If folks out on the Left Coast want to know why there is a pretty obvious East Coast Bias when it comes to the NFL I can sum it up in four words:
The NFC West sucks.
Over the last three years the NFC West has posted the worst record in the league against nondivisional opponents. They are an absolutely pathetic 54-102 over the last three seasons against the rest of the league, and that is continuing what has been a clear-cut trend over the last decade. Since the league went to an eight-division format in 2002 the NFC West has gone just 168-248 against the rest of the league, posting just one winning season (2003) during that time while losing 60 percent of its games to everyone else.
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I really don’t think that things will be all that different this season. Arizona is a shaky favorite in the division despite back-to-back playoff runs. San Francisco is one of this year’s Trendy Sleeper Teams, which is to say that they are so trendy that they are no longer a sleeper. However, they have had exactly zero winning seasons the last seven years and they have Alex Smith as a quarterback so, really, how seriously can we take them? Beyond that is two rebuilding teams, Seattle and St. Louis, and they’ve combined for all of 12 wins – total – over the last two years, so why wouldn’t we be on the lookout for them, eh?
So with that pretty high level of suckage in mind, here is my 2010 NFC West preview:
Arizona Cardinals Predictions
2009 Record: 12-4 (6-2 home, 6-2 road)
2009 Against the Spread: 9-7 ATS, 8-8 vs. Total
2009 Rankings: 14th offense (12th pass, 28th rush); 20th defense (23rd pass, 17th rush)
2010 Odds: 7/1 to win SB, 4/1 to win NFC, 5/7 to win NFC West, 7.5 wins O/U
Offense: Bobbleheads are all over Matt Leinart right now and that’s the main reason that everyone is running away from the Cardinals. Not me. Let me be one of the first to say that I have a lot of confidence in Matt Leinart this year and that I think that he’ll be fine. Remember: he wasn’t benched, he was beat out by one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. No shame in that. When Leinart was starting the team was in the incompetent clutches of Denny Green. He’s since had time to sit back and learn from a future Hall of Famer. Also, the pickup of Alan Faneca is big for this offensive line and this unit could have the most depth and talent that it has had in a decade. That will lead to improved protection and an improved running game. Both of which will take pressure off the new/old starter. Oh, and then there is Larry Fitzgerald. I mean, I could complete 95 passes to that guy. Even with Anquan Boldin and Warner the Cardinals were just a “better than average” offense last year. They were 14th in yards and 11th in scoring, so they weren’t exactly a juggernaut. I think this team will be fine this year as they transition into more of an ‘under’ team that is more reliant on the run.
Defense: Arizona’s front seven was the most underrated in football last year. That, as much as anything, is why they managed back-to-back division titles. They managed 43 sacks, sixth-best in the league, despite the fact that their secondary has been atrocious. The defense ranked just 20th overall but was 15th in scoring. That is good enough with all of the offensive talent that this team possesses. The problem is that there were some key losses on this side of the ball in the offseason. Karlos Dansby and Bertrand Berry were two key performers and have moved on. Chike Okeafor and Bryant McFadden weren’t household names but they were solid as well. But the Cards didn’t stand pat. They made a major upgrade by bringing in Kerry Rhodes to replace Antrel Rolle. That could have a big impact on the pass defense. And while Joey Porter plays a completely different position than Dansby did, the fact that Porter is there to lead the defense is notable. Arizona has to get better in the secondary. Rhodes is a start but they need some corners to step up. Adrian Wilson is still one of the best in the game but he can’t do it himself.
Skinny: Back in May I wrote a note to myself to fade the Cardinals. Hard. I simply felt that they had lost too much talent on both sides of the ball and that their mini-run for a feeble franchise was over. However, now I think that Arizona enters the season as one of the more underrated teams in the league. Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm have set up “Pittsburgh West” in the desert. And what better franchise to emulate? Not only are the coaches relying on former Steelers stars but they have instilled that toughness and that win-no-matter-what-it-takes attitude. This year they will add the running game to that. Arizona has a rough opening month, with three of four games on the road and back-to-back games against San Diego and New Orleans. But after that they get a bye week and then the schedule softens up considerably. A slow start will turn up the volume on the Leinart doubters. But not me. As long as the Cards stick to their system they will be in the mix out West and I think they can earn a third straight division crown.
