Saturday, August 29, 2009

NFL 2009 Previews - NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

Last Year:7-9 (5-3 with Hill @qb)

Shaun Hill might be an above average QB. He's put up average numbers in limited playing time, despite bad pass protection and a weak receiving corps. Singletary has finally made the easy decision to start him over mega-bust Alex Smith

Frank Gore is a feature back who's put up average ypc's the past couple years. He should have a studly year with Hill at the helm if he stays healthy. The Niners drafted consistent inside runner Glen Coffee to replace Deshaun Foster (the antithesis of consistency) as Gore's backup.

First round pick Michael Crabtree is unsigned and probably won't help much this year either way. Josh Morgan is an exciting speedster who should emerge as Hill's #1 playmaker this season. Isaac Bruce is over the hill, Arnaz Battle is a weak possession receiver, and Vernon Davis has even more hype around him this year, hype he'll once again fail to validate.

The defense is switching to full-time 3-4, but most of the players on the front 7 are the same. Having watched Justin Smith a long time in Cincy, I have to wonder whether he's strong enough to be a 3-4 end. Hopefully Manny Lawson will be used a lot more, he and Smith can combine to provide a lethal pass rush. At corner, the 49ers replaced Harris with Bly, and have just as many question marks. The secondary is the weakness of this defense.

SF's defense was pretty average last year, and under Hill, the offense was too. I'll say .500.

2009 Projected Record: 8-8

Arizona Cardinals

Last Year:9-7, lost in Super Bowl.

Kurt Warner's flaw has always been protecting the football under pressure, and last year Arizona did a good job to protect him. Warner's two best qualities have always been timing (quick release) and accuracy. Mike Martz (in the past) and Todd Haley (last year) built offenses that depend on these qualities, and it's no coincidence this is when Kurt has his best years. There's a lot of potential for Warner to fail this year. He's 38, Todd Haley is gone, and the line might not stay healthy all season again. His backup, Matt Leinart, has the talent to succeed in the right system, but he might have to prove that with another team in the future.

Tim Hightower was woefully bad last year. He'll improve a little and still be bad. Beanie Wells replaces Edge. He might have some upside, but he's being set up to fail behind this line.

Larry Fitzgerald is among the league's best, though last year will be tough to repeat. Contract dispute notwithstanding, Anquan Boldin is a risk. He plays an extremely physical game, which not only means he'll miss a few games each year, but also that he might peak early (he's 29). Steve Breaston emerged as a solid speed-WR3, and picked up 1000 yards on the way. I wouldn't ask him for more, though.

The secondary should improve: The Cardinals plucked Bryant McFadden, who will provide a nice improvement over Hood against the pass, and a huge bonus in run support. Rodgers-Cromartie is very talented and should shake off his rookie inconsistencies to have a breakout year. Adrian Wilson continues to be one of the best players in the game, and Rolle should get more comfortable with his role as Free Safety. The front 7 players are mostly unchanged, but the scheme will change under their new defensive coordinator Bill Davis. He replaces Pendergast, whose main scheme seemed to be jumping the snap count (See: wild card game vs. Atlanta), so I don't see a negative impact here either. The defense looked terrible towards the end of the year, when they were coasting to an NFC West title, so even performing at the same level, the numbers should improve.

The offensive collapse should be balanced out by an improved defense. But where does that leave them? This team only outscored their opponents by 1 point last year, but they stopped trying in December. Then they had a great playoff run, only to lose in the Super Bowl (which seems to trigger a curse lately). The curse might not apply this year in such a weak division.

2009 Projected Record: 8-8, NFC West Champs

Seattle Seahawks

Last Year:4-12

I'm not sure what to expect of Matt Hasselbeck at this point in his career. He has back issues and plays with mediocre pass protection, but was a pro-bowler just two years ago. With his age though, one thing I don't expect is for him to just bounce back to pro-bowl form. It seemed like the Seahawks also lost a WR every week to injury.

This year they've added TJ Houshmandzadeh, who was productive as a "go-to outlet receiver" last year in Cincinnati's pathetic offense. At 32 years old though, I think that's about all TJ is capable of being anymore: an outlet/possession receiver. Nate Burleson and Deion Branch are coming back from injury. Branch has never been able to stay healthy, Burleson has a better chance at stretching the field opposite TJ. John Carlson was a dependable option this year, but might not be needed as much as a receiver with everyone healthy again, especially considering he could stay in and help the pass protection.

The ground attack should improve, however, as they're switching to a zone-blocking scheme that should fit Julius Jones perfectly. Jones could have a big yardage season, and with the release of goal-line specialist TJ Duckett, he may find the end zone more as well.

On defense, the 'Hawks lost Bernard and Peterson and replaced them with Redding and #4 overall Aaron Curry. That may all come out in the wash, but one move that should definitely help is adding Ken Lucas at CB. More importantly, they hope to have a healthy Kerney.

This team will bounce back, but not all the way. Hasselbeck and the O-line just aren't what they were 2 years ago. Neither is the defense. Mediocrity.

2009 Projected Record: 7-9

St. Louis Rams

Last Year:2-14

No QB is going to enjoy much success behind a terrible O-line, but Marc Bulger in particular can't handle it. His WR corps may have declined some, but being under pressure was the real key to Marc's failure. This year he should have decent protection, since the Rams focused both their draft and free agency periods on improving the O-line.

The new question mark is the receivers. Donnie Avery is just in his second year, but down the stretch last year he emerged as a big playmaker threat. He's dinged up right now, but if he takes care of his injury he's in line to have a breakout season. I also like the potential of Laurent Robinson and Keenan Burton. These guys are question marks because they're young, not because they're untalented. I'm optimistic about Avery and Burton in particular. Randy McMichael returns from injury and should provide a nice safety valve for Bulger.

The running game is still on shaky ground. Once again, they're depending on Steven Jackson to carry the load for a full season, but for 2 years in a row he hasn't been able to do it. Jackson is very talented and you can ask him to do a lot of things, but being a 300+ carry back shouldn't be one of them.

Defensively, there are a lot of question marks at corner and on the front 7, so expecting this defense to be above average seems silly. But there is a lot of good news. Spagunolo is in as head coach, and he strikes me as a much more brilliant defensive mind than Jim Haslett. The new scheme plus the development of young players Long and Carricker should result in some improvement over a terrible 2008.

This team was AWFUL last year, possibly even worse than the winless Lions. And while I expect sweeping improvement, I can't predict a worst-to-first type of season like we saw in Miami last year.

2009 Projected Record: 6-10

Current Division Future Odds:

(Disclaimer: I don't bet futures or suggest you tie up money for that long)

Arizona Cardinals +145
Seattle Seahawks +165
San Francisco 49ers +245
St Louis Rams +1015

Don't risk any turnips on these odds.

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