I picked these guys as an upset pick to win the division last year, and they were undoubtedly one of the more impressive teams in the league. In what was thought to be a division of Niners and also-rans, the Seahawks made the playoffs and were a team no one wanted to play. Guess what? They better this year.
Matt Flynn came to town with ideas of replacing Tarvaris Jackson at QB but was outdone for the job by third round pick, Russell Wilson. The former Wolfpack, former Badger won the starting job in camp and didn’t look back. He was responsible for 30 total TDs and more than 3,500 yards but more importantly ran the read-option to perfection. The guy has tremendous leader and the mental make up of a champion. I’m a big fan. All Marshawn Lynch did last year was run for a career high by almost 400 yards and prove to be a perfect fit in this offense. He’ll again finish in the top 5 in rushing, and I think he has an award winning year. One downer for the ’13 season is that new acquisition Percy Harvin was sidelined before the season even got underway. The former Viking underwent hip surgery August 1 and is unlikely to suit up until midway through the regular season. There’s a ton of potential for a ground game that can utilize Lynch, Wilson, Harvin, and rookie Christine Michael. For now they’ll have to get by with Golden Tate and Sidney Rice at receiver. The latter may be the de-facto #1, but the former has been getting a ton of hype this preseason. Tate has a chance to get a lot of the touches earmarked for Harvin and make this dynamic offense even more explosive.
I’m really high on this team, and given what they’ve accomplished this offseason along with their development and grown in ’12, I think they’ve got what it takes to finish ahead of the Niners.
MVP – Marshawn Lynch
Breakout – Golden Tate
Disappointment – Sidney Rice
It was a great ride but not quite the finish the NFC champs were hoping for. After a 12-4 regular season, the Niners appeared to be on the verge of another championship, but the Ravens had other plans. Are the Niners up for another fight?
Not a lot of guys are getting more hype coming into the ’13 season than Niners QB Colin Kaepernick, and rightfully so. No qualified passer had a higher yard per attempt average than Kaepernick, and only seven passers had a higher QB rating. Oh, and did I mention the he’s one of the three most dangerous QBs on the move (along with Rodgers and RGIII)? Last year Kaepernick had a yards per carry average nearly identical to RGIII’s and had just two fewer rushing scores in just over half as many carriers. I expect quite the encounter this season. Defenses have been gearing up to stop the read-option attack, and with the Niners being without Michael Crabtree for at least the majority of the year with an Achilles injury, Kaepernick is going to keep running. Who will win out? Frank Gore isn’t 106. It just seems that way. The model of consistently the last two years, Gore outdid his ’11 total by 1 yard. I would like to see him becoming a bigger part of the passing game once again, and maybe that will happen given the situation at receiver. The newly acquired Anquan Boldin figures to be Kaepernick’s security blanket, and with a lack of depth and experience at the position, the young QB will likely often look his way. While Boldin is no longer an elite playmaker, there’s not a more reliable set of hands in the game. After Boldin, the Niners are looking for anyone to step up. Hopefully rookie Quinton Patton, my favorite receiver from this year’s draft, seizes the opportunity and makes a difference. The Niners and Chiefs traded busts, so maybe Jim Harbaugh will get something out of Jon Baldwin that KC couldn’t. Vernon Davis remains one of the best athletes in the league. Although he and Kaepernick didn’t have that immediate bond you usually see from young QBs and their TE, I expect
Davis to be a primary target
in Crabtree’s offense. Look for a big year
I’m not sure these guys can thump their chests as the top unit in their own division, let alone the league, anymore. Justin Smith may truly be the team’s most valuable player, an opinion that had a lot of validity as Aldon Smith really struggled down the stretch when Justin was sidelined. The rest of the defense struggled as well, as opposing QBs had less difficulty against this group minus Justin. He’s ready to go which is great news for everyone. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman form the league’s top inside linebacker duo, and I’m not sure that’s even debatable. They’re both sideline to sideline, physical defenders who don’t make mistakes. I like Ray McDonald at end, but they’re going to miss NT Isaac Sopoaga at the nose. As insurance (and proof of lesson learned last year) San Fran drafted both Tank Carradine and Corey Lemonier and signed Glenn Dorsey in free agency. If you had to pick one area to distinguish between the Seahawks and Niners (other than the stud ILBs), it would be the weaknesses in San Fran’s secondary. Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, and Nnamdi Asomugha don’t come close to
Sherman, Browner, and Thurmond/Lane. With Dashon Goldson leaving, the Niners turn
to rookie Eric Reed to take his place at FS.
Donte Whitner returns at SS, but I worry, at least early on, how these
two will function together with Reed being a rookie and Whitner no longer being
at the top of his game. If the Niners
experience another loss up front, the repercussions could be much worse this
I’m in no way expecting these guys to fade off into the sunset, but I think they’ll take a back seat to
Seattle within the division.
