Tag Archives: Bruce Arians

2017 NFC West Projections

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X-Seattle Seahawks 11-5

Six of the last seven years have seen the Seattle Seahawks make the playoffs, but after they lost the Super Bowl in February 2015, they’ve lacked the ability to be recognized as a strong Super Bowl contender. Since Seattle won the Super Bowl in February 2014, age, injuries, free agency, and the salary cap crunch have caught up to them. Seahawks general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have stuck to their guns which has seen them focus on drafting in the hopes of maintaining depth at each position. And as some players have been harder to replace than others, it has shown up in key regular season losses for Seattle as well as when they were eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs in each of the last two years. But as a new season is set to begin in the National Football League, will the Seahawks be able to put all of that behind them and make another push at winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy?

Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson was the starting quarterback for the Seahawks when they won the Super Bowl, but the heart and soul on offense for that championship team was running back Marshawn Lynch. Last year saw Lynch retire from the National Football League and in the process the Seahawks running game suffered. In 2016, the Seahawks were 25th in the NFL in rushing with their leading rusher being Christine Michael with only 469 yards.

In the off-season the Seahawks signed former Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy in the hopes of giving their stagnant running game a boost. Lacy had a strong start to his National Football League career in 2013 with the Packers. That season saw Lacy gain 1,178 yards on the ground and in the process he was named as the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. However weight issues have hampered Lacy ever since which led to him falling out of favor in Green Bay. But I do expect Lacy to have an impact with Seattle this year due to the fact that he has incentives in his contract to keep his weight down.

And a solid season be Lacy should benefit Wilson. In five years as the Seahawks starting quarterback, Wilson’s career record is 56-23-1. Wilson’s passing yardage has increased in each season, however when he has a big passing game the Seahawks generally lose. The Seahawks offense is predicated on balance and as good of a winner the Wilson is, he cannot carry the offense by his lonesome.

Doug Baldwin

Surprisingly the Seahawks traded veteran wide receiver Jermaine Kearse this off-season, but Wilson still has his “BFF” in wide receiver Doug Baldwin while after tight end Jimmy Graham dealt with injuries as well as trying to figure things out in Seattle in 2015 was able to bounce back last year for one of the most productive seasons of his career. And although that Graham is set to become 31-years of age in November, he can still get it down for the Seahawks; especially in the red zone.

Last year the Seahawks were fifth in the National Football League in total defense and this unit is at its best when all 11 players are flying around the football. For the longest time Seattle has had a stout defensive line with pass rushers such as Cliff Avril, Frank Clark, and Michael Bennett set to have an impact this season. But the rich got richer when the Seahawks were able to acquire defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson from the New York Jets this summer.

Richardson was able to burst onto the scene with the Jets in 2013 as he was named as the National Football League’s Rookie of the Year, while making the Pro Bowl in 2014. The best way to describe Richardson is that he is a disruptor on the defensive line and when he is on top of his game, he is one of the top defensive tackles in the game. However the downside is that Richardson can take plays off and lose focus. But if there is an organization that can bring out the best in Richardson, it would be the Seahawks.

Bobby Wagner

Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner led the National Football League in tackles last year with 167, while outside linebacker K.J. Wright is one of the most underrated players at his position. The Seahawks secondary is still home to some of the top alpha males in the NFL in cornerback Richard Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas, and strong safety Kam Chancellor. Thomas is looking to bounce back after he suffered a broken leg last year and the Seahawks secondary simply wasn’t the same without him. But overall this unit could be ready to once again be dominant this season.

In 2015, Blair Walsh was one of the most accurate kickers in the National Football League as he connected on more than 87% of his kicks as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. But Walsh will only be remembered for missing a 27-yard field goal in the closing seconds of a wild card loss to the Seahawks. Walsh would have a hard time getting over the miss which led to the Vikings releasing him last year. However Walsh has now been presented with the chance to get back on track as a member of the Seahawks, and whereas Carroll has been known to coach his guys up, Walsh could be ready to bounce back in a big way this season.

The beginning and the end of the Seahawks schedule will be the toughest portion as they’ll open on the road against the Packers, while they will finish up with the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals. But when it is all said and done, Seattle should be in line to claim another NFC West Title.

Arizona Cardinals 10-6

At the start of the 2016 National Football League season, the expectations were high for the Arizona Cardinals. The previous season had seen the Cardinals reach the NFC Championship Game for just the second time in franchise history. However the Cardinals would be up and down last season which began in their first game when they lost at home to the eventual Super Bowl Champions in the New England Patriots who didn’t have the services of quarterback Tom Brady. And as the Cards finished with a record of 7-8-1, they have still failed to make the postseason in three consecutive years. But as the Cards finished 2016 by winning their final two games which included knocking off the Seattle Seahawks on the road for the second consecutive year, maybe they can carry that momentum over into the new season.

Bruce Arians

Since Bruce Arians has been the head coach of the Cardinals, he has relied on Carson Palmer to be his starting quarterback. Palmer is entering his 13th years in the National Football League and as he is set to be 38-years of age in December, it will paramount for Arizona’s offensive line to keep him protected due to the fact that he is not that mobile.

Palmer isn’t the only veteran who is a key component to the Cardinals. The last 13 years have seen wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald morph into one of the best pass catchers that the National Football League has ever seen. And the age of 34, Fitzgerald isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Fitzgerald led the NFL in receptions last season with 107, while he still commands a double team.

But the Cardinals cannot solely rely on Fitzgerald in their passing game which means that wide receiver John Brown needs to have a bounce back season. After Brown gained 1,003 receiving yards in 2015, he struggled at times last year and in the process he fell out of favor with Arians as he was only able to tally 517 yards.

David Johnson

Very rapidly running back David Johnson has emerged as one of the better all-purpose backs in the National Football League and his 1,239 rushing yards were seventh in the league last season. But what set Johnson apart was his ability at the goal line as he had 16 touchdowns on the ground. And if the Cardinals are able to get some consistency from their wide receivers who are not named Fitzgerald, Johnson could be even more dangerous with defenses being unable to solely focus on him.

For Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher, it is all about “organized chaos” with his unit. The Cards defense is all about putting as much pressure as possible on opposing offenses and it also good that the players in Arizona can rely on some former National Football League players as assistant coaches. Kevin Ross played in the NFL for 14 years and now he serves as the Cardinals defensive backs coach. Larry Foote spent 13 years in the NFL which included winning a pair of Super Bowl Championships as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and now he serves as Arizona’s inside linebackers coach. Brenston Buckner spent 12 years in the NFL as a defensive tackle and now he is coaching the defensive line for Arizona.

