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.
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
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
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.
Y-Clinched Wild Card