2009 NFC West Predictions: Hawks Return To Top

Pete TreperinasCorrespondent IAugust 19, 2009

SEATTLE - DECEMBER 07:  Wide receiver Deion Branch  #83 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the New England Patriots on December 7, 2008 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Regardless of people saying the NFC West is the worst division in football, they have sent two teams to the Super Bowl in the past four seasons. I think the NFC West could be one of the most competitive and wide open divisions in the game. 

Here's how I think it's going to shake down:

4. St. Louis Rams: 6-10

Steve Spanguolo is the right man for this job. I'm not sure if he'll bring the Rams back to its "greatest show on turf" days, but St. Louis is now moving in the right direction.

St. Louis' biggest problem is their lack of a great quarterback. Marc Bulger has declined considerably in each of the past two or three seasons, and as his career nears its end, I'll be shocked if he stays healthy for 16 games. 

Bulger's 2004 Pro Bowl year is well behind him, and in the last two seasons, he's thrown a combined 28 interceptions with his passer rating dropping more than 20 points. 

Bulger aside, the Rams are mainly a run-oriented football team, and with a guy like Steven Jackson, there's no reason they shouldn't be. Jackson is one of the best running backs in the league, and he's going to be the biggest building block in this major rebuilding process.

It won't happen this year, but the Rams are going to be atop the NFC West some year soon. As for now, I think six wins is going to be considered a success because that's more wins than this team has gotten in the last two years. 

3. Arizona Cardinals: 8-8

Was last season a fluke for the team that represented the NFC in the Super Bowl? It's a close call. 

First off, I don't see Kurt Warner pulling a miracle like he did last year by playing all 16 regular season games. This guy is old as dirt. Not to mention he had surgery this offseason. 

The biggest reason that Arizona won't be winning this division is because of their poor defense. The Cardinals were blown out a handful of times last season (most notably a 47-7 loss to the Patriots late in the season), and never allowed less than 10 points in a game. 

This means that the Cards will have to rely heavily on their offense alone. This worked in the playoffs last year, but I just don't see it happening again. Right now, Anquan Boldin isn't too happy in Arizona, and this is not good. Often, when a star wide receiver has an ego and isn't happy, it affects the whole team.

2. San Francisco 49ers: 8-8

I think the Niners could potentially be one year away from the playoffs.

The quarterback situation in Frisco isn't too great, but if Shaun Hill can perform like he did last year, the 49ers will look just fine. It's unfortunate that Alex Smith has had injuries, but even without them, I don't think he's that great.

Hill's job will be a lot easier if Michael Crabtree decides to sign with the team. Without Crabtree, Josh Morgan will be the No. 1 option for the Niners, along with veteran Arnaz Battle. 

And let's not forget about one of the premier tailbacks in the gameFrank Gore. It seems to be a foregone conclusion every year that Gore will be a monster. I doubt that 2009 will be any different. 

The 49ers' defense is also something to keep an eye on. Each year, Patrick Willis inches closer and closer to becoming the best linebacker in the game, and he'll carry this defense with players like Nate Clements and Takeo Spikes. 

1. Seattle Seahawks: 10-6

Injuries have plagued the Seahawks for the past few seasons. However, the 2008 season was by far the worst. 

The Seahawks' receiving corps was full of inexperienced players and washed up vets, and Matt Hasselbeck missed the majority of the season as well.

With Deion Branch and Nate Burleson both healthy again, and the arrival of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seattle's receivers look like one of the best units in the league. This is, of course, only if Hasselbeck can stay healthy.

My biggest doubt with Seattle is their running game. Julius Jones didn't really have a great first year in Seattle, and the offensive line was poor also. However, Walter Jones has been one of the best guards in the league for a while now, and he knows what he's doing.

It was really hard to watch Seattle's defense last season. The Hawks went out this offseason and signed Ken Lucas and drafted Aaron Curry. Lofa Tatupu and Patrick Kerney will be playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulders after an embarrassing '08 season, which is why I think the Seahawks D will be tough this year.

New coach Jim Mora is familiar with this team after serving as an assistant last year, and will put Seattle back at the top of this division.