But even with all of that experience on the sidelines, it is the Cardinals players who have to go out on the field and make it happen, however they have the people to do so. Defensive ends Robert Nkemdiche and Frostee Rucker can provide pressure up front, while the Cardinals could have one of the best linebacking cores in the National Football League. Outside linebackers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden have become one of the bookend pass rushing tandems in the NFL which should compliment rookie inside linebacker Haason Reddick and Karlos Dansby who is set to begin his third stint with the club.

The Cardinals secondary is home to a wealth of play makers as well. Cornerback Patrick Peterson is one of the best in the business in regards to one-on-one coverage, while free safety Tyrann Mathieu has rapidly developed into arguably the top all-around safety in the National Football League due to his ability to play both the run and the pass. The Cards have depth in their secondary which includes strong safety Tyvon Branch and cornerback Tramon Williams. And this depth has allowed the Cardinals to play Deone Bucannon at linebacker as opposed to his natural position of safety.

Special teams were an issue last year for Arizona as well, but the acquisition of kicker Phil Dawson should remedy that being that he is one of the most accurate kickers in National Football League history. And it will also help the veteran kicker in Dawson that all of Arizona’s home games will be played indoors.

Only one of Arizona’s first nine games will be played against a team that made the playoffs last season. And a fast start for Arians and his team could be just what they need to make it back to the postseason.

Los Angeles Rams 6-10

The 2016 National Football League season saw the Rams return to the City of Los Angeles for the first time since 1994. And although that the Rams were initially welcomed with excitement for their return to Southern California, it waned rather quickly. The Rams went 4-12 last year for their tenth consecutive losing season. In the process the Rams went through two different head coaches as Jeff Fisher was fired after the team’s 4-9 start. The Rams finished with the fifth worst record in the National Football League, but they didn’t have a first-round pick to show for their inefficiency due to a trade in 2016 with the Tennessee Titans. 31-year old Sean McVay has been hired to be the Rams new head coach. And as critics will attempt to use McVay’s age against him, will he be the guy to get things turned around in Los Angeles?

McVay was given the Rams job on the premise that he would be able to develop quarterback Jared Goff into a quality National Football League quarterback. The Rams used the first overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft on Goff and in the process they mortgaged the future by giving up multiple first-round picks in order to obtain him.

Jared Goff

Last year Goff began his National Football League career by watching from the sidelines. Goff would go on to start seven games for the Rams, but he was never able to lead them to a victory. As expected Goff struggled as he only completed 54.6% of his passes, while throwing 5 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. Overall the Rams offense was last in the NFL in total offense, but the entire blame cannot be placed on Goff.

After being the National Football League’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015, running back Todd Gurley regressed last season. Gurley only gained 885 yards on the ground last season as he wilted in the Hollywood spotlight. But if the Rams want to have any success on offense this year, Gurley will need to run like he did when the team still called St. Louis home.

Sammy Watkins

The Rams passing game should receive a boost this year as the team acquired wide receiver Sammy Watkins from the Buffalo Bills. After the Bills moved up in the first round of the 2014 National Football League Draft to select Watkins, he was never able to live up to the hype as he has constantly been injured. And it hasn’t helped Watkins that wide receivers who were selected after him such as New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. are consistently Pro Bowlers. But now Watkins has the opportunity to wipe the slate clean with the Rams as he needs to get on the same page with the young Goff.

Defensively the Rams were ninth in the National Football League in total defense last year, but at times they were a very undisciplined bunch. The Rams were the fifth most penalized team in the NFL last year with the defense accounting for their fair share. The Rams have talented players on the defensive side of the ball, but they’ve simply been unable to make it all come together consistently.

Aaron Donald

It has not taken defensive tackle Aaron Donald that long to become one of the best players at his position in the National Football League. In just three years Donald has tallied 28 sacks which is an incredible number for a player who spends the majority of his time on the interior of the defensive line. This off-season has seen Donald attempt to be compensated like one of the top players in the league, but to no avail. And as Donald and the Rams have been unable to come to an agreement on a long-term deal, he sat out for the entire off-season which has cast some doubt over his availability for the regular season.

The Rams defense will look different without Donald on defense, but they still have a strong group of linebackers which includes outside linebacker Robert Quinn, along with inside linebackers Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron. Quinn has spent his entire National Football League career as a defensive end, but with Wade Phillips taking over as the Rams defensive coordinator, Quinn’s role has changed. Phillips is a proponent of the 3-4 defense as opposed to the 4-3 as it is all about supplying as much pressure as possible on opposing offenses. However Phillips knows how to get results with his defenses which included his most recent stint as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos which led to a Super Bowl Championship to culminate the 2015 National Football League season.

The Rams are going to need some luck in order to be a playoff team in 2017, and they’ll have to take advantage of the early portion of their schedule which will see them host the Indianapolis Colts who won’t have the services of quarterback Andrew Luck, and the Dallas Cowboys who won’t have running back Ezekiel Elliot.

San Francisco 49ers 1-15

It’s hard to believe, but it was less than five years ago that the San Francisco 49ers were in the Super Bowl and they were one play away from winning it all. Since then the championship caliber team that had been built by former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has been rapidly destroyed with only three players who were on San Francisco’s roster during their Super Bowl run currently still there. And after San Francisco has only been able to win a combined seven games over the last two years, Niners owner Jed York has decided to push the reset button and start over as he has welcomed in a new general manager and head coach to his organization.

York hired John Lynch to be San Francisco’s new general manager. Lynch doesn’t have any prior front office experience in the National Football League, but most notably he was a standout free safety for 15 years which included appearing in nine Pro Bowls and winning a Super Bowl Title as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Lynch gave up a cushy job as a color analyst for FOX Sports to join the 49ers, but as he brings the same passion and intensity that he played with to the front office, things could be turned around in San Francisco sooner rather than later.

Lynch’s first order of business was to hire Kyle Shanahan as the 21st head coach in 49ers franchise history. Shanahan learned the ins and outs of the coaching profession from his father Mike who won a pair of Super Bowl Championships as the head coach of the Denver Broncos. The younger Shanahan has been the offensive coordinator for several teams in the National Football League with his most recent stint being with the Atlanta Falcons.

