With the regular-season over, I thought I’d look back at the predictions I made before the regular season started. This was the first time I’d done NFC West predictions and it was more difficult than I thought it would be. Even reading the hometown newspapers and scouting the team’s fan websites, getting the predictions right for a team over an entire season was a lot harder than picking week to week game winners or managing a fantasy team.
One of the things I wasn’t able to predict was what a powerhouse the NFC West would become throughout the season. From teams like the Cardinals starting off 4 and 0, to the scrappy repuation of the Rams, to the “team that no one wants to play” nickname that got hung on the Seahawks to the flawless defense of the 49ers… The NFC West definitely made a name for itself this year. So let’s look back and see what I predicted!
Number 4- Arizona Cardinals – Even their own fan base is down on the Cards. With a tough schedule at the start including Seattle, Philly and New England, the Card’s iffy QB and lackluster O-Line will be challenged as they come out of the gate. Even the end of the season schedule does them no favors with an away game to Seattle, playing Chicago and Detroit at home and then finishing at San Fran. This team will be truly tested. Expect to see Kalb playing again as Skelton struggles. Even with a few surprise wins during the season, the Cards will be in the bottom of the NFC west this year.
Note: I’ll take this. The cards did have some surprise wins but their schedule and QB injuries were far more than they could handle.
Number 3- St Louis Rams – The Ram’s youth as team remains a question mark for this season even as QB Sam Bradford settles into his job as somewhat of an elder statesman as a two year man. As the youngest team in the NFL, there have been plenty of jokes regarding Fruit Loops and Cartoons at the hotel… But, this team has done a drastic restructure and is prepared to live with the consequences. There are 17 rookies on the St. Louis Rams’ opening day roster, seven more players age 24 or younger and 31 in all on the 53-man roster who were not with the franchise last season. Expect to see flashes of brilliance as well as plenty of penalties in the first part of the season as the team gels. The Rams will finish behind the dual powerhouses of Seattle and San Fran.
Note: I’ll take this one too! The Rams did show flashes of brilliance and despite the strong efforts of Sam Bradford they did finish a good distance behind Seattle and San Fran (Although their gutsy play against San Fran got them the tie this year, which was very impressive!)
Number 2 – San Francisco 49ers – While there are any number of claims that the opening 49er/packer game may be a preview of the NFC playoff, there are those in the club house wondering if things will go as smoothly this year as they did last year. In an effort to keep their NFC west champ status, the 49ers brought in Moss and Manningham to help Smith improve his passing performance that was 29th out of 32 last year. With a top ranked D to fall back on should offense become stagnant, expect the 49ers to be competitive. Their real challenge will be remaining consistent as 4 of their last 6 games are on the road. Their D will keep them in 2nd place behind the Seahawks.
Number 1 – Seattle Seahawks – After the changes made in the off-season, it’s hard to say the Hawks won’t take their division. Unlike other teams wondering which QB to start, Seattle has two excellent options instead of “the lesser of two evils”. Russell Wilson has shown excellent skills and preparation and has a fascinating group of receivers to throw to including free agent Braylon Edwards who was sterling in preseason. Factor that in with the improved O-line (Hello JR Sweezy!), the improved running game (Mr. Turbin) and the strength of the Hawks D, and you have the team most likely to win the west! While their passing D was ranked 11th last year, expect that to be even more improved this year with the addition of Bruce Irvin and his outside speed when he rushes the passer. The Hawks secondary is loaded with pro bowl level talent (Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor – otherwise known as the Legion of Boom) and should give opposing QBs nightmares. Expect the Seahawks to take this division despite closely contested games with the 49ers.
Note: I totally got the order wrong between San Fran and the Seahawks. I knew it would be close but I erred on my estimate regarding how long it would take Russell Wilson to become proficient. I also missed the contribution Bobby Wagner made and I didn’t consider that the 49ers wouldn’t start Smith as QB all season. Even with those miscalculations, I was only off by half a game on the final result.
It will be very interesting to look at the NFC West prior to the beginning of next year’s regular-season. With the Cardinals replacing their coach, I’m looking for a lot of changes with that team. The Rams should further solidify and I look for them to play their division even tougher than they did this year. The Seattle/ San Fran rivalry should continue to fuel fan bases in both regions. Expect gutsy, hard-hitting, take – no – prisoners games between these two franchises next year.
If you had to pick a division winner for next year right now, who would you pick?