Taking a Closer Look at the NFC West

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Who will win the NFC West? How will each team fair?

The NFC West was not too long ago dubbed the NFC Worst. Now, it is hands down the most stacked and competitive division in the NFL. Still, looking at this debate at this time last year the Niners were the clear cut favorites to win the division and even Super Bowl favorites. That is no longer the case, as the Seahawks proved they were legitimate contenders and the Rams refused to lose against the Niners and showed promise including a win over Seattle as well. Even the Cardinals who had tremendous quarterback issues showed flashes of a nice defense and got off to a 4-0 start including wins over Seattle and the Patriots. During the offseason each team did everything in their power to improve. With the season coming to a start, it’s time to take a close look at each team in this division and get a nice look on just how competitive it might be. Let’s start off by evaluating the defending division champions.

San Francisco 49ers

Key Additions:

Eric Reid, S (via Draft)

Anquan Boldin, WR (via Trade)

Nnamdi Asomugha, CB (via Free Agency)

Vance McDonald, TE (via Draft)

Glenn Dorsey, DL (via Free Agency)

Colt McCoy, QB (via Trade)

Phil Dawson, K (via Free Agency)

Key Losses:

Dashon Goldson, S (via Free Agency)

Isaac Sopoaga, NT (via Free Agency)

David Akers, K (released)

Alex Smith, QB (via Trade)

Chris Culliver, CB (via Injury)

Michael Crabtree, WR (via Injury)

Delanie Walker, TE (via Free Agency)

Ricky Jean Francois, DL (via Free Agency)

Just to quickly explain why there is an asterisk next to Nnamdi and Glenn, both were brought in to be contributors and even starters. So far Dorsey has lost his starting job to Ian Williams and is looking like a cut candidate and Nnamdi is the 4th string CB even WITH Culliver out. Now, that’s not to say these guys can’t turn things around. Particularly Nnamdi who showed flashes in the first pre season game and is a good fit for the Niners scheme. The Glenn Dorsey signing just didn’t make any sense considering it was already a known fact he was not a fit in the 3-4 Defense. The Niners tried moving him from 3-4 DE to Nose Tackle but it hasn’t worked for obvious reasons. I’m curious to see what he can do in a 4-3, a scheme he dominated in at Louisiana State. Before going to far into that, let’s look at the positives. The 49ers first round draft pick, Eric Reid, has been looking great. He’s been solid in camp at already made an impression in his first game:

In case you’re wondering how his style of play is, it is very similar to that of Dashon Goldson, the All Pro safety who he’s trying to replace for the Niners. The Niners brought in several other intriguing players through the draft such as Tank Carradine (round 2) and Marcus Lattimore (round 4) who are expected to be stashed on IR in their first season. To replace Delanie Walker, the Niners drafted Vance McDonald. The interesting thing is that the two are different players. Walker was known as being arguably the best blocking TE in the NFL and was a weapon for the Niners run heavy offense. But with the team putting their future into big armed QB Colin Kaeperinick they brought in McDonald who is a great receiving TE. Vernon Davis is a great blocking TE already. Let’s look at the clear cut upgrades. Phil Dawson is an easy upgrade over David Akers. Akers started the year off great with a record breaking (tied) 63 yard field goal. Then he played miserably the rest of the year. Phil Dawson on the other hand was a Pro Bowler last year for the Browns and while he doesn’t posses an exceptionally strong leg he is very accurate. The Niners added Anquan Boldin a great possession receiver who can make all the tough catches over the middle. He should be a reliable target for Colin Kaepernick. Michael Crabtree would have created a nice duo with him but unfortunately he will be out for most of the season, if not all of it with a torn achilles. Still, giving Kaepernick a full offseason as the starting QB should help him and I expect him to be better next season. The Niners are also hoping to get Kendall Hunter back healthy do create a very good RB core. Gore, Dixon, LaMichael James, and Hunter could very well be the best core in the NFL at RB. The Niners made some smart moves locking up Anthony Davis and Justin Smith. Still this team is getting killed by injuries. Chris Culliver was supposed to step up as the team’s best CB but he tore his ACL. The secondary and receiving corps of this squad have a lot of question marks. The team also lacks depth in my opinion. Behind Willis and Bowman they don’t have a proven depth ILB and their depth on the DL is shallow. With all that aside, the RB core, TE core, Colin Kaepernick, and the LBs make this team a contender. But, I wouldn’t go so far to say they will win their division easy like some analyst insist.