However Shanahan’s stint with the 49ers will begin under a cloud of controversy as his last game with the Falcons was Super Bowl 51 where his offense could not maintain a 28-3 lead versus the New England Patriots. And now Shanahan must redeem himself as he looks to make San Francisco a contender.

It’s tough to get overly excited for the Niners this season once you look at their quarterbacking situation. The two quarterbacks who are currently on the 49ers roster are veteran Brian Hoyer and rookie C.J. Beathard. In eight years in the National Football League, Hoyer has a career record of 16-15 with a completion percentage of 59.5%, while Beathard has never attempted a pass in the league.

Overall San Francisco is lacking play makers on the offensive side of the football. Each of the last two years have seen the Niners fail to produce a 1,000-yard running back, while the only bright spot for the offense is left tackle Joe Staley who is a five-time Pro Bowler.

With Lynch leading the way, he is going to attempt to rebuild the defense; more than likely in the variation of the Cover 2 defense that he is most familiar with which is the “Tampa 2”. The strength of the Cover 2 is right up the middle of the defense which is currently a huge weakness for the Niners. And as San Francisco was dead last in the National Football League last year in total defense which included surrendering at least 35 points in a contest five times, there still isn’t that much to get that excited about in regards to this group.

The only two victories that the 49ers were able to attain last year were over the Los Angeles Rams. And as this year appears to be a throw away for the Niners, victories will once again be few and far between.

X-Division Winner

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2016 NFC West Projections

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X-Seattle Seahawks 12-4

The past four years have been the best stretch of football in the franchise history of the Seattle Seahawks. Over the stretch the Seahawks have a regular season record of 46-18 while they also have a Super Bowl Championship to their credit. And since Pete Carroll became the Seahawks head coach in 2010, this team has had depth at every position along with a competitive fire. In spite of not winning the NFC West last year, the Seahawks found a way to win a road playoff game before falling to the Carolina Panthers in the Divisional Playoffs. And as Seattle bid farewell to running back Marshawn Lynch who was arguably the most physical runner in the history of the Seahawks, this is a team that is ready to make another run at winning the Super Bowl.

Russell Wilson

As the Seahawks record over the last four years is 46-18, a solid portion of that can be attributed to quarterback Russell Wilson. In four years as the Seahawks quarterback, Wilson has provided the Seahawks with strong leadership at the most important position on the field. Aside from the quality winning percentage, Wilson knows how to take care of the football as in four years in the National Football League, he has only thrown 34 interceptions. And Wilson’s ability to protect the football, along with his strong pocket awareness put the Seahawks in a position to win each game.

The Seahawks will miss the powerful runs of Lynch, but as he missed the majority of the 2015 National Football League season due to injury, they were still third in the league in rushing. Wilson’s elusiveness as a runner will once again be on display, while the Seahawks have high expectations for running back Thomas Rawls. In 13 games with the Seahawks in 2015, Rawls averaged 5.6 yards per carry and he was on his way to gaining 1,000 yards before a broken ankle ended his campaign. But if Rawls is able to regain his form, he has plenty of speed and elusiveness in the backfield that will compliment Wilson.

The Seahawks don’t have Pro Bowlers at the wide receiver position, but it doesn’t hurt that Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Tyler Lockett are in sync with Wilson. Baldwin has become Wilson’s most dependable wide receiver; especially on third downs and scrambling situations, and that will once again be the case in 2016.

In the last two off-seasons there has been some roster overhaul on the Seahawks offensive line, but the new additions of offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb and guard Jahri Evans will need to keep the machine that has become the Seattle offense going.

Defensively the Seahawks can still get after opponents with the best of them as they were second in the National Football League last year in total defense. The Seahawks defense will miss the contributions of defensive end/outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, but they still have defensive end Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Aside from cornerback Richard Sherman, Bennett might have the biggest mouth in the Pacific Northwest. And just like Sherman, Bennett knows how to back it up as his motor on the field is just as active as his mouth.

Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas

But make no mistake about the fact the strength of the Seahawks defense is still in their secondary where they have a trio of All-Pros in Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas, and strong safety Kam Chancellor who can change the game plan of opposing quarterbacks.

Under Carroll, there isn’t a facet of the game that the Seahawks don’t take for granted as you can see with their commitment to special teams. The Seahawks have one of the best place kickers in the National Football League in Steven Hauschka, a punter in Jon Ryan who typically sets the defense up with great field position, and a kick returner in Lockett who has shown in a very short time that he is always one step away from breaking a big return.

In recent years the Seahawks toughest opponent has been the Los Angeles Rams, and when these two clash in Week 2, it could set the tone for each team’s season. But when the smoke clears at the end of the season, the Seahawks should once again be the team to beat in the NFC West.

Y-Arizona Cardinals 12-4

This is the dawn of a new day for the Arizona Cardinals as for the first time since 1974-1976 when the franchise still called St. Louis, Missouri home, the Cardinals have put together three consecutive seasons in which they’ve won at least 10 games. The Cardinals also made the NFC Championship Game last year for just the second time in franchise history as there has been a definite culture change that has taken place on the watch of head coach Bruce Arians and the folks in cactus country are definitely thinking about their team winning the Super Bowl.

Carson Palmer

The success of the Cardinals begins with the health of quarterback Carson Palmer. At 36-years of age, Palmer has bounced around during his National Football League career which has included stints with the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders. Palmer is still a very capable quarterback, but it comes down to his health as the injury bug has bitten him several times during his career.

Arians has gone to work as far as putting a solid team around Palmer that begins with the Cardinals offensive line. Guard Mike Iupati is entering his seventh National Football League season and each of the last four years have seen him reach the Pro Bowl as he is rapidly developing a reputation as one of the best guards in the game. Guard Evan Mathis joins the Cards after helping the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl last year. And as the Cardinals are Mathis’ sixth NFL team, Arizona is hopeful that his experience will pay dividends for them this year. The Cardinals also employ two of the larger offensive tackles in football with D.J. Humphries and Jared Veldheer as this is the unit that is charged with keeping Palmer’s uniform clean.

