Thursday, July 24, 2014

2014 NFL Divisional Preview: NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks
The reigning Super Bowl champions return much of their championship core from 2013, giving confidence that Seattle will be able to replicate it's prior success. Although the Legion of Boom lost Brandon Browner to the New England Patriots, the secondary is still arguably the best in the league. A solid front seven for Seattle ensures the worries, if any at all, should focus on the offense. Russell Wilson appears to be steadily progressing and maturing, and should have yet another solid year from Marshawn Lynch carrying the rock as well. The main concerns rest within the receiving core with Golden Tate gone to Detroit and the sudden retirement of Sidney Rice. Doug Baldwin will need to step up in 2014 to ensure Seattle keeps the same beat they're accustomed to, and more importantly, Percy Harvin needs to stay healthy.

Prediction: Percy Harvin does indeed stay healthy, and the Legion of Boom yet again does its part in another successful year for Seattle. The Seahawks claim the division and post another legitimate chance to win the NFC.

Record: 12-4

2. San Francisco 49ers
Similar to their division rivals up north, San Francisco ultimately rests on its defense to step up and rise to the occasion. Losing secondary personnel in Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner will impact the 49er secondary, but with the arrival of rookie Jimmie Ward combined with veterans Chris Culliver and Eric Reid, the pass defense should see little to no difference from years past. A top linebacking corps featuring Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis will help keep the defense steady, however the mystery that lies within Aldon Smith and his off the field issues does raise questions on how successful this defense can actually be. Focusing on the offensive side, San Francisco is as deep as ever at both wide out and running back positions. Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree headline the receivers, as Frank Gore will likely see less carries in favor of new arrival Carlos Hyde. The overall success of the offense, with no surprise, rides on the shoulders of Colin Kaepernick. If Kaepernick can prove his consistency through the course of the season, 49ers fans should look forward to similar success from recent memory in 2014.

Prediction: Aldon Smith will receive little punishment for his off the field behavior, and he comes back strong for San Francisco. The 49ers fare well and win games they should, yet the Achilles heel of the team is Kaepernick's inability to play at a consistent level, which in turn will leave them in the same spot they were last year: Playing little brother to Seattle. San Francisco still has a solid year and could possibly see the Seahawks in another important playoff game in late January.

Record: 11-5

3. Arizona Cardinals
Following the 2013 season, Arizona faithful had much to look forward to. After a few dismal years, it finally appeared the Cardinals might take the next step in 2014. However, with the departure of Karlos Dansby and the season long suspension for Daryl Washington, the defense suffered a huge blow to it's hopes of making the playoffs in 2014. Safety Tyrann Mathieu is still recovering from a torn LCL suffered last season, which could potentially slow his growth and involvement this year with the team. On the offensive side of the ball, Carson Palmer appears to be getting no younger, and it appears his days could be numbered if Arizona sees no improvement in his game. Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd still remain a solid duo for Palmer, yet it was the run game in 2013 that never quite got going. Rashard Mendenhall failed to satisfy his duties running the football throughout the season, leading to Andre Ellington getting more carries and looks on offense. Ellington, much to the dismay of fans, wasn't used often enough during last years season. There's a rational fear in Arizona that Ellington will remain restricted throughout the season yet again. If the defense can find a way to step up again and produce similar to last year, that will keep the Cardinals in some games this year. With an aging quarterback and the possibility of the offenses best option to carry the ball being limited, it appears the next step may have to be taken in 2015.

Prediction: Week in and week out, you never know which Cardinals team you will see. The talent is enough to keep Arizona in the hunt for a possible wildcard spot, but with two of their final three games being divisional road contests, the Cardinals will find themselves yet again sitting at home watching the playoffs, should Seattle and San Francisco deliver like expected.

Record: 8-8

4. St. Louis Rams
It appears another disappointing year rests on the horizon for the Rams. Chris Long and Robert Quinn headline a nasty pass rush, with rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald now thrown into the mix as well. However, that's about as bright as the defense can get. The front seven has caused some teams problems, yet it's the below average secondary that doesn't show up when you watch the film. Almost as slacking as their pass defense, is their actual passing itself. Sam Bradford never quite bloomed to the full potential star he would've been, and Zac Stacy still remains somewhat of a question mark after his emergence in 2013. However things are looking up for the Rams, with Greg Robinson coming in and will hopefully allow Bradford to sit back and throw, and Tavon Austin looking to fully assert himself as a multi-threat player in 2014. St. Louis still remains an outsider looking in when you talk about contenders and possible playoff teams, but the future does bring promise.

Prediction: Unfortunately for St. Louis, they are forced to play Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona twice a year. The Rams could very well surprise people and win a handful of games they shouldn't in 2014, and the future does appear brighter than the present for the organization. But it's 2014, and the Rams don't make it out of the division.

Record: 5-11

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