2009 NFL Preview: NFC South
2009 NFL Preview: NFC West
Offseason: Bryant McFadden liked what he saw of Arizona when he played them in the Super Bowl, so much so that he joined them to become their number two corner. Elsewhere Chris Wells just got the easiest job in football.
Offense: Anquan Boldin is just about a Cardinal, and as long as Arizona can field that holy trinity of Boldin, Fitz and Warner this offense will pass at will. A lot of people are down on Warner – some even doubt he ends the year as the starter – but even if his body is as broken as people make out, that line is just about good enough and the receiving core spectacular enough to drag Matt Leinart to a division title. Levi Brown gave up more sacks from right tackle than anyone else in the league (11), which isn’t great from a second year starter who was selected fifth overall in 2007. Brown needs to step up his game if he wants to succeed 30 year old Mike Gandy on the left as planned, but Arizona also need him to open up some running lanes for their highest drafted running back since Thomas Jones in 2000. Wells has received a mixed reaction upon entering the NFL; comparisons have ranged from the aforementioned Jones to Cedric Benson.
Defense: During the playoffs this team was electric, but in reality they didn’t really show up during the regular season. Karlos Dansby can’t do it all from weakside linebacker, and Darnell Dockett has spent more time Twittering his displeasure over his contract than focusing on how this team will replace Antonio Smith’s 4 sacks. Arizona will rely on Bertrand Berry replicating his 5 sack effort of 2008 despite being 33, and Calais Campbell will need to acclimate himself quickly to his new role as starting defensive end. However uninspiring that front 7 is, the total opposite is true for Arizona’s secondary. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will relish in the arrival of Bryant McFadden to replace Rod Hood opposite him, and Adrian Wilson matured into a top 10 safety during their Super Bowl run.
Key Games: Arizona will look to be the thorn in the side of Minnesota, Chicago and Green Bay’s respective challenges for the NFC North, whilst week 5’s Cardinals/Texans matchup could be contender for game of the year.
Predicted Record: 8-8
Offseason: Seattle ran out of wide receivers last year, so not only did they add one this offseason, they added a really good one in TJ Houshmandzadeh.
Offense: Coming off 2007 this side looked primed for ascension to glory, but halfway through last season they had run out of receivers, Matt Hasselbeck couldn’t stay healthy and Julius Jones couldn’t get anything going on the ground meaning Seattle sank to 29th in passing and 19th in rushing yards per game. As of writing, their wideouts are healthy and bolstered by Houshmandzadeh and an emerging John Carlson, Hasselbeck is reportedly throwing well and Julius Jones… well Julius Jones is still crappy Julius Jones, but he should face fewer 8 man fronts now Seattle can pass. Walter Jones and Sean Locklear bookend a decent, if ageing, line.
Defense: This has to be the most disappointing part of an incredibly disappointing season. They gave up more pass yards per game than anyone else (by some margin) and were mediocre against the run. Their sack total was a respectable 35 (10th in the NFL) so the finger of blame is pointed directly at the secondary where Marcus Trufant saw his interception total fall from 7 to 1. If you’re the best guy at your Saturday morning flag football game and want to know if you can hack it in the NFL, contact Seattle and see if you can get a tryout because you’re probably the 3rd or 4th best option they have at safety. They still boast one of the better linebacking groups in the NFL as Aaron Curry provides a like-for-like replacement for the Detroit bound Julian Peterson, but unless Seattle can find some really, really good Saturday morning flag football players, teams are going to continue to pass on them all year long.
Key Games: Good job they’re playing in the worst division in football, because assuming they secure four wins over St. Louis and San Francisco, they’ll actually have a shot at the playoffs (and an early exit) if they come out favourably of their head-to-head double with Arizona.
Predicted Record: 7-9
San Francisco 49ers
Offseason: Well they drafted Michael Crabtree in one of the steals of the draft, but according to a jumbled mess of agents, advisors and Crabtree himself, the 2 time All-American is a long way from signing a contract. San Francisco mustn’t let this linger.