San Francisco Niners Predictions
2009 Record: 11-5 (6-2 home, 5-3 road)
2009 Against the Spread: 12-4 ATS; 9-6-1 vs. Total
2009 Rankings: 27th offense (22nd pass, 25th rush); 15th defense (21st pass, 6th rush)
2010 Odds: 18/1 to win SB, 8/1 to win NFC, 2/1 to win NFC West, 9.5 wins O/U
Offense: Last year there was nothing about the Niners attack that would wow anyone. They were dedicated to the rush but finished just 25th in the league. They rotated quarterbacks the first half of the season because neither could really throw the ball. It was a mess to watch. However, there is reason for hope this season. A full training camp for Michael Crabtree can only help and Vernon Davis’ continued ascension gives San Fran a great one-two punch. Frank Gore is still a stud and the running game should improve. The Niners lost their center in camp this year (for two months) and that is a crucial blow. San Francisco’s offensive line is talented but exceedingly young. Joe Staley is only entering his fourth season but he may be the most experienced opening game starter. San Francisco has enough depth, both with receivers and running backs, to form a solid core. It’s all going to come down to Alex Smith, and so much of how he plays is tied into the offensive line. Smith showed some flashes his first couple seasons (before Antonio Bryant got into his head). And he’s fortunate that Mike Singletary is a bottom-line guy who just wants to win. That means that the coach won’t care how Smith looks doing it, as long as he gets the job done. In fact, that can be set as the theme for the whole offense.
Defense: Physical, physical, physical; that is the tone that Singletary has set on this team. And I love it. San Francisco was just No. 15 overall in defense last year. But they were No. 6 against the run and No. 4 in points allowed and they sure did hit harder than a middle-of-the-pack unit. Patrick Willis is already one of the best defenders in the game and Justin Smith remains a poor man’s Jared Allen. This team has nice depth in the front seven and I really liked the drafting of Taylor Mays, who I think will be good. But there are two problems with this unit right now. First, they still need to shore up the passing game. Nate Clements has seen his play decline and Shawntae Spencer needs to duplicate last year’s decent outing. They don’t have a natural free safety that is great at defending the deep ball. That’s an issue. The second problem is that nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin is holding out. This team can’t win without Franklin, who has become one of the better nose tackles in the league. The 3-4 falls apart and becomes a sieve without quality at the nose. This team absolutely needs to get him in camp and keep him healthy.
Skinny: I am always wary of Trendy Team. And this year the Niners are definitely Trendy Team. By that I mean that they are the so-underrated-that-they-are-overrated team and expectations just continue to escalate. But despite that, I love what Mike Singletary is doing. These guys went 8-8 last year but lost an incredible five games by less than a touchdown. That included a last-second loss at Minnesota and losses at Indianapolis and at Green Bay by an average of 4.5 points. The Niners swept the Cardinals and, unlike their division rivals, they may have added more talent than they lost. One thing that worries me is that Singletary could be pushing this team too far too fast. Can they hold up physically for a full 16 games? But I love the intensity and I love the physical nature that they are playing with. That is how you build a winning franchise and that is how you snap out of the nearly decade-long funk this team had slid into. San Fran has some troubling numbers (their offensive and defensive yards per play are screaming for a weaker record this year) and the benefited from some good fortune with turnovers. They have had some injuries already, and if that trend continues and if they don’t get the QB play they need I could see this team letting a lot of bobbleheads down.
Seattle Seahawks Predictions
2009 Record: 4-11-1 (3-4-1 home, 1-7 road)
2009 Against the Spread: 7-9 ATS, 5-10-1 vs. Total
2009 Rankings: 21st offense (15th pass, 26th rush); 24th overall (30th pass, 15th rush)
2010 Odds: 60/1 to win SB, 35/1 to win NFC, 9/1 to win NFC West, 6.0 wins O/U
Offense: You never think that a guard can have that much impact on a franchise. But the Seahawks haven’t been the same since they let Steve Hutchinson walk in 2006. Since then the Seattle offense has gone from a consistent Top 10 unit to the banged up, scraped together, underperforming group we’ve seen the last few years. Walter Jones retired this offseason so the Seahawks are now trying to rebuild their foundation with a young core that includes first round pick Russell Okung. Unless the line improves this group will be plagued by the same troubles: not being able to protect and keep Matt Hasselbeck healthy, as well as not being able to establish the run. I still think that Hasselbeck is one of the top 10 or 12 quarterbacks in the NFL, but he hasn’t had anything to work with and is starting to wear down from the beating he’s taken over the last few seasons. Seattle’s receiving corps is pretty average, and it looks like Mike Williams may be resurrecting his career with his former college coach. Mark Carlson is an up-and-coming tight end, and he and Williams will look to be reliable red zone targets. Seattle’s offense has been sporadic – explosive for one quarter and impotent for three others – and they were held to 10 points or less six times last year. With a healthy QB they should be more consistent. But this is a group that needs to find an identity in a new offense and needs to find some chemistry with one another.