Record Prediction: 12-4, Wild Card

Let’s look at their biggest challenge:

Seattle Seahawks

Key Additions:

Cliff Avril, DE (via free agency)

Antoine Winfield, CB (Via FA)

Michael Bennett (via FA)

Percy Harvin (via Trade)

Tony McDaniel (via FA)

Tavaris Jackson (via FA)

Christine Michael (via Draft)

Key Losses:

Matt Flynn (Trade)

Alan Branch (via FA)

Jason Jones (via FA)

Leroy Hill (not re-signed)

Leon Washington (via FA)

The Seahawks had a great season last year, this year they’re expecting to be even better. Similar to Kaepernick, Russell Wilson is only going to get better. The Seahawks had a solid draft and added Christine Michael to create a solid RB duo with Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch. The team’s number one goal was bolstering their pass rush this offseason and they definitely did that. Chris Clemons was their sack leader last year with 11.5 but he blew out his knee. The team added Cliff Avril who had 9.5 sacks last year and Michael Bennett who had 9. Add that to Bruce Irvin who had 8 sacks last year as a rookie and all of a sudden this pass rush is beyond scary. Their interior DL was among the NFL’s best last year with a trio of Mebane, Jones, and Branch. Two of them left but the team still has the best out of the three in Brandon Mebane and they also brought in veteran Tony McDaniel. They also drafted Jordan Hill (round 3) out of Penn State and Jesse Williams (round 5) out of Alabama. Williams was once considered a first round prospect but fell drastically due to knee issues and immaturity concerns (he tattooed YOLO on  his face, neck and back of his head). Also, Michael Bennett has the size and skill to kick inside and play DT in a 4-3. This DL is among the NFLs best and has a lot of versatility. Their defense doesn’t end there. They have a great LB core. Rookies Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright were terrific last year and are only going to get better. Their secondary is easly the best with top 3 NFL CB Richard Sherman, solid CB Brandon Browner, top 10 SS Kam Chancellor and maybe the best safety in the NFL in Earl Thomas. They just added Antoine Winfield who is a number one CB on most teams and the best Slot CB in the NFL. Their offense is solid but it’s too much of a shame we won’t get to see Harvin play this year, but this team is stacked and easily SB contenders. They will give SF a run for their money and I think they will go farther.

Record Prediction: 13-3, Division Champs

Moving on to a potential dark horse team:

St Louis Rams:

Key Additions

Tavon Austin, WR (draft)

Stedman Bailey, WR (via Draft)

Jake Long, LT (via FA)

Jared Cook, TE (via FA)

TJ McDonald, S (via Draft)

Alec Ogletree, LB (via Draft)

Key Losses

Danny Amendola, WR (via FA)

Brandon Gibson, WR (via FA)

Steven Jackson, RB (via FA)

Quintin Mikell, S ( not re-signed)

Craig Dahl, S (via FA)

I’d like to say losing Craig Dahl was an addition by subtraction for the Rams but they haven’t addressed the Safety position as if losing the top 5 best safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus in Mikell wasn’t enough. The Rams drafted TJ McDonald in the third round to compete for a starting spot and they have Darian Stewart who some think can be a breakout candidate. Their CBs are stellar with the veteran Cortland Finnegan and sophomore Janoris Jenkins. Their front 7 is scary. Here’s a quick breakdown:

DE: Chris Long (stud, great all around DE who can do it all)

DT: Kendall Langford (underrated, up and comer)

DT: Michael Brockers (young stud)

DE: Robert Quinn (ditto)

LB: Alec Ogletree (first round pick, very solid LB in coverage moves like a DB)

LB: James Laurinaitis (beast)

LB: Jo-Lonn Dunbar (underrated, had 115 tackles)

As you can see their defense is stout outside of the safety position.

On offense, they have a great receiving core of Brian Quick (breakout candidate), Chris Givens, Tavon Austin (rookie of the year candidate), and Stedman Bailey (Tavon’s teammate in HS). The team has a young talented QB in Sam Bradford but no proven RB. 2012 7th round pick Daryl Richardson is expecting to be the starter but he has little to no upside moving forward. I hope Isiah Pead figures out how to play to his potential. Jared Cook is a great receiving TE and in fact lines up as a WR a lot. He should be a weapon and security blanket for Sammy. Their OL features exceptional tackles in Jake Long and Roger Saffold. This team is talented but they won’t be able to compete in this division, not yet.