Bruce Arians

Under Arians, the Cards have been committed to a solid running game which was evident by the fact that Arizona finished 2015 eighth in the National Football League in rushing. The Cardinals have a trio of running backs in Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington, and David Johnson that each possesses a different running style which keeps opposing defenses on their toes.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is set to begin his 13th year with the Cardinals. And as Fitzgerald is getting older, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down as he still has some of the best hands in football while being a dependable pass catcher for Palmer. Aside from Fitzgerald, the Cards have speed at wide receiver in the form of John Brown, along with Michael Floyd who has a big frame as he can ward off smaller defensive backs.

In 2015, the Cardinals were fifth in the National Football League in total defense as this is a veteran unit that has turned into a band of brothers. Arians has made it a point to hire former NFL players, and if you look at the Cards defensive coaching staff, defensive line coach Brenston Buckner, linebackers coach Larry Foote, and defensive backs coach Kevin Ross all played in the league which makes it easier as they can relate to their players.

The Cardinals typically run the 3-4 defense which requires a stout defensive line to open up things for the rest of the defense. On Arizona’s defensive line, the likes of Red Bryant and Calais Campbell never stop moving, while the expectations are high for rookie defensive end Robert Nkemdiche who was the Cardinals first-round pick this past spring. This off-season has seen the Cardinals acquire outside linebacker Chandler Jones from the New England Patriots as he is one of the best pass rushers in the National Football League which only makes this unit stronger.

But just like the Seattle Seahawks, the Cardinals possess one of the best secondaries in football. Cornerback Patrick Peterson has great tremendous cover skills, while safety Tyrann Mathieu is turning into one of the best defensive players in the league. And Arizona also has a hard hitting strong safety in Deone Bucannon who is known to creep up into the box as a run stopper as he is indeed an intimidator.

Of the Cardinals first six games in 2016, only the New England Patriots made the playoffs last year as they will look to keep up with the Seahawks for supremacy in the NFC West.

Los Angeles Rams 8-8

The 2016 National Football League season will be nostalgic for anyone old enough to remember the days when the Rams called Los Angeles home. From 1946-1994, the Rams played in Los Angeles, until former team owner Georgia Frontiere decided to move the team to St. Louis, Missouri. However the current Rams owner Stan Kroenke was seeking a new stadium on the St. Louis waterfront which he was unable to secure, and that led the Rams returning to Los Angeles. And once you factor in that the Raiders left Los Angeles in 1994 like the Rams did, this marks the first time in more than two decades that the second largest metropolis in the United States has an NFL franchise to call its own.

Jeff Fisher

Jeff Fisher is set to embark on his fifth season as the Rams head coach and you have to wonder how much more rope that he’ll be given as he has yet to post a winning record with this team. Fisher feels that the lack of production from the quarterback position has been a hinderance to this team which led him to trading up in the National Football League Draft this past April to select quarterback Jared Goff with the first overall pick.

To me Goff needs some time to get adjusted to the professional game, but since the Rams gave up so much in the draft to get him, you can expect to see him under center sooner rather than later in Los Angeles. On top of that, Goff will be dealing with immense pressure he’ll be under the Hollywood microscope.

But while Goff is attempting to get his feet wet in the National Football League, he can rely on one of the best rushing attacks in the league. Last year as a rookie, running back Todd Gurley arrived in a very loud way with 1,106 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns to be named as the NFL’s Rookie of the Year. The Rams are hopeful that Gurley can avoid the sophomore slump while also adding to the franchise’s tradition at running back that includes Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk.

The Rams also employ one the biggest and ferocious offensive lines in football that includes offensive tackle Greg Robinson, and guard Roger Saffold as there is plenty of beef in Los Angeles.

The Rams have an intimidating defense, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are good. The Rams have a stout defensive line that includes defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald, along with defensive end Robert Quinn who are all talented pass rushers. But the Rams were 23rd in the National Football League last year in total defense and they allowed two leaders to leave this off-season in defensive end Chris Long who signed with the New England Patriots and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is now with the New Orleans Saints. And that lack of leadership will definitely hurt the Rams defensively as they are seeking their first playoff berth since 2004.

The bright lights of Hollywood will be on the Rams, and it will be interesting to see how they’ll be able to handle it.

San Francisco 49ers 4-12

After being one of the best teams in the National Football League from 2011-2013, the San Francisco 49ers have once again fell on hard times. Last year saw the 49ers go 5-11 for their worst campaign since 2007. After just one year as the Niners head coach, Jim Tomsula was fired and replaced by former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. Like Tomsula, Kelly was dismissed last season. But for Kelly, he had a mutiny on his hands in the Eagles locker room. And for some strange reason, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke decided that Kelly would be the right man for the job in San Francisco.

Colin Kaepernick

According to the salary that Colin Kaepernick is receiving, he should be the 49ers starting quarterback, but that is something which isn’t etched in stone. Kaepernick has been the 49ers starting quarterback since 2012. But whereas Kaepernick’s athleticism allowed him to become a household name upon his arrival to the National Football League, he has been unable to make the adjustment to becoming a pocket passer. Kaepernick has been lukewarm at best to playing for Kelly who does use spread offense principles, however he’s never been a head coach that was willing to commit to using just one quarterback. The Niners were on the verge of trading Kaepernick to the Denver Broncos this off-season, until the quarterback wasn’t willing to take a pay cut. And what this makes for is something that is festering in the Bay Area that doesn’t smell good with Kelly who still has a college mindset.

Overall last year the 49ers were abysmal on offense as they were 31st in the National Football League in total offense. The Niners once proud rushing attack was reduced to a heap of rubble as they were 21st in the league in rushing with the team’s leading ground gainer being running back Carlos Hyde with just 470 yards.

Chip Kelly

Make no mistake about it that the 49ers will do a much better job of running the football this season under Kelly as he is committed to the ground game. The Niners commitment to the rushing attack begins with the offensive line that features left tackle Joe Staley who has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last five seasons, and guard Joshua Garnett who is a rookie from Stanford University that San Francisco is high on.

When the 49ers were one of the better teams in the National Football League a few years ago, their defense was stingy and full of play makers. But that is no longer the case as middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman will try to lead an unproven group that will be fighting an uphill battle in the NFC West.

Unless Kelly has changed his mindset on how he treats his players, and how he chooses to treat his starting quarterback, San Francisco needs to prepare for a very long football season.

