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NFC West 2011-2012 Predictions
The division in the past few years has been a joke due to the terrible records the teams have put up. The division was also scrutinized because the Seahawks won the division last season with a record of 7-9, while a team like the Buccaneers didn't make the playoffs with a record of 10-6. Each team in the division has won the division at least once, while the Seahawks lead the way as they have won the division five times. While the teams in the division this year have made changes to improve their clubs and improve their chances in their future, they still are unlikely to compete for a championship this year. The Cardinals and the Rams are the only teams with a dependable quarterback and look to be the teams at the top of the division because of it.
1. St. Louis Rams (7-9)
The Rams are in a good position to win the division because they have a serviceable defense led by Chris Long, James Laurinitis and newcomer Quintin Mikell to go along with a solid offensive attack led by Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson. The Rams also did their best in the off-season to make things easier on Sam Bradford as they hired offensive guru Josh McDaniels to be the offensive coordinator and signed one of the best offensive guards in the business to protect him. Each team in the division has flaws, but the Rams have the least amount of flaws and look to be the best team in the division this year and for years to come.
Player to Watch - Quintin Mikell
Mikell was a valuable member of the Philadelphia Eagles defense for his entire career as he stabilized the defensive backs and was the leader, which is exactly what the Rams needed. The Rams have good defensive players but they needed a guy like Mikell who is used to winning and has seen all kinds of different things in his career. His experience, leadership and overall play will be valuable to the Rams defense as he now makes their secondary solid. He is also a versatile safety as he can play against the run and play coverage which helps the Rams significantly. The Rams defense against the pass and the run were in the bottom half of the league last season, adding a player of Mikell's caliber will certainly help them improve.
Mikell in his past three seasons has reached close to 90 tackles each year, while forcing fumbles and getting a couple interceptions a season.
Player on the Rise - Sam Bradford
Bradford has a solid rookie campaign with a below average offense last season. He impressed everyone with his accuracy as he completed sixty percent of his attempts. Wide receivers Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson made great strides to improve upon their respective games and Amendola especially had great chemistry with Bradford as he led the team in receptions with 85. To help improve upon the offense the team hired Josh McDaniels to coach the offense. McDaniels has had success coaching the offense in Denver as Kyle Orton had his best seasons under McDaniels with average wide receivers that were also less talented that Amendola and Gibson. The front office also made a great move by adding Harvey Dahl, the offensive guard from the Atlanta Falcons, to help keep Bradford off of his back and the also added another wide receiver in Mike Sims-Walker who could breakout in McDaniels system. Look for Bradford to continue to improve and possibly become a top ten quarterback in the NFL if not this year then next year.
2. Arizona Cardinals (7-9)
The Cardinals addressed their biggest needs this off-season by improving their offense greatly by adding a quality quarterback in Kevin Kolb and by giving him a safety valve in tight end Todd Heap. Heap may be in the tail end of his career but he still is a much better option at tight end then anything Arizona has had in the past couple of seasons. The Cardinals ranked thirty-first in offensive yards and passing touchdowns, with the addition of Kolb those numbers will surely increase. The Cardinals were unable to significantly upgrade their defense as they traded Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie but drafted top cornerback Patrick Peterson who will certainly be a good player but still needs time to develop. The linebackers are also still old and the Cardinals defense is built to play like the Steelers, and having washed up outside linebackers will make them struggle again on defense. The Cardinals did however add LB Stewart Bradley who was the starting middle linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles and will probably play inside to help stop the running game of opposing offenses.
Player to Watch - Kevin Kolb
Kevin Kolb was never put into good situations when he played in Philadelphia which skewed his career numbers in a negative way. He did struggle to get the ball out quickly at times but during the off-season and the long lockout he worked out to strengthen his back which has significantly helped him get the ball out quicker and throw harder. Kolb has also worked out with star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald before they were teammates and Fitzgerald was the one that pleaded with management to bring Kolb in. Knowing that the two of them already have chemistry together will not only help them out on the field but also off the field knowing Fitzgerald's contract situation. Fitzgerald has also made comments about how Kolb has been playing in camps and he is surprised how Kolb trusts him to catch any ball no matter what the coverage is already. Fitzgerald also said that it took previous quarterback Kurt Warner awhile to realize that, and when they did, well just look at the success they had. Fitzgerald could be a free agent at the end of this season, but due to what the front office did to get Kolb, it is doubtful that Fitzgerald will leave.
Player to Watch - Beanie Wells
Due to the lack of wide receivers outside of Larry Fitzgerald, it is expected that the Cardinals will try to establish the running game to take pressure off of Kevin Kolb in games. They have also been saying this for the past few seasons ever since drafting Beanie Wells but he has never lived up to his potential. Wells, however, is looking much better in camp now as he is running hard and with authority. If Wells can live up to his potential and our rookie Ryan Williams can play well then the Cardinals running game will be much improved and be a great one-two punch out of the backfield. Wells is key though, and he has to perform this season if he wants to remain a Cardinal past this season.