Offense: He isn’t Joe Montana, but he isn’t Alex Smith either and seemingly unbeknownst to those outside of fantasy football Shaun Hill averaged 255 yards, threw 13 TDs to 8 INTs and accomplished an efficient 62.8 completion percentage over his 8 starts. Even if he can’t sustain those figures for a whole season, he’s better equipped to lead this team than Mark Sanchez or Alex Smith could ever be. Rookie wide receivers – especially those that rely on technical route running instead of speed – take time to develop so expecting Crabtree to replicate Jerry Rice year one is a little naive (sorry 49ers fans) but he isn’t needed that badly. Singletary is going to utilise Frank Gore heavily and hope to finally coax the big season that we all know he’s capable of out of him, whilst Josh Morgan seems primed for stardom and Isaac Bruce is coming off a season where he quietly went about scoring more touchdowns than Roddy White, Brandon Marshall and Steve Smith. It’s a shame that this talent at skills positions won’t get any help from one of the weakest pass protecting lines in football; a line that allowed 55 sacks last year, the worst in the NFL.
Defense: Defensive progress is slow in San Francisco and they’re still a little soft against both run and pass. What really holds the 49ers back is a lacking pass rush, and despite frenzied optimism that Julius Peppers wanted to be a 49er when he announced he wanted to play in the NFC for a 3-4 teams, this quote was just a thinly veiled “come get me” to Dallas and Green Bay and a good indicator of just how forgettable this defense is. Patrick Willis may have been overshadowed by Adrian Peterson, but he’s the other product of the 2007 draft that will be a Pro Bowl lock for the next decade.
Key Games: In a division this bad you never know, but when the Eagles, Titans, Colts and Packers are also on the schedule I implore 49ers fans to be realistic.
Predicted Record: 6-10
St. Louis Rams
Offseason: Ooh, Mike Karney and Kyle Boller scary stuff St. Louis. Jason Brown could excel at center, but incoming free agents were sparse in St. Louis. Marc Bulger has been sacked more times than any other quarterback in the last three years and that was WITH Orlando Pace. Once Pace left, securing the best tackle in the draft Jason Smith was a no brainer.
Offense: Am I missing something? Some people are talking about a St. Louis renaissance, but are they talking about the same Rams team that has spectacularly failed to keep Marc Bulger upright over the last few seasons? The same Rams team that just lost Donnie Avery for 6 weeks from what was already the worst receiving corps in the NFL? The same Rams team that will rely on a stud running back who has missed 8 games in two years, and has played broken in many more? They aren’t going to put up many points, so I sure hope they can stop them…
Defense: … but stopping points looks unlikely for a defense that ranked 29th against the run. Adam Carriker has never fulfilled his potential at defensive tackle, whilst Chris Long had a tumultuous first year at right end. Steve Spagnuolo wants to make Leonard Little his Justin Tuck as he brings his aggressive scheme to St. Louis, but Chris Draft isn’t Mathias Kiwanuka and Chris Long isn’t Osi Umenyiora quite yet. Spagnuolo will utilise Will Weatherspoon in creative blitzes, meanwhile rookie James Laurinaitis will be a tireless sideline to sideline worker that Rams fans will instantly love and teammates will aspire to. If anyone ever gets bored of running and decide to pass on the Rams – and frankly how could they? – Ronald Bartell and Oshiomogho Atogwe should provide decent resistance. Bringing Spagnuolo in to sure up this defense was a salient move – clever moves are at a premium near the bottom of the NFL – but this defense is still very much a project.
Key Games: Comparing the Browns, Lions and Rams is a little unfair considering the former two play in brutal divisions whilst St.Louis wallow in the worst division in football, so that makes the week 8 Rams/Lions showdown the best indicator of the worst team in football.
Predicted Record: 4-12