MVP – Colin Kaepernick
Breakout – Quinton Patton
Disappointment – Tarell Brown
Jeff Fisher’s first year at the helm wasn’t a winning one, but it had to be considered a success. Coming off an embarrassing 2-14 ’11 season, the Rams rebounded and looked like a team with some promising youth.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan, but Sam Bradford is entering a make-or-bend-forcibly season for me. This will be his fourth year as a pro and second working with Brian Schottenheimer. Yes, they’ve lost Steven Jackson, but I do like where their passing game stands. Tavon Austin gets the publicity as the dynamic weapon, and rightfully so. He’s of the rare Randall Cobb mold as a player who can beat you in multiple ways. For this year at least, I’m higher on Chris Givens. Last year Givens showed himself to be a very viable deep threat, and word is they’re varying his routes a bit more this year. Look for big things from him. I also love
Austin’s college teammate, Stedman Bailey,
and he’d be a solid #5 behind Austin Pettis and Brian Quick. Lance Kendricks hasn’t broken out as a
terribly threatening TE, so the Rams signed Jared Cook in free agency. Cook’s been more hype than production to this
point in his career, but this is definitely a more promising situation than he
had in Tennessee. Back to the running game, a trio of backs
looks to fill the hole left by Jackson’s
departure to Atlanta. Daryl Richardson has first shot at being the
man, and he wasn’t awful when called upon last season. I just think his upside is limited. The guy I seeing as having the most talent in
this backfield is Isaiah Pead. Pead
struggled to make an impact in his first year and starts this one with a one
game suspension. He’s got to figure it
They don’t get nearly as much attention as division rivals
San Francisco and Seattle,
but St. Louis
has some good things going on defense as well with young fixtures at each
level. Two of them are at defensive end
where Chris Long and Robert Quinn combined for 22 sacks last season. As good as Long has been the last three
seasons, I’m excited to see how big a step Quinn takes in his third year. This is a guy who was a #1 overall talent
with a huge ceiling. I’m also a fan of
their third rusher, William Hayes, a guy they were wise to re-sign this
offseason. Michael Brockers got off to a
slow start last year with that ankle injury, but he looks like another future
star in the middle of the defensive line.
He’s healthy and should make this productive pass rush even more
dangerous. James Laurinaitis, the heart
of the defense, has been one of the most reliable MLBs in the league in his
four seasons with the Rams. I’m anxious
to see how their new WLB Alec Ogletree fares.
His talent is undeniable, as are his red flags, but if he figures it
out, he’ll be a great compliment to Laurinaitis. I can’t say I’m a fan of either of these two,
but Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins were one of the stingiest pair of
corners in the league last year. Finnegan
is a proven vet, and Jenkins acclimate himself well in year one. Rookie TJ McDonald is their best safety, and
that’s not necessarily a good thing.
I like where these guys are headed, but unfortunately, they’ve got two Super Bowl contenders within their own division. I think a winning record would be a great season.
MVP – Sam Bradford
Breakout – Chris Givens
Disappointment – Daryl Richardson
And lastly, a team that hasn’t been very relevant very often. The ’12 season was yet another forgettable one for the Cardinals with their second five win season in three years. How much hope is there for these guys in a division with the Hawks, Niners, and up-and-coming Rams?
It’s a shame they’re in the NFC West because I think
Arizona made strides
this offseason. They replaced Ken
Whisenhunt with Bruce Arians, the guy who basically coached the Colts last
year. Thanks to the acquisition of
Carson Palmer, Arians will be able to stretch the field as he likes to do. Palmer is pretty much an afterthought at the
QB position anymore, but I really like his fit in this offense. He threw for over 4,000 yards last year in an
awful Oakland offense but will have a future
HOFer in Larry Fitzgerald and impressive youngster in Michael Floyd to with in Arizona. Fitzgerald may have fallen off the radar a
bit based on the lack of professional QB talent he’s had to work with the last
couple of seasons. Palmer’s the best passer
he’s had since Warner in ’09. Floyd
figures to see quite the uptick in output this year due to Palmer’s addition as
well as impressive camp that has him in the starting lineup. Andre Roberts makes for a nice #3 receiver,
and Rob Housler is a TE with upside. The
passing game looks good on paper. The
running game on the other hand gets an incomplete grade. Rashard Mendenhall leaves Pittsburgh
for the starting job in Arizona
that he’s not getting much competition for based on Ryan Williams’ disappointing
inability to get healthy. Mendenhall
isn’t Barry Sanders, but surely he’ll put up more than LaRod Stephens-Howling’s
team leading 357 rushing yards last year.
They suffered a blow early on as first round pick and projected left
guard Jonathan Cooper sustained a knee injury that may cost him his rookie
season. He was the marquee addition to
an offensive line in need of big time help.
On defense there’s a bit of good, a bit of bad, and not much in between. Patrick Peterson is one of the elite of the elite athletes in the game. In addition to developing into a shutdown corner, he’s a highlight-making return man, and now is logging some snaps on offense. The other corner spot isn’t so secure. Jerraud Powers and Antoine Cason aren’t ideal starters. Safety is lacking as well. Yeremiah Bell and Rashad Johnson are uninspiring replacements for Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson, two guys who weren’t exactly in their primes. Tyrann Mathieu should be given every opportunity to get on the field at free safety and line up with his former LSU teammate Peterson. Watch for him to make an impact in his first year. With the switch at DC and in scheme, I look for bigger years from Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. Both figure to be freed up more in Todd Bowles’ aggressive defense, resulting in higher sack totals and more impact plays. Unfortunately, they’re going to be without stud ILB Daryl Washington due to multiple off field issues. Karlos Dansby returns to
and will be counted on to pick up the slack in Washington’s absence. I like Kevin Minter to see the most time next
to Dansby inside. A continuous problem
for the Cardinals is a lack of sacks from their edge rushers. Washington
led the team in sacks last year with 9, while Sam Acho, Quentin Groves, and
O’Brien Schofield combined for 12. The
lack of an edge rushing presence and talent at corner opposite Peterson will be
the downfall of this defense.
Again, I like the strides these guys made, but they’re in the wrong division. 8-8 would have to be considered a very successful season.
MVP – Larry Fitzgerald
Breakout – Michael Floyd
Disappointment – Cornerback opposite Peterson
Division MVP – Marshawn Lynch
Division Breakout – Golden Tate
Division Disappointment – Daryl Richardson