Tag Archives: Russell Wilson

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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Still Feeling The Effect

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On February 1, 2015, the Seattle Seahawks took the field at the University of Phoenix Stadium for Super Bowl 49 in what was set to be their crowning moment. The Seahawks were attempting to be the first National Football League team since the New England Patriots in 2004 to win consecutive Super Bowl Championships as it would have been just the seventh time in the Super Bowl era that the champ from the previous year would be able to repeat. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl in the previous season by being a brash and cocky team that could intimidate opponents with their sheer athleticism that was topped off with bravado. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll had constructed his team in the same mode that he had previously done during his time collegiately with the USC Trojans as he employed athletes and depth at nearly every position which made Seattle the envy of the NFL.

The Seahawks entered the Super Bowl needing to get past the Patriots and their quarterback Tom Brady who was already a three-time Super Bowl Champion. Because of this the oddsmakers in Las Vegas had the contest as a pick ’em, and they were very accurate in their assessment as the game was a toss up throughout.

The strength of both teams was on display early as Brady was able to lead the Patriots down the field into scoring position. But in the red zone Brady was picked off by Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane. Brady would recover and lead the Pats on a pair of touchdown drives. However each time that New England scored, the Seahawks were able to answer and thus the contest was tied at 14 heading to halftime.

The Seahawks would then take control of the game in the third quarter which saw Brady picked off by Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. The Seahawks would take a 24-14 lead into the fourth quarter and their second consecutive Super Bowl Title seemed to be right around the bend.

But somebody forgot to mention that to Brady who took over in the fourth quarter as he picked apart the best secondary in the National Football League. Brady was as accurate as could be with crisp passes, while the Seahawks pass rush could not get to him. And with just over two minutes left in the game, Brady found wide receiver Julien Edelman for the go-ahead score to give New England the 28-24 lead.

However Seattle was not ready to mail it in, and led by quarterback Russell Wilson, they charged down the field. On the drive Wilson connected with wide receiver Jermaine Kearse on a deflected pass that netted 33 yards and it got Seattle to the New England five-yard line with 65 seconds remaining. But this is where the Seahawks began to outsmart themselves.

From there the Seahawks would give the football to running back Marshawn Lynch who gained four yards on the next play and got down to the Patriots one-yard line.The Seahawks were expected to keep feeding Lynch the football as his nickname is “Beast Mode”. However the Seahawks would allow the clock to tick in order to deprive the Patriots an opportunity to get the football again. But on the next play Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called a pass play that was intended for wide receiver Ricardo Lockette. It was quick slant that was expected to be a simple pitch and catch until Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler jumped the route sealed the win for the Patriots with an interception.

Carroll and Bevell faced intense scrutiny from the media and public alike for the play call as instead of giving the football to Lynch who was one of the better goal line running backs in the National Football League, they decided to pass.

The Seahawks left the field that night as a dejected team and rightfully so as the game was there for the taking. But instead of the Seahawks losing the game because they weren’t good enough to defeat the Patriots, they had to deal with the notion that their demise came as the result of one of, if not the worst play calls in Super Bowl history. And that public scrutiny only paled in comparison to the issues that the Seahawks have had to deal with ever since.

Whereas the Seahawks are an outspoken team when things are going well, the same can be said when things aren’t going according to plan for them. The following off-season saw Wilson seeking more money and he got it when he and the Seahawks came to an agreement on a four-year deal for $87.6 million with him. But the way that the cookie crumbles in the National Football League is that if the franchise quarterback wants to be handsomely compensated, then he must also expect to see the talent around him decimate.

Russell Wilson

With the Seahawks paying Wilson, the talent around him on offense regressed as players began to be released, while others were allowed to walk in free agency. During that off-season Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor was seeking more money which saw him sit out the first two games of the 2015 National Football League season. The Seahawks would then subsequently lose those two games. And after Seattle began the season with a record of 0-2, it put them in a hole as they would rebound to make the playoffs, but they couldn’t win the NFC West and get a much needed first-round bye. Subsequently the Seahawks would fall to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. The loss to the Panthers would be more than just a simple defeat as Lynch who wasn’t the same running back in 2015, decided to retire from the NFL at the age of 29.

Without the services of Lynch, the Seahawks would make it back to the playoffs this past season for the fifth consecutive year. However in the NFC Divisional Playoffs they were unceremoniously shown the door by the Atlanta Falcons by the score of 36-20 as the magic simply wasn’t there.

Since then Lynch expressed interest in returning to the National Football after a year away. Lynch didn’t have any desire to play for the Seahawks anymore, but since he was still under contract with them, his next employer had to find a way to work out a deal with Seattle. Lynch would be traded to the Oakland Raiders who worked out a deal with the Seahawks that would send a sixth-round pick to Seattle in 2018, while Oakland would receive a fifth-round pick.

