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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - NFC West

Rick Gagliano | July 25, 2012

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

2011 record: 13-3

Predicted finish: 12-4

Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh

Departed: CB Shawntae Spencer, OL David Gonzales, LS Ryan Pontbriand, WR John Matthews, OT Kevin Murphy, WR Josh Morgan

Incoming: WR Mario Manningham, WR Randy Moss, RB Rock Cartwright, RB Brandon Jacobs, B Cameron Bell, LB Kourtnei Brown, DT Patrick Butrym, TE Garrett Celek, G David Gonzalez, RB Jewel Hampton, LB Joe Holland, DT Matthew Masifilo, CB Anthony Mosley, OT Kevin Murphy, G Al Netter, WR Chris Owusu, WR Nathan Palmer, QB Josh Johnson, RB LaMichael James

Strengths: Run defense. The 49ers were #1 in the league against the run last year and there's reason to believe their focus on defense will continue in 2012. Opponents gained just 77.3 yards per game and there have been no significant changes to their lineup or rotation. Rushing. Frank Gore bruised his way to 1211 yards in 2011 and he'll have company in Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James.

Weaknesses: Coming from behind. Because of the 49ers penchant for the run, late deficits are difficult to overcome. QB Alex Smith is maturing nicely, though and Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and rookie A.J. Jenkins should help in that department.

Key Games: Sun, Sep 9 at Green Bay; Sun, Sep 16 vs. Detroit; Sun, Dec 16 at New England; Sun, Dec 23 at Seattle

What if?: The 49ers don't make it back to the NFC championship?

Don't count on that happening. San Francisco has built a rugged, no-nonsense football team that has its eyes on the Super Bowl. If they don't win their division easily, it will likely be because of injuries or dropping games they should win. The week 15 game at New England and Dec. 23rd match-up at Seattle should be important tests.

Arizona Cardinals

2011 record: 8-8

Predicted finish: 8-8

Head Coach: Ken Whisenhunt

Departed: CB Korey Lindsey, LB Broderick Binns, DE Conrad Obi

Incoming: WR Michael Floyd, Eddie Elder, RB Javarris James, CB Larry Parker, K-P Ricky Schmitt, DE Landon Cohen, T Nate Potter, CB James Nixon, LB Colin Parker, CB Jamell Fleming

Strengths: Passing offense. With Larry Fitzgerald complemented by top draft pick Michael Floyd, Kevin Kolb should have plenty to work with downfield and the passing game should improve over last season, when the Cardinals were ranked 17th overall in passing yardage.

Weaknesses: Defense and turnovers. The Cardinals were a middling kind of defensive unit last season, allowing 355.1 yards to their 2011 opponents. While Arizona had some nice draft picks to help bolster the defense, it will take the rookies time to settle into the sytem. The defense only forcd 21 turnovers in 2011 and that will have to change if they're going to contend in the division.

Key Games: Sun, Sep 9 vs. Seattle; Sun, Sep 16 at New England; Sun, Sep 23 vs.Philadelphia; Sun, Nov 4 at Green Bay, Sun, Dec 30 at San Francisco.

What if?: The Cardinals start out 1-7 again?

They probably won't have as rough a start as they did in 2011, but prior to their week 10 bye, they do have New England, Philadelphia, san Francisco and Green Bay, and those are all tough match-ups, but from September 30 through October 21, they play Miami, St. Louis, Buffalo and Minnesota. If they don't win three of those four games, they'll be chasing all season. Despite their talent at wideout, this doesn't look like a playoff contender.

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St. Louis Rams

2011 record: 2-14

Predicted finish: 6-10

Head Coach: Jeff Fisher

Departed: WR Mardy Gilyard, WR Brandon Lloyd

Incoming: RB Isaiah Pead, WR Steve E, Smith, WR Brian Quick, RB Ovie Mughelli, B Todd Anderson, LB Sammy Brown, CB Jeremy Caldwell, LB Derrick Choice, DT Matt Conrath, S Matt Daniels, QB Austin Davis, TE Cory Harkey, G Michael Hay, C T. Bob Hebert, P John Hekker, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, DE Jamaar Jarrett

Strengths: Pass defense. Despite their horrendous 2-14 record in 2011, the secondary was actually a bright spot for the Rams, ranking 7th overall, though part of that was because they were so easy to run against (31st, 152.1 yards per game).

Weaknesses: Offense. Ranked 23rd rushing and 30th passing in 2011, though much of their inefficiency can be traced to injuries to QB Sam Bradford and RB Stephen Jackson, theough Jackson did finish with 1145 yards rushing. Their core linemen simply didn't get the job done and new head coach Jeff Fisher will have his hands full getting this group back to competitiveness.

Key Games: All of them.

What if?: Sam Bradford struggles again?

He probably will, so the Rams aren't expected to be much better than they were in 2011. Mardy Gilyard and Brandon Lloyd are gone, so Bradford will be working with more unknows in his wideouts. 20 or more interceptions are a real possibility for the young QB, who still hasn't proven himself in the NFL.

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Seattle Seahawks

2011 record: 7-9

Predicted finish: 5-11

Head Coach: Pete Carroll

Departed: QB Charlie Whitehurst, RB Justin Forsett, WR John Carlson, WR Mike Williams

Incoming: QB Matt Flynn, QB Russell Wison, RB Kregg Lumpkin, TE Kellen Winslow

Strengths: The schedule isn't too bad.

Weaknesses: Everything, including Pete Carroll's rah-rah coaching style. The Seahawks did well to finish 7-9 in the NFL's weakest divison last year, but the Rams may be a little better and San Francisco hammered them in the season opener and won a 19-17 battle which ended a three-game win streak late in the season. With out-of-division games against Dallas, Green Bay, New England, Detroit, the Jets, Bears and Bills, it could be a long season of near-invisibility in the great Northwest.

Key Games: Sun, Sep 16 vs. Dallas; Mon, Sep 24 vs. Green Bay; Sun, Oct 14 vs. New England; Sun, Oct 28 at Detroit; Sun, Dec 2 at Chicago

What if?: The players don't respond well to coach Carroll's upbeat message and style?

You can't blame them. The talent isn't there yet and losing may become contagious early into the season.

Copyright 2012, 2013, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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