Wednesday, June 12, 2013

NFC West Preview

By Matt Geiger

Arizona Cardinals

Projected record- (5-11)

Key additions:

QB Carson Palmer
RB Rashard Mendenhall
LB  Karlos Dansby
G Jonathan Cooper (Rookie)

Key Departures:

RB Beanie Wells
G Adam Snyder
S Adrian Wilson
S Kerry Rhodes

The Cardinals definitely made a splash this offseason, both in free-agency and in the draft. They traded for aging quarterback Carson Palmer and added a reliable linebacker in Karlos Dansby for a second stint with the team. They drafted running backs Stefan Taylor and Andre Ellington as well as signing Rashard Mendenhall. The question is: How do these pieces fit into the scheme of new coach Bruce Arians plan? Carson Palmer isn't the player he used to be, but is an upgrade from last year’s stable of quarterbacks. They have to keep him protected to see the changes they'd like, and added rookie guard Jonathan Cooper to help. They lost two big playmakers and leaders on defense (Wilson and Rhodes) and did very little to replace them. They're also losing LB Daryl Washington for four games, but drafted Kevin Minter who will be a successor to the inside position eventually. The bottom line is the Cardinals need to win now and didn't make the moves necessary to do so. They will be sitting at the bottom of the tough NFC West at years end.

St. Louis Rams

Projected record- (9-7)

Key additions:

LT Jake Long
TE Jared Cook
LB Alec Ogletree (rookie)
WR Tavon Austin (rookie)

Key departures:

WR Danny Amendola 
RB Steven Jackson
S Quinten Mikell
WR Brandon Gibson

St. Louis is moving in the right direction under head coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead. They added the LT they needed badly and surrounded Sam Bradford with weapons to compensate for a depleted offense. Questions surround the size of rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin and how his small frame will hold up in the NFL. The biggest question mark will be the development of second year players (Brian Quick, Chris Givens, Daryl Richardson). The defense was a top 10 unit last year, but lost both starting safeties. It is still an option to re-sign Quinten Mikell, but regardless, a lot of pressure will be put on rookie safety TJ McDonald. The Rams could contend for a wild card spot this season, but will need young players to make huge strides.

Seattle Seahawks

Projected Record- (11-5)

Key additions:

WR Percy Harvin (trade)
DE Cliff Avril
DE Michael Bennett

Key departures:

QB Matt Flynn
RB/KR Leon Washington
DT Jason Jones

 The Seattle Seahawks could end up at the top of the division this year. Had they not lost key players due to suspensions and injuries, (Chris Clemons) I'd fully expected them to win the division. Russell Wilson is the real deal and must keep progressing forward for Seattle to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and I think he will do just that. The biggest question is how the defense will fare with a handful of key players serving suspensions. With the signing of veteran Antoine Winfield, they solidified themselves as the best secondary in football and should be an interesting team to watch this season.

San Francisco 49ers

Projected record- (13-3)

Key additions:

WR Anquan Boldin (trade)
CB Nnamdi Asomugha
FS Eric Reid (rookie)

Key Departures:

QB Alex Smith (trade)
S Dashon Goldson
NT Isaac Sopoaga
TE Delaney Walker

Now that we've all seen what Colin Kaepernick is capable of, he needs to show he can take on the reins for a full 16 game season and a run in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Niners fans, he'll have to do it without his favorite receiver, Michael Crabtree (torn Achilles). They've added playmakers on offense but most are developmental players. The absence of TE Delaney Walker is going to affect the mold of the offense as well. Defensively they lost one of the league’s best safeties in Goldson, but added rookie Eric Reid. He's going to have to learn on the fly to in order to be productive for the already dominant defense. You can always rely on the solid linebacking core led by Patrick Willis, and the pressure up front from the Smiths. The 49ers are still the elite team in the NFC West and barring setbacks from Kaepernick and young players on offense, we should see them suiting up Super Bowl Sunday.

All in all, the NFC West is shaping up to be the toughest division in football. We could potentially see three of the four teams in the playoffs. Every team has their fair share of questions, but in my opinion, as the season progresses the NFL is going to see that this is no longer a walk through division.