After a five month hibernation, the NFL is about to poke its head out of the cave. Training camps around the country break out in a couple weeks. We are less than a month from the Cincinnati Bengals versus the Dallas Cowboys and the first pre-season game in Canton.
The September 9th regular season kicks off down in the Bayou and sends the defending champs out on to the field against the same NFC team they beat to reach the Super Bowl, the Minnesota Vikings. A matchup featuring a sober Sean Payton (read his book) on the sidelines toting Lombardi's Trophy versus a hungry, white stubble faced, Wrangler wearing quarterback with a surgically repaired ankle (we think) and a talented cast around him.
The National Football League knows how to make an entrance.
We know your Whatifsports.com football diet has been craving nourishment. Well, we are about to provide you a pre-season appetizer before training camps start. Beginning Monday July 12th, Whatifsports.com will preview an NFL Division-a-Day for eight straight days.
Throughout the 2010 NFL season, Whatifsports.com will provide Foxsports.com its game predictions and
Fox Sports Fantasy Football fantasy projections on a weekly basis. Using our NFL simulation engine, we have "played" the entire 2010 NFL season. Each game was simulated 501 times. The simulation engine has provided us game-by-game predictions and projected fantasy stats for all 32 NFL teams and 350 players.
Today we preview the NFC West
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (8-8)
In his first full season as coach, Mike Singletary took the San Francisco 49ers to the cusp of the playoffs. With a weaker division in his second year, the former Bears' player may have them back in the postseason for the first time since 2002. If they get there, it will likely be because Alex Smith continued to resurrect his career. The former No. 1 overall pick finally settled in last year after taking over the gig during the second half of a Week 7 game. The 49ers have enough explosive weapons on both sides of the ball that Smith will simply have to stay solid like he was last year when he threw 18 touchdowns and 12 picks.
Biggest Newcomers: Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati. The Niners showed that they're committed to protecting Smith by selecting a pair of offensive linemen with the 11th and 17th overall picks of this year's draft. Davis, out of Rutgers, is expected to start at right tackle, while Iupati, considered the top guard in the draft, will likely take over at left guard. The moves should beef up a line that already has highly regarded left tackle Joe Staley, though he was injured for a good part of last year.
Biggest Strength: Linebacker. Patrick Willis continues to be one of the top defensive players in the entire league. He led the NFL with 152 tackles last year and with three forced fumbles and three picks, it looks like - if it's possible - that he's only getting better. Takeo Spikes is a veteran that fits well beside Willis, and outside backers Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson have only gotten better as their careers have worn on in San Francisco. This is a good unit that has the ability to be exceptional.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Alex Smith. Yes, what he did in the final 10 weeks of last season was pretty darn good, especially considering what the rest of his career looked like. But can he do it for a full season? He's entering a contract year, so there's plenty to play for. With an offensive line that looks stronger than ever and a receiving corps that now includes speedster Ted Ginn, Smith has been given everything he should need to become a bona fide starter. If he doesn't, the Niners have David Carr to fall back on.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Michael Crabtree. This time around, there are no holdout worries. Those who drafted Crabtree last year had to wait him out and those who did were probably pleasantly surprised. The holdout didn't seem to faze Crabtree, who still caught 48 balls for 625 yards and a pair of scores in just 11 games as a rookie. He's got all the athletic ability that the Niners could want, and with possession receiver Josh Morgan and top-tier tight end Vernon Davis alongside, defenses can't focus solely on Crabtree.
Closest Game: Week 4 at Falcons (Avg. Score 17-16 - 49ers)
Fantasy Notables: Alex Smith (19th) 3500 yds, 17 TDs, 17 INTs; Frank Gore (9th) 1359 rush yds, 12 TDs (total); Michael Crabtree (12th) 868 rec. yds, 4 TDs; Vernon Davis (8th) 811 rec. yds, 4 TDs; Joe Nedney (23rd) 25-36 FGs, 29 XPs
2010 San Francisco 49ers
@St. Louis Rams
ARIZONA CARDINALS (6-10)
After two seasons of glory, the Arizona Cardinals' rein atop the NFC West could be over. The Cardinals, coming off a Super Bowl appearance in 2008, made it back to the playoffs again in 2009, but a multitude of players who helped them make back-to-back postseason appearances have left the desert. Quarterback Kurt Warner and linebacker Bertrand Berry hung up their cleats. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin, linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Antrel Rolle all left during free agency. The best thing that the Cardinals have going for them is that there may not be a clear-cut favorite to win the division. But if they're going to take that title for a third straight year, it'll be with a barrage of new faces.
Biggest Newcomers: Linebackers. The Cardinals had to find players to fill the big shoes of Dansby and Berry and they've assembled a few pieces that might be able do it. Joey Porter will bring his baggage with him, but Arizona didn't have much of a choice but to take a shot at the four-time Pro Bowler. Porter is a proven commodity with 92 career sacks, including nine last year with the Dolphins. The Cards also added TCU's Daryl Washington in the second round of the draft, bringing in a youngster to battle free agent signee Paris Lenon.
Put Me In Coach
Matt Leinart finally gets his shot behind center
Biggest Strength: Defensive line. Arizona operates out of a 3-4 package, but that didn't stop the guys up front from wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. Tackle Darnell Dockett and end Calais Campbell tied for the team lead with seven sacks apiece and Campbell had a career-high 15 tackles for loss in 2009. That said, the Cardinals still gave up 4.5 yards per carry. To try and fix that, they picked Tennessee's Dan Williams with their first-round pick. He'll likely take the starting spot at nose tackle.
Most Exploitable Weakness: Quarterback. Ken Whisenhunt gave Matt Leinart his endorsement during the offseason, but how long that will hold up will only depend on Leinart's performance. The USC product is known more for his partying than his pocket passing, but will get every chance to take over a starting role that he was supposed to assume before Kurt Warner gave him no chance to do so. Leinart will be pushed by Derek Anderson, a quarterback with more game experience but not any more success than the former Heisman winner Leinart.
Possible Fantasy Sleeper: Early Doucet. If Steve Breaston is the new Anquan Boldin, then Doucet will be the new Breaston. That may not sound like much, but despite playing alongside two potent receivers last year, Breaston amassed 55 catches for over 700 yards and three touchdowns. Doucet had 17 grabs for 214 yards and a score playing mostly only in the second half of the season last year. Of course, this all hinges on the Cardinals having a quarterback to get these guys the ball, so respect the sleeper title and draft Doucet late, handcuff him with another Zona receiver or keep a close on him if he's a post-draft free agent.
Closest Game: Week 3 vs Raiders (Avg. Score 18-17 - Raiders)
Fantasy Notables: Matt Leinart (26th) 3328 yds, 15 TDs, 20 INTs; Beanie Wells (22nd) 856 rush yds, 7 TDs (total); Larry Fitzgerald (29th) 1006 rec. yds, 4 TDs; Ben Patrick (26th) 364 rec. yds, 2 TDs; Jay Feely (13th) 29-37 FGs, 26 XPs
2010 Arizona Cardinals
@St. Louis Rams
@San Diego Chargers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
@Kansas City Chiefs
San Francisco 49ers
St. Louis Rams