I recently went through the entire NFL season and predicted every game. I will be using this information as part of my 2009 NFL Preview. NFC West will be the first division that we look at. Will Arizona run away with this division again? Can the Rams turn things around? With Hasselbeck healthy, can Seattle make the playoffs? Can Singletary straight out the 49ers? Check out our NFC West Preview.
Arizona Cardinals– (Projected Finish 10-6)
Arizona made an historic run last season to make it to the Super Bowl. They were just one play away from beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, but luck wasn’t on their side. Kurt Warner’s play was the difference between Arizona being a 6-10 team and an NFC Champion. If you subtract the game against the New England Patriots, Warner had one of his best seasons and Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald were the reasons for his comeback. The wide-receivers were great and even the tight end, Leonard Pope improved as more of an offensive threat. Their running game needed to be improved, so they cut ties with Edgerrin James and drafted Beanie Wells out of Ohio State. Tim Hightower will still be a factor, but they hope that Wells can stay healthy.
The Cardinals defense will be better in 2009. Karlos Dansby had a great year last year and so did Adrian Wilson. Players like Alan Branch and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are a year old and should improve even more.
It is crucial for the defense to step up, since Arizona will be tested a few times this year. They play Indianapolis and Carolina at home, but they have to travel to New York Giants, Chicago, and Tennessee. Those will not be easy games for the Cardinals. They should win the division, though improved a little, but is still very weak compared to other divisions. They will have a target on their backs this season, something that is very new for Arizona.
Seattle Seahawks– (Projected Finish 7-9)
The injury bug took a chunk out of the Seahawks in 2008. Matt Hasselbeck dealt with a back injury throughout the year last season. Their wide-receiving corps were a few men short since Nate Burleson, Bobby Engram, and Deion Branch all miss considerable time. They have all their offensive weapons this year and have even added T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Edgerrin James, and rookie wide-receiver, Deon Butler. They should be much better and will be able to put a lot of points on the board.
Lofa Tutupu will be the anchor of this defense and it should be pretty good. They added Aaron Curry through the draft and will look nice next to Patrick Kerney. Their weakest part of the defense is their secondary. They don’t have the depth that most teams have. Kelly Jennings and Marcus Trufant are good, but after them, there is a drop-off. Teams should be able to pass all over them unless they get can get a consistent pass rush.
Seattle has a very hard non-divisional schedule. They have to play Dallas, Chicago, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, and Indianapolis, all of those games will not be gimmes. They have a distinct advantage with their home field, but many of their tougher games are on the road. I predicted them to be 7-9, but there is probably a 2 game margin of error with that prediction. They will be in a lot of close games, but it will probably take 10 games to make the playoffs in the NFC.
San Francisco 49ers– (Projected Finish 6-10)
Mike Singletary will have an entire season to improved the 49ers, since he took over mid-season last year. He is a disciplined coach and expects the most out of his players. When it played with the Chicago Bears, he was a field general and I expect him to add a few wins to this year’s win total. His quarterback situation is still a mess. Alex Smith is back from injury, but Shaun Hill has been named the starter. You never know what Singletary will do, if both of those quarterbacks see time and struggle, Nate Davis may get a shot. Frank Gore is expected to have a great year, since the wide-receiving corps lacks star power. Their first-round draft pick, Michael Crabtree, still hasn’t sign with the team, so Josh Morgan, Arnaz Battle, and Isaac Bruce will be the starters.
Patrick Willis is a superstar on defense and should be a Defensive Player of the Year contender in 2009. He has been nothing but phenomenal since they drafted him two seasons ago. Takeo Spikes, Dre Bly, and Nate Clements are the three veterans expected to help out this young defense. Ricky-Jean Francois is a rookie out of LSU and could help out a lot, if he can stay motivated.
The 49ers’ first-half of the schedule is very difficult. Their first eight contests have games againt the Colts, Falcons, Vikings, Titans, and Cardinals. The second-half of their schedule is more manageable and should see some wins toward the end of the year.
St. Louis Rams– (Projected Finish 3-13)
The Rams may have trouble at quarterback this season, unless Marc Bulger regains his 2006 form. They don’t have much of an insurance policy, since their only back-up with any NFL game experience is Kyle Boller. They may need to rely on RB Steven Jackson even more than in past years. He will have to carry the load, since Rams don’t have much of a receiving corps either. Donnie Avery is their only receiver with any experience as a starting receiver. They lost Torry Holt to free-agency and didn’t replace his productivity well, they signed WR Tim Carter to fill his spot.
Coach Steve Spagnuolo help lead the New York Giants defense into the playoffs the last few seasons. He loves to blitz and does it very often, but as the new coach of the Rams, he may not have the personnel to accomplish his goals on defense. The best players on defense are still very young. Chris Long, Adam Carriker, and James Laurinaitis are their young gems, but they don’t have much experience. They lack depth at any position and will have a rough time all season keeping the ball in front of them.
The Rams aren’t expected to do a complete turnaround this season. They didn’t go out and sign any big-name free agents and are looking for the draft to build their team. If they can get three wins this year, they should take it. They will have a hard time scoring points and keeping points from being scored. Spagnuolo will try and help the defense any way he can, but unfortunately he doesn’t have Michael Strahan or Osi Umenyiora on his team.