Defense: The defense was really hung out to dry last season when Lofa Tatupu went down after five games. Tatupu is one of the best and most underrated linebackers in the NFL and the leader of this defense. His absence last year also impacted rookie Aaron Curry, who didn’t have the vet to learn from. Those two are at the core of the D’s strength. But they don’t have much to work with around them. The third starter, Leroy Hill, was suspended for one game and now has a sprained knee that will sideline him into late September. The front four is full of big bodies and has the foundation for being strong against the run. However, there are zero, and I mean ZERO, pass rushers on the roster. They were No. 26 in the league with 28 sacks last year and that was with now-retired Pat Kerney starting at end. If they don’t find a rush from somewhere, and in Pete Carroll’s 4-3 I don’t see a lot of scheming to get a rush, then that’s going to expose the league’s No. 30 pass defense. The secondary is renovated with two new starters and there is some talent and depth here. The X-Factor is 36-year-old safety Lawyer Milloy. He was added in part to help mentor rookie Earl Thomas. But Milloy has looked so good that he should be starting in Week 1. Milloy worked wonders as the leader of a young Atlanta secondary in 2008. He is a veteran presence and needs to stay healthy to hold this group together.
Skinny: Yeah, I’m not buying Pete Carroll. He was mediocre as a coach in his first go-round in the NFL. And right now the whole situation has the look of a guy that is going to coach for two years just to let the dust settle from his USC scandal then bolt once he gets a good college offer. He’s preached about the importance of competition at all positions in order to field the best team. But as I look at this roster the thing that sticks out the most is that lack of depth and talent behind the starters. They have some nice secondary pieces and some receiver depth. But that’s it. Seattle has been decimated by injuries of the last two years, begging the question if they have just been unlucky or if they just have a bunch of injury-prone players. This team is dangerous because of Hasselbeck and their sick home field advantage. But I think their ceiling is seven or eight wins. They’ll be more competitive than last year, when seven of their 11 losses were by 17 points or more, but that’s not saying much.
St. Louis Rams Predictions
2009 Record: 4-12 (1-7 home, 3-5 road)
2009 Against the Spread: 6-9-1 ATS, 6-10 vs. Total
2009 Rankings: 29th offense (28th pass, 20th rush); 29th defense (25th pass, 27th rush)
2010 Odds: 50/1 to win SB, 30/1 to win NFC, 5/1 to win NFC West, 6.0 wins O/U
Offense: I know this: I wouldn’t be trusting my franchise quarterback – especially a little sprite like Sam Bradford – behind this offensive line. St. Louis is rebuilding its front five and will have three new starters this year. But is there talent? Not really. And if they can’t block that means that they can’t consistently run or consistently pass. Steven Jackson is the best running back in football, hand’s down, and he is an absolute hero for what he’s been able to do surrounded by such ass-clowns. He’ll need about 600 carries and about 2200 yards this year for this offense to go anywhere. They have no playmakers in the passing game and Donnie Avery will be trying hard to bounce back from one of the worst seasons I’ve ever seen a “No. 1 receiver” have. Oh, and did I mention that A.J. Feely is the likely opening game starter? Yeah, this group is pathetic.
Defense: Chris Long has been solid and getting better and Osh Atogwe is an excellent safety. Other than that, this group is a mess. If you don’t count James Hall, the rest of the front seven averages two years of NFL experience. And it’s not like we’re talking about blue chips here. They secondary is the most “experienced” area, but other than Atogwe none of the guys are any good. This side of the ball is populated by nothing but journeymen, unproven youngsters with no one to learn from, and scrap heap players that are fringe pros. Needless to say, I don’t see them improving much on last year’s No. 29 ranking. And there is only so much scheming that Steve Spagnuolo can do with this group.
Skinny: Man, where do I start? The Rams won just three games in 2007 and have seen their win total actually decrease in each of the last two years. That’s tough to do. Sam Bradford could be a good NFL quarterback. But who knows? Behind that line, with those receivers, I think that the Rams will be risking way too much to try to find out. The Rams were outscored by 261 points last year and 233 points in 2008. That’s an average loss of 15.4 points per game for two years and that’s utterly pathetic. The roster isn’t any better this year than it was in either of those seasons and they have already endured an injury-riddled camp. This team is still rebuilding. But to be honest I’ll be stunned if they win more than three games this year. Stunned.
Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional sports and NFL handicapper for Doc’s Sports. Last year he brought home +62.5 Units for his football picks clients in the NFL and he is regarded as one of the top totals players in the sport. He guarantees a winning football season this year or he will work for free until you turn a profit. You can sign up for his college football and NFL picks and get more information here.You can sign up for his college football and NFL picks and get more information here.