The NFC West has long been the weakest division in the NFC. Seven, Eight and Nine wins have been enough to clinch the division crown. In 2011, the tide has turn a little as the San Francisco 49ers came out of nowhere, winning 13 games and showing some resemblance of the 49ers of old. Although the NFC West will still be considered a weaker division, several moves in that division were made to make them more competitive. Most notably head coach Jeff Fisher’s arrival in St. Louis and the 49ers’ acquisition of Randy Moss.
Let’s see how the teams stack up in this division.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (8-8 in 2011)
Key Losses: Rashad Johnson (Corner Back); Levi Brown (Offensive Tackle)
In 2011, the Arizona Cardinals displayed its resilience finishing 8-8 after starting the season 1-6. How’d they do it? DEFENSE! The Cards will look to add to that momentum in 2012.
In 2011, quarterback Kevin Kolb was traded to Arizona from the Philadelphia Eagles. He started off strong however, his production deteriorated as the season progressed. This season is supposed be a bounce back year for Kolb. That’s not going to happen. Third year veteran John Skelton will have the starting quarterback duties this season. With that said, Arizona will struggle on offense this season, even with pro bowl wide-out Larry Fitzgerald running routes. The loss of starting offensive tackle Levi Brown due to a torn triceps adds to the offensive woes.
As bad as the offense was, the defense may be worse. There are no big play makers on defense other than defensive end Calais Campbell. Cornerback Patrick Peterson’s play hasn’t been what the team expected to be when they drafted him fifth overall in 2010.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (13-3 in 2011, NFC West Division Champions )
Key Losses: Shawntae Spencer (Corner Back); Chilo Rachal (Guard); Blake Costanzo (Linebacker)
New faces: Perrish Cox (Corner Back); Josh Johnson (Quarterback) ; Brandon Jacobs; LaMichael James and Rock Cartwright (Running Backs); A.J. Jenkins ( via 2012 NFL Draft, first-round pick), Mario Manningham and Randy Moss (Wide Receivers)
The heart and soul of the 49ers is the defense, led by inside linebacker Patrick Willis. Willis will dominate this season and my prediction is he’ll be the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year.
There are some questions on offense. Will Alex Smith continue to grow as a quarterback, or was his career 2011 season just a fluke? Will the running back by committee strategy work, or will Frank Gore return to glory? Which Randy Moss will the 49ers get, the record-setting Moss of 07′ or the disinterested Moss of 2010? These questions will be answered sooner or later.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (7-9 in 2011)
New faces: Bruce Irvin (Defensive End, via 2012 NFL Draft, first-round pick); Jason Jones (Defensive Tackle); Bobby Wagner (Linebacker); Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson(Quarterbacks)
Head coach Pete Carroll made a bold statement by taking the reins of the offense from Matt Flynn and giving them to rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson, a third round pick, took the job from Flynn this preseason. His accuracy and athleticism were the determining factors in Carroll’s decision.
The Seahawks has a solid secondary with safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas coming into their own. Defensive ends Chris Clemons and rookie Bruce Irvin could become a great tandem.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (2-12 in 2011)
Key Losses: Jason Brown(Center); Ron Bartell (Corner back); James Hall (Defensive end); Josh Brown (Kicker); Donnie Jones (Punter); Brandon Lloyd (Wide receiver)
New faces: Scott Wells (Center); Cortland Finnegan (Corner Back); Kendall Langford and Trevor Laws (Defensive Ends); Michael Brockers (Defensive Tackles, via 2012 NFL Draft, first-round pick); Ovie Mughelli (Fullback); Mario Haggan and Rocky McIntosh (Linebackers); Barry Richardson(Offensive Tackle); Steve Smith(Wide Receivers); Jeff Fisher ( Head Coach)
For a while it seemed like the Rams were going to be the team of the decade in the NFC West. That notion ended last season as they were only able to muster two wins. Hopefully head coach Jeff Fisher with his bag of tricks can turn the tide for a franchise that once was nicknamed “The Greatest Show On Turf”!
The organization has added several pieces for Fisher but it will take time to mesh. St. Louis should add a few more wins this season but they will remain in the cellar of the division.
By Keith Madyun