With the off season coming to a close, the NFC West has been anything but short on headlines. The Arizona Cardinals fired head coach Ken Whisunhunt after an abysmal 5-11 season where Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, and Ryan Lindley could not generate much offense of any sorts from the quarterback position. To improve, the acquired Carson Palmer from the Raiders and hired 2012 Coach of the Year Bruce Arians as their new head coach.
The St. Louis Rams, who finished 7-8-1 were the least active of their division this off season. Arguably their biggest splash, however, was trading up inn the NFL Draft, and using the 8th pick to draft wide receiver Tavon Austin, who could potentially be the big play weapon Sam Bradford needs to finally break out in his fourth NFL season.
Much hype throughout the off season has been surrounding the Seattle Seahawks, and the pleasantly surprising rookie year of 2012 third round pick Russell Wilson. The Seahawks, who finished 11-5 last year, decided to trade for Percy Harvin to beef up their receving core. Unfortunately, Harvin suffered a hip injury that recquired surgery, is now on the PUP list, and is expected to be out till at least November and possibly the entire season. Despite not having Harvin and former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who is Jacksonville’s new head coach, the Seahawks still enter the 2013 season with large expectations.
The San Francisco 49ers, who finished 11-4, come into 2013 as the reigning division and conference champions. The 49ers had originally thought they would have all of their main offensive weapons back for the 2013 season, until star wideout Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles in May, leaving the 49ers without a key player from 2012. Crabtree is not yet ruled out for the season, however, as he is on the PUP list, sidelining him for at least the first six weeks. Despite being considered a favorite by many to repeat as NFC champs, the 49ers will most likely struggle to win their division while dealing with the Seahawks.
Many people believe that this division has potential to be the best in the NFL. Here is how I believe things will pan out
San Francisco 49ers 2012 record: 11-4-1 2013 prediction: 13-3 2013 MVP prediction: Colin Kaepernick
The 49ers schedule is by no means easy. They have seven games against playoff teams from 2013, including two against the Seattle Seahawks. Then again, none of those seven teams are the Baltimore Ravens, and they happen to be the only team who finished better than the 49ers last season. Despite not having Crabtree, the 49ers still have a feared offense with a dual thret quarterback in Kaepernick, and a feared defense featuring Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis. Not only will they view their opponents as a big challenge, but their opponents ill fear them as an even bigger challenge. And they should, for all of the reasons above. With only nine regular season games under his belt, some people believe that Kaepernick is unproven, but with his skill set, both runing and throwing, and they play action threat he has in Frank Gore, Kaepernick is primed to have a top five season among all NFL quarterbacks. While picking a quarterback to be his team’s MVP might be viewed as the boring pick, it is the right one. He should also get help with the addition of Anquan Boldin, ho has a veteran presence and above average skil lset that can ease the burden on the remainder of the 49ers offense until Michael Crabtree returns. And on a rare occasion, if the offense has a down week, the 49ers have a defense that has the ability to not only shut down an opposing offense, but to set up their offense with great field position with turnovers. From top to bottom, I believe this team is still the team to beat in the NFC. However, their greatest competition comes from their own division.
Seattle Seahawks 2012 record: 11-5 2013 prediction: 12-4 2013 MVP prediction: Marshawn Lynch
Having to choose between the 49ers and Seahawks is extremely difficult. Both teams have young quarterbacks who were supposed to be backup quarterbacks last season ho ended up being spectacular. Both teams have elite defenses, and both teams have their best wideout on PUP. The similarities are unbelievable, which is why i had to pick the 49ers when faced with the decision. The 49ers have already been to the super bowl, and they are considered one of the favorites to not only get there, but win it, but so are the Seahawks. Seattle was nicknamed “False Start City” a couple years ago due to the raucous and noise generated by the Seahawks fanbase, A.K.A the twelfth man. And when you’re in the playoffs, there is nothing you want more than home field advantage, which is why this division is so important. In mu opinion, the winner of this division, either the Seahawks or 49ers, will also win the NFC. What is great about the Seahawks, besides their elite defense, is their dynamic duo of dual threat quarterback and running back. In the present, where the option is becoming more and more of a weapon in the NFL, you need two things to run that successfully. A dual threat quarterback, like Wilson, and an above average running back, like Lynch, who is elite. If both of them have seasons around as good as last season, and the defense remains elite under new coordinator Dan Quinn, then the Seahawks will achieve my predicted 12-4 record, and challenge the 49ers to win the division and the NFC.
St. Louis Rams 2012 record: 7-8-1 2013 prediction: 7-9 2013 MVP prediction: Sam Bradford
The St. Louis rams have improved from last year. They had two first round picks of Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree, and with a new weapon, I believe Sam Bradford will finally have a breakout year. So what’s the issue? Like i said, I believe this can be the best division in football, with the two best teams in the NFC on top. What that means is that the Rams will have four games against the Seahawks and 49ers. That’s bad. If they go 1-3 in those games, they have to go 7-5 in the other games to get ten wins. That is doable, but it won’t happen. They still need to play teams like the Bears, Colts, Texans, and the entire NFC south. Their schedule is not favorable, and they are not quite at the stage of being able to compete with the top tier of teams yet. However, we will see flashes that prove to us that Sam Bradford is ready to be a good NFL quarterback, and the Rams will be a legit contender sooner than some think.
Arizona Cardinals 2012 record: 5-11 2013 prediction: 4-12 2013 MVP prediction: Larry Fitzgerald
While I believe the Cardinals are bad, they’re not as bad as my predicted record. It all comes down to their schedule, and they have to face the 49ers, Seahawks, and Rams twice, and they also must face the NFC and AFC south. That’s not very easy. While Carson Palmer is a gigantic upgrade over what the Cardinals had, he’s still not their savior. I love Bruce Arians, just look at what he did with the Colts last season, but it doesn’t change the fact, thaat outside of Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals have less talent than the 2012 Colts. However, Larry Fitzgeral will have a huge bounceback year. Carson Palmer is known to like to throw passes into coverage and Larry Fitgerald is known to be able to catch anything that is near him. When the Cardinals do win games, it will be because Larry Fitzgerald will have a great game, and he will once again solidify himself as elite. If the Cardianls can make strides and trust that they have the personnel to win within a couple years, they will.
NFC West MVP: Colin Kaepernick
NFC West Offensive Player of the Year: Marshawn Lynch
NFC West Defensive Player of the Year: Richard Sherman
NFC West Rookie of the Year: Tavon Austin
The NFC West has it all. Rebuilding teams, conference favorites, and exciting rivalry. But the one thing that is clear, is that there are many possible outcomes. some are expected some not. And the only way to find out is to let the games be played