The NFC West could well be the NFL’s weakest division. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be hotly contested within and relevant for NFL preseason picks . Let’s have a look at the 2010 breakdown.
NFL futures odds: +250
The Cards have plenty of questions to answer in 2010. Can Matt Leinart fill Kurt Warner’s massive shoes? Will Early Doucet or Steve Breaston step up at receiver with Anquan Boldin gone? Who will lead the defense now that Karlos Dansby has changed teams? It’s very tough to imagine Arizona not taking one or even several steps back this season. It was a nice two-year run, though.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
NFL futures odds: -110
This looks like the year San Francisco puts it all together. It’s worked hard to build a powerhouse offensive line—and that will only make Frank Gore better in the backfield. It also takes the pressure off Alex Smith, who can play the caretaker role and has some good targets in Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. Mike Singletary has also whipped the defense into shape. Patrick Willis is about as good a student as he could ask for.
Anything less than an NFC West title will be a disappointment for the 49ers, who are the clear-cut sportsbook favorites.
NFL futures odds: +300
The Seahawks won’t become a contender again overnight, but they at least have a few pieces in place to start a turnaround. They have a new coach in Pete Carroll, who will take his second crack at NFL success after his USC glory days. They had a huge draft, getting both tackle Russell Okung and safety Earl Thomas, not to mention Notre Dame wideout Golden Tate.
So Seattle has reason for future optimism but it’s too early to expect much in 2010. The “D” still has plenty of holes and the key offensive skill players, such as Matt Hasselbeck and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, are banged up and long in the tooth.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
NFL futures odds: +1000
While it’s true that we’ve seen three rookie quarterbacks—Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and Mark Sanchez—lead their teams into the playoffs in the last two seasons, we shouldn’t expect Sam Bradford to do the same in St. Louis. He doesn’t have the supporting cast that those QBs had. Bradford has a great shot to become a star eventually but throwing to the likes of Laurent Robinson and Donnie Avery as a rookie won’t exactly pad his stats.
Make no bones about it—the Rams still have a very long way to go. They had the NFC’s worst defense last year and, aside from Steven Jackson, their top offensive players are inexperienced.
The NFL pick: This is a division full of highly flawed teams—but San Francisco looks by far the last flawed. If Alex Smith can continue progressing, the 49ers’ defense and running game will support him enough to win the NFC West.