season ending.

The Cardinals and Seahawks are the class of the division to me.

The 49ers are knocking on the door.

The Rams, hopefully are headed in the right direction.


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