X-Division Winner

Y-Wild Card

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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2016 NFC West Draft Grades

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Arizona Cardinals

Grade: B-

First Round Pick: Robert Nkemdiche-Defensive Tackle-Ole Miss

Best Pick: Robert Nkemdiche

There has been a definite culture change for the Arizona Cardinals in their three years under head coach Bruce Arians as they now find themselves among the elite teams in the National Football League. After making the NFC Championship Game last season, the Cardinals found themselves picking near the end of the first round of the NFL Draft. And there Arians would take a chance on Mississippi Rebels defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.

Robert Nkemdiche

Nkemdiche had the talent to be selected in the top five of the National Football League Draft, but off-the-field issues saw him slide. It appeared that Nkemdiche would fall out of the first round completely until Arians took a chance on him. Arizona should be a solid fit for Nkemdiche as there is leadership in the locker room and he will be held accountable for his actions.

Aside from Nkemdiche, the Cards were able to add depth in the secondary with their second round selection of Texas A&M Aggies cornerback Brandon Williams and in the sixth round with cornerback Harlan Miller from the Southeastern Louisiana Lions. But Arians and the Cardinals did miss an opportunity to draft a quarterback to groom behind Carson Palmer who is 36-years of age along with having a history of injuries. Instead the Cardinals decided to bring in Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback as an undrafted free agent, but it will be interesting to see if he’ll impress enough to make the roster.

Seattle Seahawks

Grade: A

First Round Pick: Germain Ifedi-Offensive Tackle-Texas A&M

Best Pick: Round Two-Jarran Reed-Defensive Tackle-Alabama

Since Pete Carroll became the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, this has been an organization that has made a habit of nailing it at the National Football League Draft which is why they have five playoff appearances and a Super Bowl appearance over that stretch.

The Seahawks really got busy at the 2016 National Football League Draft. In the first round, Seattle traded down five slots and still managed to draft Texas A&M Aggies offensive tackle Germain Ifedi. In Ifedi, the Seahawks get a versatile player that can play multiple positions on the offensive line, but he’ll most likely fill the void at left tackle after Russell Okung left to join the Broncos.

Jarran Reed

Seattle really lucked out near the end of the second round where they selected Alabama Crimson Tide defensive tackle Jarran Reed. In some of my mock drafts, I had the Seahawks selecting Reed in the first round, and he still managed to be available that late in the draft process for them which was a huge coup for them.

The running back position in the National Football League is a spot where teams always need depth. And whereas the Seahawks must fill the void of running back Marshawn Lynch who retired, they stocked up on ball carriers with Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back C.J. Prosise in the third round and Arkansas Razorbacks Alex Collins in the sixth round. Prosise and Collins will provide the Seahawks with depth and speed. But for Collins he comes to the NFL with a ton of carries under his belt at Arkansas and you just wonder if that will wear on him in Seattle.

Los Angeles Rams

Grade: C

First Round Pick: Jared Goff-Quarterback-California

Best Pick: Jared Goff

Jared Goff

It wasn’t a big secret that the Los Angeles Rams were going to use the first overall pick of the National Football League Draft on a quarterback; it was just a matter of which one. Heading up to the start of the draft, the Rams were able to keep one of the biggest secrets in sports to themselves, but they ultimately decided on California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff. At 6’4″, 215lbs., Goff has the prototypical height for the position, but he will need to bulk up to deal with the potential hits. Goff didn’t come from a pro-style offense at California which means that there will be a learning curve. However with all that the Rams gave up to get Goff, he will probably be thrown to the wolves too early.

Due to the fact that the Rams moved up 14 spots to take Goff, they had to part with several draft picks which robbed them of the chance to add depth. And hopefully for the Rams and Goff, we’ll see them have a successful marriage in Hollywood.

San Francisco 49ers

Grade: C-

First Round Pick: DeForest Buckner-Defensive End-Oregon, Joshua Garnett-Guard-Stanford

Best Pick: DeForest BucknerĀ 

This off-season has not been a good one for the San Francisco 49ers. First, the 49ers hired a head coach in Chip Kelly who had just been fired by the Philadelphia Eagles after he lost the locker room there. And secondly, the Niners have been unable to trade a disgruntled quarterback in Colin Kaepernick.

After the Niners failed to complete a deal to send Kaepernick packing, they passed up on quarterbacks in the National Football League Draft until the sixth round when they selected Louisiana Tech Bulldogs quarterback Jeff Driskel. Driskel is a mobile signal caller that will fit into Kelly’s system. However there are a ton of questions around his ability to lead and execute an offense.

After San Francisco used their first-round pick on Oregon Ducks defensive end DeForest Buckner, they surprisingly traded back into the first to select Stanford Cardinal guard Joshua Garnett who they could have gotten much later in the draft process.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, these past few months are a clear example that the 2016 National Football League season is going to be a very long one for them.

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2015 NFC West Projections

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X-Seattle Seahawks 11-5

So close, yet so far; that is what people will be thinking about when they see the Seattle Seahawks take the field this season. The Seahawks were mere inches away from winning consecutive Super Bowls this past February and you have to wonder if that will fuel them or weigh them down in 2015?

Marshawn Lynch

The Seahawks possess one of the best rushing attacks in the National Football League and you can expect another heavy dose of it this season. The past five years have seen Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch emerge as one of the most physical runners that the NFL has ever seen. Lynch has been dubbed as “Beastmode” and he’ll once again be vital to any success that Seattle intends on having. Lynch is 29-years of age and you have to wonder if his physical style of play will allow him to continue to be effective in 2015?

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has a career record of 36-12 and even though he threw a costly interception in Seattle’s Super Bowl loss, he is trustworthy with the football as he doesn’t make that many mistakes. 2015 was going to be the final year of Wilson’s rookie deal, but he came to an agreement on a new contract with the Seahawks that will rank him amongst the highest paid quarterbacks in the National Football League.

The Seahawks were 27th in the NFL last season in passing which should improve this year. Over the off-season, the Seahawks acquired tight end Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints. Graham is a tight end by trade, but he is more of a hybrid wide receiver that is so tough to defend, opponents cannot simply have an outside linebacker or safety cover him as it sometimes takes a cornerback to be on him and he will be a big time target for Wilson in the red zone this season.

In order to acquire Graham from the Saints, the Seahawks were forced to send longtime center Max Unger to New Orleans who has been an anchor on Seattle’s offensive line. But the Seahawks still have left tackle Russell Okung who is one of the best in the National Football League as far as protecting the quarterback’s blindside; provided that he is healthy.

