CHICAGO, July 26, 2013 — Remember when the NFC West was considered a complete laughingstock? It was not so long ago, the 2010 regular season, actually, that the 6-9 Seahawks were hosting the 7-8 Rams to decide the division. The 49ers would finish the season 6-10 with the Cardinals a terrible 5-11, and every single team was outscored by at least 39 points throughout the course of the regular season.
Then, lightning struck the division two years in a row. San Francisco brilliantly hired Jim Harbaugh, a move which caused an absurd seven-game improvement over the course of the year with a 13-3 finish in 2011.
In 2012, Seattle struck gold by drafting possibly the best young quarterback of the class in the third round, Russell Wilson, and rode his coattails to a playoff win.
This year, the other two teams in the division will have new toys to play with, and it’s not a stretch to call the NFC West the best in the business.
The news of new acquisition Percy Harvin’s hip injury is upsetting for the team to be sure, but injuries are an important, predictable aspect to consider when evaluating what Harvin brings to a team. Upon his return, the offense has a claim to being the best in the league.
After the bye week, Wilson looked as comfortable as any quarterback in the league, and the Seahawks scored 35.6 points per game (putting up 42 points against a stacked San Francisco defense) while going 5-1. The Seahawks’ offensive line is fairly mediocre outside of Russell Okung and Max Unger, but running back Marshawn “I’m hitting you, not vice versa” Lynch doesn’t care. He put up 1590 yards while averaging five yards per carry.
Aside from the offense, the defense is looking to be fantastic too. The additions of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett should create an above-average if not frightening pass rush, and Bruce Irvin should be given more freedom to rush the passer as opposed to providing average run defense.
The team’s secondary is almost unfair, assuming they do not all get HGH suspensions within the next two days. Adding Antoine Winfield to the cornerback core of Richard Sherman (Revis 2.0) and Brandon Browner (not much worse) is fantastic, while Kim Chancellor and Earl Thomas are both outstanding safeties.
This is the best team going into the season. Looking at their roster and schedule, they’re ready to beat everyone.
San Francisco 49ers
What a difference a year makes. Last year around this time, Alex Smith was being celebrated for his coming-out season, while the team was gearing up to make more noise in the playoffs. Now, young stud Colin Kaepernick is one of the brightest stars in the league.
The rest of the 49ers team? It’s still just as scary. Kaepernick will have Anquan Boldin to replace most if not all of Michael Crabtree’s production after Crabtree tore his Achilles in the offseason, and LaMichael James looks to have his role expanded in the offense as well. Teams could figure out a solution to Kaepernick’s read-option offense, but at the end of the day, the man is very large and very fast, and that’s not something to easily stop.
The defense remains fantastic, with a linebacker corps that looks like someone put a cheat code into the NFL. If anyone can fix Nnamdi Asomugha’s problems, it is Harbaugh and co., and rookie Eric Reid looks like he can fill into Dashon Goldson’s shoes starting day one.
This looks to be the same 49ers team we saw at the end of last year, but history is not good to Super Bowl losers. Expect a slightly down year in San Francisco; to Harbaugh standards, at least.
Larry Fitzgerald (probably) did an Irish jig and screamed for six hours when he found out a real life quarterback would be on his team again. The Cardinals trading for Carson Palmer actually fills the biggest need of the team quite well, considering the underrated defense that won the first four games of last year before going 1-11.
Hiring Bruce Arians as a head coach is the best move fans could have hoped for, while the Cardinals retain almost all of their skill players other than Chris Wells.
Bringing Palmer aboard was really all that mattered to the Cardinals this offseason, and it is the reason they will be looking at a vast improvement. The team’s 2012 season was a disaster but, washing their mouths of John Skelton and Kevin Kolb should help Cardinals fans cope with that. Palmer doesn’t bring superstar play, but he is leagues better than the circus act Arizona’s been experiencing at quarterback the last few years, anyway.
The Cardinals will not make the playoffs, but at least they will be a team that their fans can tolerate this year and something to do besides stare at Patrick Peterson all day.
St. Louis Rams
Go ahead, try to convince yourself that St. Louis would rather have Sam Bradford and three first-round picks than Robert Griffin III. You can’t, can you?
This might be Bradford’s last year to make something happen before the fans turn on him. Albeit with a subpar supporting cast, Bradford has never looked anything other than ordinary, and a first overall pick is supposed to be a little more of a superstar.
With new receiver Tavon Austin and new tight end (basically receiver) Jared Cook, Bradford has the most potent receiving corps he has had in the NFL, a fact which should compensate for the loss of Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola.
With the defense essentially staying put, it remains to be seen if Bradford can lead a winning team in the NFL, and there is not a lot of evidence in his favor.
To contact Nick Goralka, see above to send him an e-mail containing a question, comment, or scathing insult. His work appears in Alley-oops for Touchdowns! at the Washington Times Online.
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