Friday, September 6, 2013

2013 NFL Predictions - NFC West

1) Seattle Seahawks

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. 

Seattle has had one of the league’s top defenses for the last two years.  No one allowed fewer points in ’12 than these guys.  They’re likely to lead the league again considering their offseason haul.  Chris Clemons, the team’s leading pass rusher, went down in last year’s Wild Card game with a torn ACL and is questionable for week 1.  No problem.  All they did was go out and sign both Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency.  Avril tallied 20.5 sacks the last two years, and Tampa chose to let Bennett walk after notching a career high 9.  When you add these pass rushers to behemoths like Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane, that’s going to spell trouble for a lot of professional passers.  I like two of their young linebackers.  Bobby Wagner notched a whopping 140 tackles as a rookie at MLB, and KJ Wright is one of the better all-round backers in the game.  That’s pretty solid so far, and I haven’t even mentioned the league’s best secondary.  Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner form the premier corner duo in the game.  They’re big, aggressive, physical, fast, and make plays on the football.  The fact that newly acquired Antoine Winfield, a solid slot guy even at 36, was cut for youngsters Walter Thurmond and Jeremy Lane tells you what Pete Carroll thinks of his young depth.  The safety pairing is as good as the one at corner.  Earl Thomas is the best young safety in the game, in my opinion, and strong safety Kam Chancellor makes Sherman and Browner look soft. 

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

2) San Francisco 49ers

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 from him.

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 year.

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

3) St. Louis Rams

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 out.

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

4) Arizona Cardinals

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 Arizona 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

No comments:

Post a Comment