NFL Preview: NFC West
ST. LOUIS RAMS
This year's Rams team is expected to be no different from any other Rams Teams of the past, scoring lots of points and giving up just as many. The big difference this year is the Rams new head coach, Scott Linehan, who has no NFL coaching experience, and rookie head coaches usually don't succeed in their first season. Nonetheless the St. Louis Rams did not lose any key offensive players this year, and running back Steven Jackson is expected to have a huge season this year. Marc Bulger can deliver some of the best long bombs in the league with his accurate passing game, and there is no shortage of targets for him, with All-Pro Torry Holt leading the way.
The St. Louis Rams drafted two good receiving tight ends, Joe Klopfenstein from Colorado and Dominique Byrd of USC, and one of those rookies will be starting this season.
Ranking 30th out of 32 in the NFL in yards allowed last year, made the season a nightmare for the Rams. This year St. Louis added many draft picks but it will take a while for them to gel. This is crucial due to the fact that the Rams lost 5 defensive players who saw lots of playing time. Adam Archuleta, Damione Lewis, Mike Furrey, Corey Ivy, Chris Johnson were lost to free agency. The rookies will have a big weight on their shoulders, which will definitely expedite their learning process for the future but oh man will there be some tough lessons learned.
Prediction for 2006: 3rd Place NFC West
We feel that this Cardinals team that won just five games last season will be the most improved team in the NFL this year, and we are calling for them to snag the second wild card spot in the NFC.
The primary reason for our optimism is the signing of Edgerrin James, who gives Arizona the premier running back it lacked to compliment what is already a lethal passing game. He will team with the receiving tandem of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald to give the Cardinals potentially one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL . Quarterback Kurt Warner may return to the MVP-type numbers he put up at St. Louis now that opposing defenses need to respect the run, and remember that Matt Leinart is waiting in the wings should Warner falter. Perhaps most importantly the Cardinals upgraded their offensive line with the draft selection of guard Deuce Lutui, who blocked for Leinart at USC, and the improved line play is the last piece to the puzzle to Arizona putting up some big point totals this year.
The Arizona defense ranked 8th in the NFL in fewest yards allowed last year, and it brings back basically the same personnel. A repeat of that 2005 performance would be just fine, because instead of the defense merely keeping the Cardinals in games like last season, a repeat performance could mean as many as 10 wins this year with the vastly improved play by the offense. When the dust settles, we look for the Arizona Cardinals to finish second in the division and surprise some people by gaining a wild card berth.
Prediction for 2006: 2nd Place NFC West, Wild Card
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
San Francisco is on a rough road right now and will again be a struggling team in the NFC. That being said they are making progress in player development.
One of the reasons for hope is that the O-Line could be a dominant force this year. Larry Allen lines up at left guard and veterans Jonas Jennings and Jeremy Newberry are both in better condition than they were last year. With a better line in front of him, Alex Smith a great chance to showoff his varies abilities. No matter if Frank Gore can be an every down RB, an improved offensive line sure helps his cause. The receiving core has been upgraded through the draft. 6th overall pick, Vernon Davis from Maryland is going to be the starting tight end, and two other picks Brandon Williams (Wisconsin) and converted QB Michael Robinson (Penn State) will battle for a starting receiver spot.
The 49ers defense also added a shoe-in starter in the draft in linebacker Manny Dawson from the NC State Wolfpack, taken with their second pick of the first round. They also signed veteran free agents such as defensive backs Walter Harris and Chad Williams and LB T.J. Slaughter. They can only go up after finishing dead last in the NFL last season, but at least they are trying to improve. What it comes down to is that this team could surprise, if the offensive line improves as much as expected and the defense can make a few more big stops than last season. But all in all, the 49ers will not win enough games to escape the cellar.
Prediction for 2006: 4th Place NFC West
Super Bowl XL was a game the Seahawks dominated but came up short on thanks to some questionable calls. They defiantly are up to the challenge again this year even against a stronger AFC. They are the best team worthy of the world title!
Punter aside, this team has virtually no flaws in player personnel. With 3500 yards, 24 TD's and only 9 picks Matt Hasselbeck is a stud for this offence. Last year was no fluke, so expect him to repeat this season with a comparable performance. Nothing to worry about when it comes to the running game, MVP Shaun Alexander running the rock and Pro Bowl fullback Mack Strong opening the holes for him. The receiving core is even better than last year with the addition of Nate Burleson, he has more pure speed than the any other receiver on the team. But it's not all roses on the offence seeing as the O-Line lost Pro Bowler guard Steve Hutchinson to free agency, but 3rd rounder Rob Sims from the Buckeye's will be groomed to fill the hole.
The Hawks's were an impressive 5th best in the NFL against the run last season, but it was a horrible 28th against the pass. Looking to improve that, Seattle had quite a few signings to its defense such as DB Andre Dyson, safety Marquand Manuel and DE Rodney Bailey. Drafting 1st rounder Kelly Jennings as a superb cover corner, will also help the cause and could see him plugged in as a starter. With an improved pass defense, Seahawks fans will be celebrating a Super Bowl title in Miami!
Prediction for 2006: 1st Place NFC West, NFC Champion, SUPER BOWL CHAMPION
By: David Michaels - theSpread.com - Email Us
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