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NFC West

Completing the set of divisional previews from the astute, resolute and not so hirsute Ian Steven, @deevo82. Catch the rest of his previews via the previous posts list down the bottom right of the page...

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NFC West

Seattle Seahawks


After the amount of work put into the draft, offseason workouts, free agency, mini camps, training camps, pre-season, a 16 game regular season and the playoffs, it all came down to one play in Super Bowl.49. One play between despair and back-to-back titles. The Seahawks chose despair.

Marshawn Lynch is the most physical running back in the league and was the odds-on favourite to bull his way over the goal line to gift Pete Carroll’s men the Lombardi Trophy. The Seahawks outthought themselves, elected to call a slant to Ricardo Lockette. Darius Butler read the route and the rest is history. Russell Wilson picked off at the one yard line.

The Seahawks have had seven months to stew in their own juices. It will be interesting to see how they react.

Quarterback Wilson is back at the helm once more. There is some contract speculation over the amount of money he is worth but it is doubtful that will bother him. Fast, smart and accurate, Wilson is utilised well in Darrell Bevell’s offense, running a lot of bootlegs to instigate misdirection, allowing the quarterback space and time to find targets.

One new toy for Wilson is tight end Jimmy Graham who was traded for from New Orleans with center Max Unger heading the other way. Graham is a very dynamic player and will benefit from space in the intermediate zones if line backers cheat up to defend the run.

Running the ball is something that the Seahawks excel at, leading the league with 2,762 yards in 2014. Passing is a different story as they were only 27th in the NFL last season, which is partly why Graham was brought in. Wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse would be depth players on other rosters rather than starters.

It is on defense that Seattle really sets the tone. The “Legion of Boom” were the best ranked outfit in the NFL last season. Cornerback Byron Maxwell left in free agency for Philadelphia whilst strong safety Kam Chancellor is holding out for a new contract. Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman are still part of that awesome secondary unit so there should be little drop off in their play.

Arizona Cardinals

On November 7, 2014, Palmer agreed to a $50 million, three-year contract extension with the Cardinals. Two days later he tore his ACL for the second time in his career in a game against the St Louis Rams.

Palmer was enjoying a renaissance in 2014, playing solid football with a supporting cast that looked capable of knocking the Seahawks off their perch before disaster struck. Especially with quarterbacks, one injury and the team’s season is over.

The good news for Palmer is that he still has Larry Fitzgerald and Malcolm Floyd to toss the rock to. Fitzgerald missed two games last season due to injury and as a result posted the lowest amount of receiving yards in his career with 722. Floyd may miss the start of the season due to dislocating three fingers in training camp. Free agent pick up Jermaine Gresham should see a lot more targets at tight end if Floyd is not ready to go.

The Cards have a big and beefy offensive line with Jonathan Cooper, Mike Iupati, Earl Walford and Jared Veldheer but still don’t have a premier running back to take advantage. Andre Ellington should be the first number called with former 2,000 yard rusher Chris Johnson used in reserve. The defense has been rocked by the news inside line backer Daryl Washington will be suspended for the second straight year for substance abuse. Sean Weatherspoon and Kevin Minter will start until the Horned Frog can get his act straight.

The secondary for Arizona is particularly impressive. Patrick Peterson is a shut down corner. Honey Badger Tyriann Mathieu will move from safety to cornerback due to a lack of bodies at the position with Rashad Johnson and Deonne Buchanan operating at safety.

Bruce Arians’ men will have to get off to a fast start as their last three games are against the Eagles, Packers and Seahawks – which could ultimately decide their fate.

St Louis Rams

The big move of the offseason for the Rams was the trade for Nick Foles from the Eagles, shipping Sam Bradford in the opposite direction. Bradford was injured one time too often and the front office cut their ties with the former first overall pick. Foles had his issues in Philly, regressing with his footwork and getting skittish in the pocket so St Louis need to protect him well. What every Rams fan wants to see this season is Todd Gurley lining up at tailback for the first time. Gurley badly injured his knee playing for Georgia last season and is still working his way back to fitness but we was one of the most dynamic players in college football and had superstar written all over him. I would compare his running style to that of Steven Jackson – the former Rams running back.

Gurley aside, the Rams are not loaded at the skill positions with Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin slotted in as primary receivers so do not expect Foles to post MVP-like numbers.

It is the defensive unit that really makes this team tick. Their front seven are devastating – built partly through the blockbuster trade with Washington that allowed the Redskins to select RG3. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2014 and he is joined by Chris Long, Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn. Line backers Alec Ogletree, Akeem Ayers and James Lauranitis are thumpers and set the tone.

The secondary is not as elite but if the front four can consistently get pressure then they elevate the play of the other seven players on defense.

San Francisco 49ers

How the mighty have fallen. Playing in the Super Bowl in 2013 and now favourites to finish bottom of the NFC West just two years later.

A glut of retirements is what has sparked the dire predictions with Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and Fred Davis hanging up their cleats. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has also moved on to take the head coaching job at Michigan, his alma mater. Former Scottish Claymores defensive line coach Jim Tomsula steps into the void to take over as head coach.

The 49ers still have quarterback Colin Kaepernick and a duo of reasonable receivers in Anquan Bolden, who is starting to show his age, and Torrey Smith. Vernon Smith can still perform well at tight end and is a consistent match up night mare.

It is strange, however, to look into the backfield and not see Frank Gore lining up. It looked like the former Miami running back was heading to Philadelphia before Indianapolis stepped in to snatch him away in free agency. Carlos Hyde will be the new plough horse in the backfield, backed up by speedster Reggie Bush.

It is not only retirement that has decimated the defense. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith was jettisoned by the team for one misdemeanour too many and has signed with Oakland.

One morsel of good news is that middle line backer Navarro Bowman has returned after suffering a horrendous knee injury in 2014 and has looked sharp in pre-season.

San Francisco should be solid against the run but they do not have much in the way of pass rushers and with Kenneth Acker and Tramaine Brock at cornerback, they look very susceptible to being picked apart by savvy quarterbacks.

Verdict

Seattle should have enough in their tank to still hold on to the division title but Arizona should run them close. Odds of 1.30 are not tempting however. A much better wager would be with Arizona making the playoffs as a wild card. They should have a much superior record to most other teams in the NFC.

3pts on Arizona to make the playoffs @ 2.5 with Bet365.

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