Cardinals, Seahawks, 49ers, Rams: The Ultimate NFC West Division Preview

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Cardinals, Seahawks, 49ers, Rams: The Ultimate NFC West Division Preview

Here is my take on each team in the NFC West coming into the 2009 season.

 

Arizona Cardinals

 

Short 2008 Recap

During the regular season, the Arizona Cardinals thrived on being in the NFC West.  Against divisional opponents, the Cardinals were 6-0, but followed that up with a 3-7 mark against the rest of the league.  Two of those wins were against Oakland and Kansas City, and the last was against Miami in Phoenix.

Come postseason time, however, the Cardinals put their losing history behind them, and won not one, not two, but three consecutive playoff games.  Prior to last season, they had only won two playoff games as a franchise.

It was a magical run no doubt, but one that cannot be relied on as a preview to 2009, as the Cards fell to a superior Steelers team in the Super Bowl.

In the offseason, the Cards lost offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and Anquan Boldin has been frustrated due to contractual issues.

 

Offseason Acquisitions

CB Bryant McFadden, RB Jason Wright, S Keith Lewis, TE Anthony Becht, FB Dan Kreider

 

Offseason Losses

RB Edgerrin James, DE Antonio Smith, CB Roderick Hood, RB JJ Arrington,  FB Terrelle Smith, CB Eric Green, LB Monty Beisel

 

2009 NFL Draft

In the draft, the Cardinals headlined with the picks of Chris "Beanie" Wells, Cody Brown and Rashad Johnson.  Wells and Johnson will most likely make the most immediate impacts.  Wells signed a five-year contract earlier this morning.

 

2009 Schedule:

Sun 9/13

San Francisco

Sun 9/20

at Jacksonville

Sun 9/27

Indianapolis

 

bye

Sun 10/11

Houston

Sun 10/18

at Seattle

Sun 10/25

at NY Giants

Sun 11/1

Carolina

Sun 11/8

at Chicago

Sun 11/15

Seattle

Sun 11/22

at St. Louis

Sun 11/29

at Tennessee

Sun 12/6

Minnesota

Mon 12/14

at San Francisco

Sun 12/20

at Detroit

Sun 12/27

St. Louis

Sun 1/3

Green Bay

 

What we know

The Cardinals will pass the ball all over.  They will prefer high scoring, up-tempo games. Fitzgerald, Boldin, and Breaston will contribute to a significant portion of their scoring.  The offensive line is suspect, and is saved only by Kurt Warner's intuition and quick release. 

 

What we don't know

How much will Kurt Warner regress?  The amount could very well be the difference between division title and missing the playoffs entirely.

Also, will we see the defense of last year's postseason or regular season?

 

2009 Outlook

Going into the season, most of the nation will expect the Cardinals to repeat as division champs.  However, it will not be nearly as easy as it was in 2008.

The Seahawks and 49ers both have new looks, at the moment are healthy, and are looking for revenge for last year's losses.  Also, the Cards schedule is a lot tougher than last year, and getting back to 9-7 may be a struggle, assuming they sweep the division again.

Warner is the key to repeating as division champions.  If he regresses or goes down, he takes the offense (and already below average defense) with him.

To add to these issues, it's hard to pinpoint how much the loss of Todd Haley hurts the offense, as well as the giant target they now wear—the same one that ultimately took down the Seattle Seahawks last season after years of divisional dominance.

 

2009 Prediction: 8-8, 2nd NFC West

 

Seattle Seahawks

 

2008 Recap

Injuries—that's all I've got to say.  Pretty much every starter at some point was out because of injuries, or was played while hurt.

That being said, it's not like the 'Hawks were robbed of a Super Bowl entry, or even a divisional crown.  All year long, they were pretty bad.  On defense, they finished close to last in every major category, and the offense wasn't much better.

All in all, it was an awful year for the Seahawks and Seahawk fans.

 

Offseason Acquisitions

DE/DT Cory Redding, WR TJ Houshmandzadeh, DT Colin Cole, CB Ken Lucas, FB Dustin Kirtman, FB Owen Schmitt, FB Justin Griffith, TE John Owens

 

Offseason Losses

OLB Julian Peterson, WR Bobby Engram, FB Leonard Weaver, DT Rocky Bernard, G Floyd Womack, RB Maurice Morris, DT Howard Green, QB Charlie Frye, WR Koren Robinson

 

2009 NFL Draft

Seattle selected Aaron Curry fourth overall, traded their second round pick for Denver's 2010 natural first rounder, traded up to get Max Unger, and again traded up to net Deon Butler in the 3rd round.  Curry is currently unsigned.

