NFC West Outlook/Prediction

Seattle

All season it was a reoccurrance of this Seahawk team dominating their matchup every week. The philosophy built by Carroll to challenge each other to greatness in practice and on the field, was embedded in this young group. They had faith in that, and they believed in each other. Whether you were a starter or fighting for a roster spot, you played every down like it was your last. Malcolm Smith, Walter Thurmond and Jermaine Kearse are just a few who shined when the team called on them in a big moment. Russell Wilson gets the same vibe as Alex Smith and that is not necessarily a bad thing. He’s not one to solely carry the team, but definitely a respected voice in the huddle that will control his drives brilliantly, without putting his guys in a tough spot. He doesn’t do it all, but he will for sure do enough. A big part in his position is reading progression, and he looks very poised in that aspect for a young QB.

Seattle’s overwhelming defense was the obvious key to the ‘Ship and they finished second in point differential combined from the 2013 season at +186, which was only 3TD’s behind the team they punished in the Super Bowl. With Percy Harvin finally settling into the offense and an exciting young committee behind Beast Mode, there is no telling how high of a ceiling this team may have this year. I have this team at a strong 11-5 with losses to GB, SD, SF, PHI and STL. Definitely in the Playoffs, but tripped up by someone like GB, CHI or NO.

San Francisco

There has been plenty of noise around the Niners this offseason. Their staff made great additions to the team, but also hit some bumps with some key injuries and suspensions that could really hinder their numbers in the ‘Wins’ column to start the year. It was incredibly heartbreaking to watch a great player like Navarro Bowman go down in such a pivotal game last year. Every true football fan is hoping for a full speedy recovery for such a talented player. It will be up to Patrick Willis to keep that LB core steady with Bowman on the PUP and Aldon Smith sitting 9 games. Signing Anotoine Bethea was a huge pickup, but he will also have to help guide an inexperienced secondary throughout the season.

Kaep had a pretty up and down year, and it’s up to him to earn his coin with an incentive based contract, but he has the supporting cast to make it happen. Crabtree is healthy to start the year, and Stevie Johnson could play a small role in big games if they needed him. We’re not sure of what Gore has left in the tank, but even if he’s running on empty, there is a league ready monster named Carlos Hyde that is built for this versatile offense. San Fran really only had one impressive win last year (SEA) and if anyone else paid attention, Kaep still struggles noticeably with pocket contained pressure and man coverages. A rocket arm, yes, but the accuracy isn’t there on every throw. Unfortunately I envision a major struggle for the Niners to start the year, and I think the hole they dig might just be too much to crawl out from. They sit at 9-7 losing to CHI, PHI, DEN, NO, SEA x2 and SD.

Arizona

You don’t hear a lot about how well the Cardinals played last year with a new head coach (Bruce Arians) and QB (Carson Palmer). They started the year 4-4 but then got the offense rolling and finished the year 6-2, with impressive wins over CAR, IND and SEA (in SEA!). Arians utilized his big yardage scheme and got production out of Andre Ellington, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts. Year 2 should be much more comfortable for Palmer, but defensively they lost Dockett to injury and Dansby to the Browns. It will be up to their secondary to get their defense off the field on 3rd downs, with the LSU teammates Peterson and Mathieu, and the addition of veteran Antonio Cromartie.

I can see a big year coming for Michael Floyd with so much attention still on Fitz. I don’t think Ellington will live up to the hype he’s receiving this year but I could definitely be overlooking his talent. I personally think Stepfan Taylor could steal some carries and put up solid numbers spelling Andre. The offense can definitely improve from where they finished last year, pretty much middle of the road Passing and Rushing. With rookie Kevin Minter and 13yr player Larry Foote plugging the middle of that defense, I don’t see Arizona keeping that #1 spot against the run this year. They will have their work cut out for them again this year in arguably the toughest division in football. I have them struggling in the division again this year going 2-4, ending the season at 6-10 with their only wins over NY, SF, OAK, WAS, STL and KC.

St. Louis

The Sam Bradford era has come to an end for the Rams. They will once again have to grind their way through this season through a stout division without their supposed ‘Franchise QB.’ Luckily St. Louis has arguably the best D-Line in the league, which added a stud in Aaron Donald to help Brockers plug the middle.  Zac Stacy is looking ready to take a majority of the carries again this year, with the shifty Tre Mason to come in as a change of pace back behind his Auburn teammate Greg Robinson. Kenny Britt could also add some versatility to this offense with his short history under Fisher in TEN. Brian Schottenheimer hasn’t really gotten this offense to move forward, and may be on a short leash coming into this season. He has to find a way to get Tavon Austin the ball in space and convert on 3rd downs. He has struggled with moving the chains for his offense and it weighs down on a tired defense in the 4th quarter.

This young team showed last year that they’re not afraid to go toe to toe as the underdogs and they will have to step it up with so much youth on both sides of the ball. I think Alec Ogletree can really contribute to turnovers this year, with so much pressure coming from the relentless ends Long and Quinn. If the Rams can get consistent play at QB every week and shape up the air attack, it will really boost the morale of these first and second year starters. I put St. Louis at 8-7 through 16 weeks with wins over MIN, DAL, SF, AZ, OAK, WAS, AZ and NY. Week 17 at Seattle will determine their Wild Card destiny.

Article written by Drew Lacuesta.