Record Prediction: 8-8

Finally, here we are

Arizona Cardinals

Key Additions:

Carson Palmer, QB (via Trade)

Karlos Dansby, ILB (via FA)

John Abraham, OLB (via FA)

Yeremiah Bell, S (via FA)

Jerraud Powers, CB (via FA)

Jasper Brinkley, ILB (via FA)

Eric Winston, RT (via FA)

Kevin Minter, ILB (via Draft)

Johnathan Cooper, OG (via Draft)

Alex Okafor, OLB (via Draft)

Rashard Mendenhall, RB (via FA)

Matt Shaughnessy, DE (via FA)

Honey Badger, DB (via Draft)

Antoine Cason, CB (via FA)

Key Losses:

Kevin Kolb, QB (via FA)

Beanie Wells, RB (not Re-signed)

William Gay, CB (via FA)

Paris Lenon, ILB (not re-signed)

Greg Toler, CB (via FA)

Kerry Rhodes, S (released)

Adrian Wilson, S (released)

This team is certainly doing everything they can to make them competitive. In fact they’ve built a solid roster. They just won’t be able to compete against NFC West opponents, they have a legit shot of going 0-6 in their division and they’re not even bad. Don’t believe me? Check out their depth chart:

QB: Carson Palmer

RB: Rashard Mendenhall

TE: Rob Housler

WR: Larry Fitzgerald

WR: Micharl Floyd

WR 3: Andre Roberts

LT: Levi Brown

LG: Johnathan Cooper

C: Lyle Sendlein

RG: Bobby Massie

RT: Eric Winston

That’s the offense, not so bad huh? Quickly, it’s important to note that Bruce Arians does not use a FB and that Rob Housler is an underrated solid TE. Anyway, the weakness on this team is easily OL. WInston and Cooper are the only above average players. Their WR corps is superb (just by having Fitz would make them good) and they have a competent QB who can get his targets the ball. Their RB is solid and has good ties  with Bruce from Pittsburgh. Moving on to their 3-4 Defense:

DT: Darnell Dockett

NT: Dan Williams

DE: Calais Campbell

OLB: Sam Acho

ILB: Daryl Washinton (suspended for four games)

ILB: Karlos Dansby

OLB: John Abraham

CB: Jerraud Powers

CB: Patrick Peterson

FS: Rashad Johnson

SS: Yeremiah Bell

Again, not so bad huh? In fact, the only glaring weakness I see is at the FS position. Plus this squad has nice depth with guys such as Kevin Minter, Lorenzo Alexander, Jasper Brinkley, Antoine Cason, Frostee Rucker, Matt Shaugnessy, Javier Arenas, and of course the Honey Badger. Still this squad doesn’t match up with their division rivals even though it’s pretty good. 6 games will be tough and they actually have a pretty hard schedule.

Record Prediction: 6-10

Conclusion:

This division is tight. The division champions is a toss up between the Niners and the Hawks but I give it to Seattle for now. Mainly due to SF’s poor secondary and injury bug. The other two teams are not far away and have built solid squads, what makes this division so deadly. Unlike last year, all four teams have dangerous offenses to go along with stout defenses. It will be interesting to see how it all rolls out. So many questions to be asked. Who do you think will win this division?

Please leave all thought, comments, questions, and suggestions below!

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3 thoughts on “Taking a Closer Look at the NFC West

    • My mistake
      LT-Joe Staley
      LG-Mike Iupati
      C-Johnathan Goodwin
      RG-Alex Boone
      RT-Anthony Davis
      Looking at this starting OL, it’s arguably the best in football and definitely the best run blocking OL
      Joe Staley is the best run blocker in the NFL and while he’s not an elite pass blocker he is still pretty good in that regard
      Both guards are solid overall as well
      Goodwin is good but he is getting up there in age
      Davis is a great pass blocker and good run blocker who is improving and may even be the best RT in football.
      It’s necessary to mention that the OL struggled in the first pre season game but I assume it was because they were rusty
      More importantly, the depth behind this OL is terrible.

  1. If there is one area of concern for Seattle it is Penalties. Personal Foul Penalties hurt them a great deal last year and tonight’s game against Denver seemed to bring back the nightmare scenarios. Hopefully Pete Carroll and crew can instill the need for composure after each snap of the ball. We all know that there is holding on every play from scrimmage. But there shouldn’t be any any excuse for Personal Foul Penalties. Only time will tell. One thing’s for certain, the NFC WEST is the Division to watch this year. I believe that the NFC Contender for this year’s Super Bowl will come from this Division.

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