 

2009 Schedule:

 

Sun, 9/13

St. Louis

Sun, 9/20

at San Francisco

Sun, 9/27

Chicago

Sun, 10/4

at Indianapolis

Sun, 10/11

Jacksonville

Sun, 10/18

Arizona

 

bye

Sun, 11/1

at Dallas

Sun, 11/8

Detroit

Sun, 11/15

at Arizona

Sun, 11/22

at Minnesota

Sun, 11/29

at St. Louis

Sun, 12/6

San Francisco

Sun, 1213

at Houston

Sun, 12/20

Tampa Bay

Sun, 12/27

at Green Bay

Sun, 1/3

Tennessee

 

 

What we know

 

The 'Hawks were better than their 4-12 mark last year.  Seattle will run the ball more, and should run for greater effectiveness as well.  Their linebacking corps is arguably the best in the NFL. Their defense will improve with time.

 

 

What we don't know

 

Pretty much everything else.  Will Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones, and everyone on defense come back from their injuries?  How will the offensive line be affected by the change in schemes?  The Seahawks have questions everywhere, from how Jim Mora and Greg Knapp will change the offense to who will be the starting kicker.

 

 

2009 Outlook

 

As stated before, Seattle will have a tough time going 4-12 again, as they are extremely talented across the board.  If the injury bug doesn't bite like it did last year, you have to put these guys in serious contention for the divisional crown.

 

One guy to watch is Colin Cole, as he is the one who will make this defense go.  His massive size will attract double teams and free up the linebackers and defensive end Patrick Kerney to make big plays.  Also, Brandon Mebane is also set for a breakout year at DT.

 

Much like Arizona with Kurt Warner, Matt Hasselbeck is the key. If he is not fully healthy, all bets are off. He needs to win games in the end instead of throwing decisive picks.

 

There are a lot of questions that need answers, but it's looking like it will come down to the Cardinals and Seahawks.  Mark October 18 and November 15 on your calendars.

 

 

2009 Prediction: 9-7, 1st NFC West

 

 

San Francisco 49ers

 

 

2008 Recap

 

The 49ers went into the 2008 season desperately looking to regain the identity of their winning teams of the 1980s and 1990s.  It didn't look like they would find it after coming off a 5-11 season and starting JT O'Sullivan under center.

 

As forecasted, in their first seven games, the Niners were 2-5 and Nolan was fired.  O'Sullivan floundered in Mike Martz's complex system, turning over the ball 22 times in half a season.

 

Enter Mike Singletary.

 

After a 34-13 embarrassment at the hands of the already-weakened Seahawks, Singletary's squad found a sense of direction.  Driven by their new head coach, the Niners had a 5-3 record in the second half.  If it weren't for Martz's ineptness, they would have upset Arizona and Miami, and likely taken the division.

 

After the season, Singletary was promoted to head coach, removing his interim tag.  In 2008 with Singletary, the 49ers may have rediscovered the long-lost concept of winning.

 

 

Offseason Acquisitions

 

DE Demetric Evans, T Marvel Smith, FB Moran Norris, WR Brandon Jones, DE/OLB Marques Harris, CB Dre Bly, QB Damon Huard

 

 

Offseason Losses

 

WR Bryant Johnson, TE Billy Bejima, NT Ronald Fields, OT Damone Duckett, CB Donald Strickland, DE Tully Banta-Cain, QB JT O'Sullivan, S Keith Lewis, TE Sean Ryan, FB David Kirtman, CB Walt Harris (under team control, torn ACL, out for season)

 

 

2009 NFL Draft

 

When Michael Crabtree fell into the Niners' laps at pick 10, they quickly snatched him up.  However, right now he is unsigned, likely holding out for a lucrative contract.  In the fifth round, they made an interesting selection in QB Nate Davis.  With his learning disability, it'll be interesting to watch how he develops.  He may be their QB of the future.

 

 

2009 Schedule:

 

Sun 9/13

at Arizona

Sun 9/20

Seattle

Sun 9/27

at Minnesota

Sun 10/4

St. Louis

Sun 10/11

Atlanta

 

bye

Sun 10/25

at Houston

Sun 11/1

at Indianapolis

Sun 11/8

Tennessee

Thu 11/12

Chicago

Sun 11/22

at Green Bay

Sun 11/29

Jacksonville

Sun 12/6

at Seattle

Mon 12/14

Arizona

Sun 12/20

at Philadelphia

Sun 12/27

Detroit

Sun 1/3

at St. Louis

 

What we know

 

Singletary is the real deal.  This team will play old school, smashmouth football.  On offense, they will run the ball down opponents' throats, and on defense they are dedicated to stopping the run.  The team will play with more of a sense of urgency than in years past.  Like the Seahawks and '08 Cardinals, the 49ers will surprise some teams.