3. Seattle Seahawks (6-10)
The Seahawks won the division last season even though last in almost every offensive category while their defense was mostly middle of the pack. Last season the Seahawks scored 310 points while giving up 407, and in the off-season they lost quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to free agency and signed Tarvaris Jackson and Sidney Rice from the Minnesota Vikings. Jackson steps in as the starting quarterback and while he didn't do anything of note in Minnesota the Seahawks are very confident in his abilities. It also helps he has his teammate jumping ship with him and that the Seahawks offensive line has been re-built through the draft with picks like James Carpenter and by adding Robert Gallery in free agency. The Seahawks still don't have enough in terms of offensive firepower to consistently compete, which is why they will struggle this season.
Player to Watch - Sidney Rice
Wide Receivers careers go to die in Seattle, for example Deion Branch and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Hopefully, Sidney Rice can turn around that trend, and probably will. Branch and T.J. were both older when they jumped ship to Seattle and not as talented as Rice is. Rice is also still only twenty-four years old and going into his fifth season now. Rice, however, has only played sixteen games a season once and has missed a total of sixteen games in his career. The Seahawks signed him hoping he could return to his 2009 form where he had 83 receptions for 1,312 yards and 8 touchdowns. If Rice can return to that form, then he immediately upgrades this offense. Pressure will be taken off of him as well due to signing of Zach Miller who will dominate the middle of the field. Miller has had close to sixty catches a season in each of his past three seasons and will provide a solid safety valve for Tarvaris Jackson.
Player on the Rise - Tarvaris Jackson
Jackson never had the trust of his head coach when he played in Minnesota and it showed. Childress feared playing Jackson at quarterback so much that he went out of his way to get Brett Favre to play for the Vikings two years in a row. Due to this, when Jackson would play he was never comfortable and always felt unneeded pressure. Now that he is a Seattle Seahawk and is guaranteed the starting job, he has no pressure and can just play to the best of his abilities. The Seahawks did a good job of bringing in his old teammate Sidney Rice who can help ease the transition for Jackson, as can TE Zach Miller. Jackson also has the benefit of a promising offensive line playing in front of him, but an early pre-season injury to left tackle Russell Okung has to be a scary thing for Jackson and the Seahawks.
Jackson in his career has a QB rating of 76.6 with 24 touchdowns, 22 interceptions and 10 fumbles.
4. San Francisco 49ers (5-11)
The Niners biggest move this off-season was hiring new head coach, Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh coached the Stanford University for the past few seasons in the college ranks and had great success with them and helped groom future number one overall pick, Andrew Luck. The Niners hope that by bringing in someone of Harbaugh's stature that he can turn around the offense. They also bolstered their wide receiver corp by adding Braylon Edwards from the Jets who will now play opposite Michael Crabtree. The biggest surprise of the off-season has been the changes on the defensive side of the ball. They let go of defensive leader Takeo Spikes, Manny Lawson, Nate Clements, and Aubrayo Franklin. However, the defense still will be okay due to the first round pick pass-rushing specialist Aldon Smith and the signings of Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers and Madieu Williams.
Player to Watch - Donte Whitner
Donte Whitner comes in as the starting free safety immediately and automatically upgrades the back end of their defense. Last season was Whitner's best season as he racked up 140 tackles and a forced fumble to go along with an interception. He is the ideal safety for a 3-4 attacking defense as he can both play the pass and play the run as he is a stout tackler for his position. Whitner will also improve the Niners defense due to his veteran leadership and his ability to adjust the defense pre-snap. The Niners are in a clear re-building mode but still have an abundance of young talent on both sides of the ball, so bringing in a guy like Whitner, with his leadership was ideal.
Player on the Rise - Michael Crabtree
Michael Crabtree has had a decent career but has yet to live up to his potential. You could attribute it to his quarterback's play or lack thereof or the offensive play-calling. Either way, Crabtree's production has been solid but could for sure improve. With Harbaugh now coaching the team and being more offensive orientated, Crabtree is poised for a breakout year. Atleast he should hope. If he doesn't put it together soon enough and become the number one receiver that he is meant to be, then he may be shown the door. Crabtree should be able to dominate corners using his combination of speed, hands, and size. He also doesn't see double teams either due to Vernon Davis being the clear cut best offensive weapon on the team. Crabtree should also benefit from the arrival of Braylon Edwards to play opposite himself.
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- AFC South 2011-2012 Predictions
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- AFC North 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions on how the AFC North could pan out this season
- AFC East 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions on how the AFC East teams could do this upcoming season
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- NFC East 2011-2012 Predictions
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- NFC North 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions of how the NFC North will pan out
- NFC South 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions on how the NFC South will shake out