Richard Sherman

This off-season saw the Seahawks put cornerback Richard Sherman on the trading block. Sherman is a four-time Pro Bowl selection while he is also one of the top cornerbacks currently in the National Football League. But Sherman is never afraid to speak his mind and there are reports that he is still upset with Carroll and Wilson over the Super Bowl. Wilson has denied those reports, but where there is smoke, there is fire.

Pete Carroll

Greed cost the Seahawks a chance to repeat as Super Bowl Champions as Carroll forgot what made him successful in the first place. When the Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos to win Super Bowl 48, it was a total team effort as they cruised to a 43-8 win. On the first play of the game Seattle scored on a safety after the Broncos botched a snap that went out of the end zone. The Seahawks got a kickoff return from Percy Harvin, while linebacker Malcolm Smith returned an interception for a touchdown. Wilson will go down as the winning quarterback for that game,but he was simply a cog in the wheel.

Wilson’s career regular season record is 56-23-1, while he is 8-4 in the playoffs. But the Seahawks are a team in the truest form of the word.

During the Seahawks championship run, they ran the football effectively with Lynch, while they got timely and accurate passing from Wilson. And when Carroll turned things over to his defense, it was a matter of picking your poison with the likes of Sherman, Chancellor, free safety Earl Thomas, defensive end Michael Bennett, and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. The Seahawks put Wilson in the unique position of not needing to win the game as it more about him not losing it. And going back to Super Bowl 49, it was the latter that happened.

Marshawn Lynch

So now as Lynch is with the Raiders, the other key players that remain with the Seahawks following that eventful night in 2015 only can sit back and ask what could have been? Championship windows close very quickly in the National Football League as you must strike while the iron is hot. Since then Thomas and Sherman have had to deal with injuries while they are also getting older. And as teams are always attempting to upgrade to enhance their chances of winning, other teams have caught up to the Seahawks, while in some cases they have passed them altogether.

A few years ago the Seahawks were as close to invincible as a team could be in the National Football League. Opposing teams feared going to CenturyLink Field as their chances of winning were slim at best. But now that isn’t the case as the Seahawks have lost four games at home over the last two seasons as compared to just two in the previous two campaigns. And whereas the Seahawks still have a team which is capable of making the postseason, they aren’t good enough to once again hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl Champions.

This smells of Carroll’s time at USC where after blowing a 12-point lead against the Texas Longhorns in the 2006 Rose Bowl for the national championship, his teams there continued to be good, but never good enough to win another national title. But whereas Carroll’s guys would graduate after four years at USC, he still has to look the likes of Sherman in the face after blowing a chance to be mentioned amongst the greatest teams in National Football League history.

Time has already proven that the Seahawks will never be the same that they once were as this team of alpha males can only sit back and merely ask what could have been if Lynch had gotten the football on the one-yard line on that fateful night in February.

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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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The Hawks Are Getting Their Sea Legs

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Since 2012, the Seattle Seahawks have been the bullies of the National Football League. The Seahawks have been one of the most physical teams in football which led to them winning Super Bowl 48. The Seahawks made it back to the Super Bowl last season, but there they fell short against the New England Patriots. And in this era in the NFL that has been dominated by the salary cap, it is extremely tough for a team’s core to remain in tact for a long time. Along with the short longevity of keeping a pro football team’s core players together, some folks might believe that the Seahawks title window could be closing, but that is far from the case.

After the Seahawks lost their first two games of the 2015 National Football League season, some critics were beginning to right them off as it appeared to be a classic case of the Super Bowl hangover. Through six games, the Seahawks had a record of 2-4 and every time that they appeared ready to turn the corner, they took a step backwards.

After losing at home to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10, the Seahawks were 4-5 and that is when they went back to the basics. The Seahawks have won their last four games as in the middle of December, they have figured it out just in time for the playoffs.

What has defined the Seahawks recently has been their running game, strong defense, and a quarterback in Russell Wilson that is taking care of the football.

Kam Chancellor

The first two games of the National Football League saw the Seahawks not have the services of strong safety Kam Chancellor. Chancellor was holding out for more money that never came, but he has returned to help make the Seahawks defense whole again. During the off-season, the Seahawks traded center Max Unger and a first-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for tight end Jimmy Graham. The marriage between Graham and the Seahawks hasn’t worked due to the fact that Graham is a pass-catching tight end that typically lines up as a wide receiver whereas the Seahawks have used him more as a blocker. Graham and Wilson were finally getting on the same page when he suffered a torn right patellar tendon on November 29 against the Pittsburgh Steelers which abruptly ended his season.

Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin

But luckily for the Seahawks, Wilson continues to be on the same page with wide receiver Doug Baldwin as the two are so in sync that they could possibly complete each other’s sentences. In the last four games for the Seahawks which have all resulted in victories, Wilson has thrown 16 touchdown passes without any interceptions with Baldwin being the recipient on 8 of those throws including a trio in Seattle’s win this past Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

Over the summer, Wilson and the Seahawks came to an agreement on a four-year, $87.5 million extension and the young quarterback is living up to the deal. In four years in the National Football League, Wilson has built a reputation as an accurate quarterback along with being a leader. And now Wilson is ascending to the status of being an elite quarterback as he has developed more of a presence in the pocket which is good for the Seahawks and bad for everyone else in the National Football League.

The wear and tear of being a running back is beginning to get to Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch has been one of the most physical running backs to ever play in the National Football League. But that style of play is catching up to Lynch as he is currently out now as he is recovering from sports hernia surgery. Lynch has only averaged 3.8 yards per carry this season, but in his absence the Seahawks have been relying on rookie running back Thomas Rawls. Rawls was on the verge of reaching the 1000-yard mark in rushing this season as he’s been averaging 5.6 yards per carry. However in the Seahawks victory over the Ravens, Rawls suffered a broken ankle that will keep him out of the action for the rest of the season. The Seahakws have the top ranked rushing offense in the NFL this year, but Lynch still isn’t ready to return to action which means that veteran running back Fred Jackson should anticipate having a more increased role in the offense.

The Seahawks have the second ranked defense in the National Football League, but in the last two weeks they’ve been extra stingy as opposing offenses have only managed to score a pair of field goals against them. Defensively the Seahawks are not at a loss for swagger as they are a group of supreme alpha males. The Legion of Boom secondary consisting of Chancellor, free safety Earl Thomas, and cornerback Richard Sherman all take pride in being All-Pros along with being game-changing playmakers as the Seahawks defense tends to get on a roll when this unit is clicking on all cylinders like they are right now. And you cannot overlook the contributions of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner who is the anchor of the Seahawks defense along with outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, and defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril who know how the rush the passer as the trio has combined for 21.5 sacks this year. The Seahawks defense becomes even more dangerous on third-down situations as Irvin tends to line up more on the defensive line which gives Seattle three defensive ends in a typical pass rush situation.

Pete Carroll

For Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, he has had to make many adjustments for his squad. Due to the Seahawks success in recent years, the team has seen a pair of defensive coordinators in Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn leave Seattle to become head coaches in the National Football League. Bradley is currently the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars while Quinn is the man in charge of the Atlanta Falcons. The Seahawks have also lost linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., who is now the defensive coordinator of Oakland Raiders. Kris Richard is in his first year as the Seahawks defensive coordinator, but he has been with the organization as a defensive backs coach since Carroll became the head coach in the Pacific Northwest in 2010. Led by Richard, the Seahawks have five coaches on their defensive staff that played in the National Football League as it makes it easier for players to get advice about playing the game from people who have already been there.

The first 10 games of the season saw the Seahawks have a tough schedule that included them facing four current division leaders as they lost each of those contests. But over the past four weeks, the Seahawks have gotten their groove back which has included them defeating two squads in the Steelers and Minnesota Vikings who are in contention for wild card berths in their respective conferences. The Seahawks will host the Cleveland Browns this Sunday before their rematch with the St. Louis Rams at home in Week 16. The Rams knocked the Seahawks off in Week 1 as when these two teams meet, it is just like seeing the Hatfields take on the McCoys. The Seahawks will then finish the regular season on the road against the Arizona Cardinals who knocked the Seahawks off at home by a score of 39-32 in Week 10. The Cardinals only need one more victory over their final three games to ensure themselves of winning the NFC West Title. The Cardinals winning the division would also mean that the Seahawks will only have the option of getting into the postseason as a wild card. With a record of 8-5, the Seahawks find themselves tied with the Vikings for the top wild card spot in the NFC. But with the Seahawks rousing 38-7 victory over the Vikings in Week 13, they hold the tiebreaker as they would the first wild card team.

CenturyLink Field in Seattle has served as a tremendous home-field advantage for the Seahawks since its inception in 2002, but that won’t be the case next month as this team will more than likely be a wild card as they will have to get it done on the road next month if they want to become the first team since the Buffalo Bills in 1993 to play in three consecutive Super Bowls. There still isn’t a timetable as far as when Lynch will return to the Seahawks lineup as they’ll need his physical presence on the field without the services of Rawls. But with a talented secondary, a quarterback that knows how the make big plays, and a 53-man roster that is oozing with confidence, this is a Seahawks team that opponents won’t be lining up to face next month in the postseason.