The best way to describe the Seahawks defense is as the “Wild Bunch”. The Seahawks have 11 alpha-males on defense that take pride in not allowing opposing offenses to score on them while also frustrating quarterbacks.

The Seahawks secondary is known as the “Legion of Boom” as there are three All-Pros back there in cornerback Richard Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor, and free safety Earl Thomas. The Seahawks did lose cornerback Byron Maxwell in free agency as he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, but they’re hopeful that corners Cary Williams and Tharold Simon will be able to offset his departure. During last season’s NFC Championship Game, Sherman suffered an elbow injury while Thomas injured his shoulder and the Seahawks cannot afford to have that linger over into the 2015 NFL season.

But the Seahawks know a thing or two about rushing the passer as well being that outside linebacker Bruce Irvin along with defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett practically live in opponent’s backfields while middle linebacker Bobby Wagner could be the most underrated player at his position in the National Football League.

The beginning of the season will find the Seahawks facing a ton of adversity as their first two games will be on the road where they’ll meet the St. Louis Rams who have not been an easy out for them in recent years which will be followed by a trip to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers whom they defeated in last season’s NFC Championship Game. It won’t be as easy as it was for the Seahawks last season, but they should still be in play to win the NFC West for a third consecutive year.

St. Louis Rams 9-7

Jeff Fisher

In three years under head coach Jeff Fisher, the St. Louis Rams have become one of the most physical teams in the National Football League, but that physicality alone hasn’t been enough to result in a winning campaign and get them to the playoffs. The Rams enter this season stacked with depth at every position except at quarterback which is a huge question mark for them.

Over the off-season, the Rams acquired quarterback Nick Foles from the Philadelphia Eagles. In parts of three seasons in Philadelphia, Foles was able to compile a record of 15-9 as a starting quarterback which was mainly in the quarterback friendly system of Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. Foles has also been unable to remain healthy during his brief career which cannot give St. Louis that much optimism.

For the Rams to be effective on offense in 2015, they must lean on their running game. Last season as a rookie, running back Tre Mason gained 765 rushing yards and if he is able to get 250 carries this season, he should be able to get at least 1,000 yards on the ground. The Rams shocked some people at the 2015 NFL Draft when they selected running back Todd Gurley early in the first round. Gurley is a dynamic runner, but he suffered a torn ACL last year while at the University of Georgia. The Rams are hopeful that Gurley will be able to bounce back and in order to team with Mason to give them a tough combination in their backfield.

The Rams do have speed in their passing game with wide receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Kenny Britt. But St. Louis would benefit from leaning on the running game in order to set up the pass between Foles and his receivers.

The Rams also have one of the biggest offensive lines in football and led by guard Greg Robinson, they play with a mean streak.

Chris Long

Defensively the Rams can be a physical bunch, but they must become more disciplined and improve from finishing 17th last season in the National Football League for total defense. Led by defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, the Rams defensive line can put ton of pressure on opposing teams in passing situations. The Rams signed defensive tackle Nick Fairley this off-season and he can be another disruptive force for them on their defensive line. Led by middle linebacker James Lauranitis, the Rams have a very athletic core of linebackers that can play the run as well as the pass. The St. Louis secondary is full of youth and potential, but like everyone other part of that defensive unit, the must play more disciplined football in 2015 if they are going to be a playoff team.

The Rams were the sixth most penalized team in the NFL in 2014 and along with the questions surrounding their future in St. Louis as well as the uncertainty at the quarterback position, it will be difficult for them to make the postseason in 2015, but they will still be a tough out.

Arizona Cardinals 8-8

In 2014, the Arizona Cardinals got off to a hot start with a record of 9-1. But just when it appeared that the Cardinals would be the first team to host and play in a Super Bowl in the same season, the injury bug crept up on them and ended a once promising year. And the Cardinals team that was eliminated in the NFC Wild Card Game at the hands of the Carolina Panthers this past January will look totally different when the 2015 National Football League season begins in September.

Todd Bowles spent the last two years as the Cardinals defensive coordinator, but he is now the head coach of the New York Jets as he’ll be replaced in Arizona by James Bettcher. In 2014, the Cardinals possessed one of the best secondaries in the NFL, but they suffered a huge blow when they lost cornerback Antonio Cromartie in free agency as he signed with the Jets. At the other starting cornerback position, the Cardinals still have Patrick Peterson who remains as one of the best cover corners in the National Football League. And after losing Darnell Dockett on the defensive line in free agency as he remained in the NFC West by signing with the San Francisco 49ers, the Cards must find another anchor in their front seven.

Bruce Arians

Under head coach Bruce Arians, the Cardinals were able to sneak up on some teams last year, but that won’t be the case in 2015. Whereas the Cards were 24th in the NFL in total offense last season, they must improve on that if they intend on getting back to the playoffs. Arians and the Cardinals are backing on quarterback Carson Palmer returning this year healthy. Palmer’s 2014 NFL season was cut short due to a knee injury. But the Cardinals need to have Palmer ready to go due to the fact that he is 16-6 as a starter with Arizona.

Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd

The Cardinals do possess two of the bigger wide receivers in the National Football League in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd who can both get physical as well as being aggressive with defensive backs and their effectiveness in 2015 will come down to the overall health of Palmer. The Cardinals are also backing on youth on their offensive line. Guard Jonathan Cooper has only appeared in 10 games after being a first round pick by the Cardinals in 2013 while offensive tackle D.J. Humphries was the team’s first round choice this year and they are expected to be a big part of what Arizona intends to do this season.

The Cardinals have the potential to get off to a quick start this season as their first four opponents didn’t qualify for the playoffs last year. But things will get tougher for the Cards in Week 5 when they begin a three-game stretch that will see them meet the Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens as they look to secure three consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1984.

San Francisco 49ers 6-10

The past four years have seen the San Francisco 49ers emerge as one of the top teams in the National Football League, but that wasn’t enough for head coach Jim Harbaugh to keep his job. In four seasons as the 49ers head coach, Harbaugh never had a losing season and San Francisco made one Super Bowl appearance along with three trips to the NFC Championship Game. But Harbaugh consistently clashed with Niners general manager Trent Baalke which led to a messy divorce this past January.