 

 

What we don't know

 

Will Alex Smith, the former No. 1 pick, beat out Shaun Hill for the starting QB job?  Can Frank Gore stay healthy?  How can they defend the pass with what seems like no depth at corner and little talent rushing the passer?

 

 

2009 Outlook

 

I love what Singletary is doing the Bay Area, and the 49ers will be prolific winners before the Raiders, that's for sure.  I just don't see it happening quite yet.

 

Shaun Hill can manage a game well enough for the Niners to stick to the winning plan, but Michael Crabtree probably won't help much this year, as receivers tend to take two or three years to make big impacts.  Frank Gore must stay healthy, as he is the cornerstone of the offense.

 

On defense, I know they can stop the run, I'm just not sold on the pass attack yet.  Switching to the 3-4 will help the pass rush, but I still see this team as below average against the pass, making them easy pickings for Kurt Warner and Matt Hasselbeck if he remains healthy.

 

2009 will be the bridge to healthy year after year contention in 2010.  In the meantime, the Niners will pull their share of upsets, as this will be one of the most exciting teams to come out of the Bay Area since the Raiders of 5 or 6 years ago.

 

 

2009 Prediction: 6-10, 3rd NFC West

 

 

St. Louis Rams

 

 

2008 Recap

 

You know how the Seahawks were a disappointment last year?  Well, the Rams might have expected to lose, but not in this manner.

 

After holding out for a new contract, Steven Jackson promptly went down with the rest of the offense.  It's hard to score when Marc Bulger, Orlando Pace, Steven Jackson and Torry Holt are all out or playing injured.

 

The Rams proved that with an abysmal 14.5 PPG, only besting the 0-16 Lions.

 

Head coach Scott Linehan was fired after starting 0-4.  Jim Haslett injected a little hope by upsetting Washington and Dallas his first 2 games.  He then went on to lose the last ten.

 

On the bright side, WR Donnie Avery grabbed 53 receptions for 674 yards with 3 TDs as a rookie.  Rookie DE Chris Long didn't finish well, but did have an impressive four sacks in his first seven games.  Oshiomugho Atogwe also had a nice year, forcing 11 turnovers (5 INT, 6 fumbles).

 

 

Offseason Acquisitions

 

QB Kyle Boller, FB Mike Karney, TE Billy Bejima, C James Brown, S James Butler, DT Orien Harris, WR Laurent Robinson

 

 

Offseason Losses

 

WR Tory Holt, OT Orlando Pace, FB Dan Kreider, LB Pisa Tinoisamoa, TE Anthony Becht, C Nick Leckey, C Brett Romberg, OT Brandon Groin, QB Trent Green, WR Drew Bennett, S Corey Chavous

 

 

2009 NFL Draft

 

With the second overall pick, the Rams took their LT of the future, Jason Smith, although he'll start at RT this year.  In the second round, they took potential playmaker James Laurinitis over Rey Maualuga, a head scratcher to some.

 

 

2009 Schedule:

 

Sun 9/13

at Seattle

Sun 9/20

at Washington

Sun 9/27

Green Bay

Sun 10/4

at San Francisco

Sun 10/11

Minnesota

Sun 10/18

at Jacksonville

Sun 10/25

Indianapolis

Sun 11/1

at Detroit

bye

 

Sun 11/15

New Orleans

Sun 11/22

Arizona

Sun 11/29

Seattle

Sun 12/6

at Chicago

Sun 12/13

at Tennessee

Sun 12/20

Houston

Sun 12/27

at Arizona

Sun 1/3

San Francisco

 

What we know

The Rams don't seem to be a threat, although neither did the Dolphins last year.  The Rams defense will be better and will bring a multitude of blitzes, as Spagnuolo will call the plays on defense.  The Rams play in a weak division, so a complete turnaround is not impossible.

 

What we don't know

As far as I can see, there aren't many questions with this team—only holes.

 

2009 Prediction

Steve Spagnuolo, like Mike Singletary, is the real deal.  However, unlike Singletary, Spags will have a hard time winning the division in 2009, or 2010 for that matter.

That being said, Steven Jackson will be underrated by some defenses, who forget he can still take over a game.  Donnie Avery looks to add to his first year success, as does Chris Long.

With Long, Witherspoon, Atogwe, and Spagnuolo, defense will likely be the name of the game for years to come.  This year I don't see a magnificent turnaround by this squad, but they won't be the eyesore they were last year.

That duty shifts to the likes of the Chiefs, Broncos, Browns and Buccaneers.

 

2009 Prediction: 4-12, 4th NFC West

 

I look forward to an exciting year in this division.  Feel free to comment on what you think the division will look like this year or to chime in with any angles I might have missed.

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