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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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Sometimes You Just Out Think Yourself

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The old country proverb goes that “when you’re invited to the biggest party of the year, you dance with who brung ya”. The past four seasons have seen Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch morph into one of the best power backs in National Football League history. In his four-plus seasons with the Seahawks, Lynch has 54 rushing touchdowns and it takes a committee of defenders to bring him down on every play. But unfortunately for the Seahawks, their head coach Pete Carroll had a brain cramp and forgot that last night.

Malcolm Butler

With the Seahawks trailing the New England Patriots 28-24 in the waning seconds of Super Bowl 49 last night, there was only 36 inches between a second consecutive Super Bowl Title for Seattle. But with 20 seconds left and one time out at his disposal, Carroll attempted to get to hallelujah land by air instead of on the ground. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson attempted a slant pass to wide receiver Kevin Lockette, but Seattle didn’t figure that Patriots rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler would jump the route and secure the interception that would give New England their fourth Super Bowl Championship in franchise history. Carroll and the Seahawks could only watch as the Patriots ran out the clock and Seattle’s chance of joining an elitist group of teams to win consecutive Vince Lombardi Trophies faded into the Arizona night. Now Carroll will be looked at by most observers and armchair quarterbacks alike as far as making the worst decision in Super Bowl history.

This wasn’t a win or tie decision on a two-point conversion like the one that former Nebraska head football coach Tom Osborne made at the end of the 1984 Orange Bowl: this was a moment where Carroll simply out thought himself.

Marshawn Lynch

Lynch ranks up there among some of the greatest goal line runners in NFL history and when you’re that close to pay dirt, you have to give him the football and get out of his way. In the early 1980’s, you never saw Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs waver from giving the football to running back John Riggins who had 104 career rushing touchdowns. The same can be said for running back Walter Payton who had 104 career rushing touchdowns and Emmitt Smith who is the NFL’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 164. Only two players in Seahawks franchise history have scored more rushing touchdowns than Lynch as Curt Warner scored 55 and Shaun Alexander finished his career with 100.

The Seahawks have great players, but Lynch is the heart and soul of that team. Lynch’s teammates marvel at his runs. The Seahawks offense is always attempting to pick up extra blocks for him while the defense forces turnovers to get the football back in his hands. Lynch’s teammates are always quick to stick up for him when he is criticized for not talking with the media.

The Seahawks have emerged as one of the better teams in the National Football League in recent years by being one of the most physical teams around. Physicality is created by having a smash mouth running game along with a defense that is tough to score on and they also deliver the pain.

In the Seahawks 43-8 victory in Super Bowl 48 over the Denver Broncos, Lynch was limited to just 39 yards, but Seattle was the more physical team as they jumped on Denver and forced four turnovers. This time around the Seahawks defense was able to force two interceptions by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but unlike their game against the Broncos, New England was mentally tougher. In the final 20 minutes of Super Bowl 49, Carroll and the Seahawks got away from what made them 12-4 in the regular season and won them their second consecutive NFC Championship. Late in the third quarter, Seahawks wide reciver Jermaine Kearse dropped a key third-down reception which could have iced the game and instead the Patriots got the football back and they began to gain momentum as Brady would own the fourth quarter. The Seahawks had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and Brady picked apart the secondary that couldn’t be scored upon as he simply punched the bullies right in the mouth. And when the Seahawks were set to punch the football in with a few precious seconds remaining in the contest, everyone in attendance at the University of Phoenix Stadium and watching around the world knew that Lycnh would get the ball; except Carroll.

Pete Carroll

Now Carroll must face the music; especially from within the Seahawks locker room because he got away from the team’s indentity. In Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, New York Yankees manager Billy Martin didn’t ask Reggie Jackson to bunt as he would hit three home runs that night and be dubbed as Mr. October. Opportunites to win a Super Bowl don’t come around that often and when you get there you must make the most of it. The Seahawks should still be a strong team next season, but Lynch will be a year older and eventually the pounding as a power back will take its toll and the well will run dry. The Seahawks have been fortunate over the past few years that they haven’t been hit with the injury bug that much which could strike at any moment. For all of his accolades as a quarterback, Wilson is not a player that will simply beat you shearly off of passing as he is more of a game manager. Being a game manager is not a slight at Wilson as Troy Aikman road this philosophy to three Super Bowl Championships as the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys along with enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Wilson won’t beat you with his arm like Brady will and what has made him such a good quarterback so quickly is that he doesn’t make mistakes due to the fact that he always tends to make the right football play. Carroll didn’t put Wilson in the best position to win during the closing moments of Super Bowl 49. The Seahawks thought twice about throwing the football in the direction of Patriots cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and when they decided to pick on the green Butler, they got burned.

The Seahawks will return to Seattle saying to themselves, so close, yet so far. And for the immediate future, Carroll will be remembered by this blunder as the Seahawks are still in quest of their second Super Bowl Championship.

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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