Jim Tomsula

Harbaugh has been replaced as the head coach of the 49ers by Jim Tomsula. Tomsula has spent the last eight seasons as the Niners defensive line coach, including a brief stint as the team’s interim head coach in 2010. Tomsula has never been a head coach at any level of football, but he is someone that Baalke feels that he can work with. Tomsula’s first order of business will be to get the most out of starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick still has wide receiver Anquan Boldin to throw the football to and even at the age of 34, he’s still one of the toughest and most physical wide receivers to covers in football.

Colin Kaepernick

In four years with the 49ers, Kaepernick has an overall record of 25-14 with a trip to the Super Bowl on his resume. But for all that it’s worth, Kaepernick is an athlete that is playing the quarterback position and the Niners need him to be more of a pocket passer going forward.

Under Harbaugh, the Niners bread and butter on offense was their running game as they were one of the more physical teams in the National Football League and a big part of that was running back Frank Gore who is now with the Indianapolis Colts. Gore left San Francisco as the 49ers all-time leading rusher and now running backs Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush have some big shoes to fill. Bush and Hyde will have the luxury of running behind one of the best offensive lines in the National Football League that is anchored by offensive tackle Joe Staley who has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last four years. But will Bush and Hyde be able to replace Gore’s leadership?

Vic Fangio was the 49ers defensive coordinator for the last four years and he led one of the best units in the NFL, but he is no longer in San Francisco as he is the new defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. Fangio has been replaced in San Francisco by former New York Jets and Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini who will run a similar 3-4 defensive scheme.

Just like the leadership of Gore on offense, the 49ers lost leaders on the defensive side of the football as well this off-season with the retirement of defensive end Justin Smith and middle linebacker Patrick Willis. The 49ers were able to sign former Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett who like Smith, plays with a high motor. The Niners are expected to have a healthy NaVorro Bowman at middle linebacker this year after he missed the entire 2014 National Football League season as the result of a knee injury. Prior to Bowman’s knee injury, he had tremendous lateral range which will be tested even more this year without the presence of Willis beside him. Over the past few years, outside linebacker Aldon Smith has become one of the best edge rushers in the NFL, but after his latest arrest, the Niners and Baalke felt that it was time to move on as they released him this off-season.

Three of the 49ers first three games this season will be on the road as they’ll travel to meet the Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, and New York Giants. And the Niners can ill afford to fall too far behind the Seattle Seahawks if they want any chance of winning the NFC West in 2015.

X-Clinched Division

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2015 NFL Wild Card Picks

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Which Andy Dalton will show up for the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday in the AFC Wild Card Game?

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The Cardinals Are Skating On Thin Ice

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Carson Palmer

A few weeks ago the Arizona Cardinals were the feel good story of the National Football League. The Cardinals were 7-1 and they were the class off the NFC. Then in Week 10 when the Cardinals were hosting the St. Louis Rams, disaster struck. In the second half of the game, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a knee injury which put a hush over the crowd at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Palmer suffered a torn ACL in his knee which ended his season which put the Cardinals dream of becoming the first NFL team to play in their home stadium for the Super Bowl in jeopardy. The Cardinals would defeat the Rams that day 31-14 and in the following week they would win a defensive struggle at home versus the Detroit Lions 14-6. Following the victory over the Lions, the Cardinals were 9-1 with a three-game lead over both the Seattle Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West. But since then the Cardinals have lost two games in a row and their big lead within the division has faded quicker than the sun this time of the year in the Western Hemisphere.

In Week 12, the Cardinals headed to Seattle to meet the Seahawks and a win there would all but wrap up Arizona’s first division crown since 2009. In a defensive struggle, the Cardinals lost 19-3. But there was nothing to fret about due to the fact the CenturyLink Field in Seattle is a tough place for visitors to get a victory and the Seahawks are the defending Super Bowl Champs, right? This past Sunday, the Cardinals were favored on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. But the Cards were dominated from the opening kickoff as they lost 29-18. Now with four games left in the regular season the Cardinals have a two-game lead over the Niners and just a one-game lead over the Seahawks as it has now become nail biting time for them.

Bruce Arians

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has developed a reputation of being a quarterback guru. In 2008, Arians was the offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers when he helped quarterback Ben Roethlisberger lead the team to a Super Bowl Championship. In 2012, Arians was hired as the offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts to work with rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. But when Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia midway through the season, it was Arians that guided Indianapolis to a surprising playoff berth. For his efforts Arians would be named NFL Coach of the Year and after the season he was hired by the Cardinals. In Arizona, Arians had revived the career of Palmer who was former first overall pick of the NFL Draft. But when Palmer missed three games early in the season due to a nerve injury, Arians called on backup quarterback Drew Stanton who led the Cardinals to a 2-1 record. So when Palmer was lost for the season a few weeks ago, Arians and the Cardinals had full confidence in Stanton that he would be able to get the job done.

When Stanton returned to the starting lineup versus the Lions, he looked sharp as he led touchdown drives on Arizona’s first two drives of the game. But since then Stanton has looked like a career backup quarterback as the team has only managed to score 21 points since then and in the last two games he has only thrown one touchdown pass while being picked off three times.

Andre Ellington

It isn’t helping Stanton’s cause the Cardinals currently possess the 31st best running attack in the National Football League as they have failed to produce a 100-yard rusher in any game this season which puts more pressure on him. As a team the Cardinals are only averaging 3.1 yards per game. The Cardinals have the 13th best passing game in the NFL, but they have been without wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the past two games as a result of a knee sprain. The Cardinals defense is 13th in total defense while they are tied for fourth with the Kansas City Chiefs for points allowed at 18.7 per contest. But this Cardinals defense is built to play with a lead as their cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson can play tight press coverage and forced turnovers. But more than both the Seahawks and 49ers, the Cardinlas need to win the NFC West in order to secure at least one home playoff game.

This season the Cardinals are 6-0 at home while they have not allowed any opponent to score more than 20 points against them in Glendale. The road is a different story as the Cardinals are 3-3. The saving grace right now for the Cardinals is that they have tiebreakers over the Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys this season based on head-to-head meetings. The Cards also defeated the Niners earlier this season, but their remaining schedule won’t be an easy one.

The Cardinals will host the Chiefs before traveling to take on the Rams next Thursday. The Cardinals will then host the Seahawks in Week 16. The Seahawks have won five out of their last six games as they are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. The Seahawks also have one of the best secondaries in the National Football League that features cornerback Richard Sherman along with safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor who’ll be licking their chops if Stanton is unable to pick up his production while continuing to throw interceptions. The Cards will travel to meet the Niners to finish the regular season and it was San Francisco that defeated Arizona in Week 17 last season to prevent them from making the postseason.

A few weeks ago the Cardinals appeared to be a lock not only for the playoffs, but to get home-field advantage throughout. Now they are not even guaranteed a playoff berth as other teams in the NFC are surging while they are faltering. And if Arians is unable to prop Stanton up in these final four games and have him improve off of his 55.3 completion percentage this season, the Cardinals will once again be watching the playoffs take place from home.

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2014 NFC West Projections

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X-Seattle Seahawks 12-4

The Seattle Seahawks enjoyed the off-season and rightfully so as they won their first Super Bowl Championship in franchise history. But now it is back to business in the Pacific Northwest for the defending champs. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has developed one of the most balanced teams in the National Football League which will once again be on display in 2014.

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Russell Wilson

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is only 25 years of age and already he is the field general of a team that has hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Wilson does not need to wow you with 400-yard passing games, but he will outsmart opposing defenses as he has only thrown 19 interceptions in two seasons as a starter.

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is 28-years old and he is coming off of three consecutive seasons in which he has gained at least 1,000 yards on the ground. Lynch is a very physical runner and you have to wonder how long that his style will be able to survive in the NFL?

Last season Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin only appeared in two games; one of which was the Super Bowl where he was more than just the unknown factor. Carroll is backing on a healthy Harvin this year to team with wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse in the passing game for Seattle.

The Seahawks will have a different look on the defensive line as several veterans like Red Bryant and Chris Clemons have moved on, but their strength is still in the secondary where “The Legion of Boom” roams. Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman must avoid the “Madden jinx” as well as being flagged for the new illegal contact rules, but the outspoken one should be up for the challenge. If a receiver is able to get past Sherman you still have safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas lurking that can both cover while also delivering punishment.

The Seahawks will get it going this Thursday at home against the Green Bay Packers and they should be able to survive the tough NFC West for their second consecutive division title.

Y-Arizona Cardinals 10-6

The Arizona Cardinals are coming off a 10-6 season, but they were unable to qualify for the playoffs and they were left to wonder what could have been in the postseason. But Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians is looking to use that to motivate his team to improve off of being so close last season.

The Cardinals won 10 games last season in spite of the fact that quarterback Carson Palmer threw 22 interceptions. Palmer tends to force passes at times which is something that Arians must fix. In the passing game Palmer can target two of the bigger wide receivers in football in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. The Cards must improve on a running game that was 23rd in the NFL last year which means that they’ll need a bigger dose of running back Andre Ellington.

Arians will once again rely on a stingy defense that was one of the toughest in the league in 2013. Veterans Tommy Kelly and Isaac Sopoaga will join Calais Campbell and Dan Williams to provide plenty of beef on the defensive line. Cardinals rookie strong safety Deone Bucannon will team with veteran cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie to make Arizona’s unit one of the best in the game.

A quick start in 2014 by the Cards could be the difference in them making the postseason.

San Francisco 49ers 9-7

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Jim Harbaugh

In his three years as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Jim Harbaugh has led the club to the postseason. But will Harbaugh be able to do it for a fourth season in a row? In the off-season Harbaugh was not on the same page with the Niners front office: Mainly 49ers general manager Trent Baalke. The rumors about Harbaugh possibly leaving San Francisco to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns had plenty of substance behind them. For now cooler heads appear to have prevailed in the Bay Area, but will the controversy in the front office trickle down to the team?

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is 17-6 as a starter. Kaepernick is coming off of a season where he threw 21 touchdown passes to just 8 interceptions, but will he be able to take that next step as a quarterback? Kaepernick has tremendous athleticism, but for him to lead the Niners to that next level, he must be able to make more plays from within the pocket.

Under Harbaugh, the 49ers have had one the best rushing attacks in professional football. Niners running back Frank Gore is 31-years of age and he won’t have to shoulder the load of carrying the football this year as San Francisco has some fresh legs in rookie running back Carlos Hyde. Both Gore and Hyde will have the luxury of running behind one of the best offensive lines in the National Football League that features tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis along with guard Mike Iupati.

The strength of the 49ers defense is their front seven. Off-the-field discrepancies by outside linebacker Aldon Smith will force him to miss the first nine games of the season as he has been suspended by the NFL which will put a strain on the 49ers defense who’s strength is in their ability to rush the passer. Smith’s absence will really affect the 49ers who are still without middle linebacker Navarro Bowman who suffered a horrific knee injury in last season’s NFC Championship Game.

The 49ers will not meet the Seahawks until Week 13 and 15 as those games will more than likely decide the division champ, but it will also more than likely determine San Francisco’s fate as a playoff team in 2014.

St. Louis Rams 8-8

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Jeff Fisher

In two years St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher has transformed a team that was 2-14 in 2011 into one of the toughest and fiercest teams in the National Football League. In two seasons under Fisher, the Rams are 14-17-1, but they play in the NFC West which has become the toughest division in the National Football League. However if the Rams are able to secure their first winning season since 2003 it could potentially result in a trip to the postseason for the first time since 2004.

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford missed nine games last season after suffering an ACL injury. The Rams were hopeful that Bradford would return to the gridiron in 2014, but he suffered another ACL injury in the preseason that will put him on the shelf this season. 34-year old quarterback Shaun Hill has been a journeyman for his NFL career. Hill has not started a game in the NFL since 2010 when he a member of the Detroit Lions and he will get a shot this year in St. Louis.

The Rams will run the football a ton this year with rookie running back Tre Mason along with Zac Stacy. The Rams offensive line includes tackles Jake Long and Roger Saffold. But at 6’5″, 332 lbs., Rams rookie guard Greg Robinson is a load and he could be like a runaway freight train on run plays in St. Louis.

Fisher has built the Rams in the trenches as they’ll be physical on both sides of the football. The Rams defensive line features defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn who could account for 30 sacks this season.

The Rams will once again let the NFL know that they will be one of the toughest dogs in the neighborhood and if you’re going to play them you better bring your lunch bucket.

X-Clinched Division

Y-Clinched Wild Card

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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