Wednesday, September 05, 2007

NFC West preview

NFC West Preview

Seattle *
San Francisco
St. Louis

I liked the Seattle offense a lot two years ago. I picked them to go deep in the playoffs too. Their line was good, Alexander was good, and Hasselback had good command of that offense. Last year Hasselback was hurt, Alexander was hurt, the line wasn’t as good, and the team won the division by default.

San Fran is the trending pick to win the West this year, and there are always people picking Arizona or St. Louis to be the sleeper this year. The rest of this division is improving, but I’d still have to give that edge to Seattle.

Their offense has a chance to be pretty good again, and the defense should be good enough. It’s not so much that I like Seattle, I just think they are better than the other teams. They have the best head coach in the division, possibly the best QB in the division, and they have an outstanding home field advantage.

They have a good linebacking core. I think Lofa is one of the best MLB in the game, and Julian Peterson is one of the best OLB in the game.

You have to wonder about the secondary, but they have a former NFL head coach, coaching it so that should help. I think Jim Mora was one of the worst head coaches in the game, but he should help out as an assistant coaching the secondary. You have to like having a former boss, down in the nitty gritty coaching a single aspect of the game.

Patrick Kearny should be what Grant Wistrom, and will be a crowd favorite in that loud stadium. Losing Marcus Tubbs really hurts and Makes Lofas job a whole hell of a lot harder.

I am not as big a fan of the Seattle receivers. I think they are functional. I am not as high on Deion Branch as some other people are, and they let their best wideout move on to a divisional rival. People like DJ Hackett.

I pick Seattle to win this division because their early schedule is a little easier than San Frans, and they don’t have to break in a new offensive coordinator and receivers. I like Holmgren a lot more than Mike Nolan, and the 49ers secondary is still a question mark for me.

San Fran is picked by many as a sleeper. I see them more like the Dolphins of last year that everybody vastly over rated and I correctly faded. Sure they brought in a lot of whole new parts, but who is going to integrate them all? I don’t like Mike Nolan as a head coach. I think the 49ers have a great front office, but the wrong guy coaching the team. Now Nolan has his “ parts” on defense, and no more excuses for having a joke defense. In general, I don’t like coaches that are “genius” on one side of the ball, but their team stinks there. Brian Billeck is an offensive “genius”, but his offense stinks. Same for Tony Dungy in Indy, or Marvin Lewis in Cincy.

I think Alex Smith has a chance to be a real good quarterback. The best quarterbacks are Manning, Brady, Brees, Mcnabb, and Palmer. I think Eli, Leinart, and Smith all have a chance to one day enter that upper echelon. In reality, everyone does, but I’d have my money on those three.

What I don’t like about that 49ers offense, is losing one of the best offensive coordinators in the game. Now we all know that Norv isn’t the best head coach in the world, but he is outstanding as a coordinator. He is good with quarterbacks, and he is very fantasy football friendly with his running backs. The good news is that the new offensive coordinator doesn’t want to deviate too much from the offense that Norv built, but it will still be a challenge.

It will be tough to integrate 2 new receives into that offense, and Vernon Davis is new himself. I don’t like that. Lelie and Jackson are certainly talent upgrades, but it’s not just about talent. What if Ashley Lelie isn’t up to speed and runs the wrong route and it causes a turnover? I generally like QB/Receiver stability on an offense, and I like offensive line stability. Running backs are generally much easier to plug in and out.

San Frans defense gave up an NFL worst 25.8 PPG last year but somehow Mike Nolan is a defensive genius. To credit the front office, they did bring in Patrick Willis and Nate Clements, but will that be enough? Michael Lewis is good against the run, but a liability in the passing game. At least the 49ers got rid of Mike Rumph from a couple of years ago, the worst Corner in the entire NFL, which helped them out a little bit.

I actually think the 49ers could have a pretty good linebacking core with Lawson, Willis, Moore, Ulbrich, Smith. Willis is supposed to be the next Ray Lewis, Lawson was a hidden gem, and I have always liked Ulbirch. I remember when the 49ers had a goalline stand from the 1 yard line, and big sledge Hammer back Stephen Jackson got a full head of steam and kept charging ahead for 3 straight plays, and Ulbrich sent him moving backwards multiple times to stop the touchdown. I watch Ulbrich, and he’s been a good and underrated player.

Walt Harris had a nice year last year, but the guy had 4 of his 8 picks against Marcus Tuiosisopo of the Raiders and Senecca Wallace of Seattle. Now those 8 picks aren’t as impressive huh?

The 49ers are actually a lot better at home on Grass, than they are on the road. The defense is better too.

I think the 49ers first 10 weeks of their schedule is hard. Their first 8 games are against Ari, @ Stl, @ Pitt, Sea, Bal, Bye, @ NYG, NO, @ Atl and then a showdown with Seattle. Even after their Seattle game, they have 2 more divisional opponents in row. I think with breaking in the new offensive coordinator, and the new guys in the secondary, the 49ers would have been better served with their easier opponents early in the year, as opposed to in the beginning when they are trying to work everything out. I’ll still give them 2nd in this division though, as they are still possibly a year away.

Rams- Good offense, bad defense. Good @ Home, bad on the road. The coach tried to put more emphasis on the run game with SJax and less emphasis on throwing the ball all around the field. The Rams offense is one of the better ones in the league, if only they could sport an average defense, they would be good. Their defense stinks.

One of the reasons why I believe they are good at home and bad on the road is that their offense is predicated on timing. The turf to grass trade off screws up Bulgers timing, and Bulger is maybe the best QB in the league as far as throwing the ball while or before the receiver made his break. It means Bulger doesn’t have to hold onto the ball as long, he will get sacked less than a typical QB. Bulger is great at anticipation, but the move to Grass slows the game down and changes the timing.

The Rams schedule is difficult in the middle, weeks 6-12 with @ Bal, @ Sea, Clev, Bye, @ NO, @ SF, Sea. They could theoretically win 1 game in that 5 game stretch. I see the Rams as about a 7-9 or 6-10 team depending on injuries (they were pretty injury free last year).

Every year Detroit and Arizona are supposed to “ break out” but it never happens. Arizona has the piece in place on offense, they just need that O-Line to play even average. They bring in a new coaching staff that will help that O-Line, and they didn’t ignore the O-Line in the draft. They probably reached a little bit to bring in Levi Brown at the 5th pick, but playing RT, he will defend Matt Leinarts blindside.

Leinart gets rid of the ball much quicker than Warner did. The impact this has on the offense can be seen in his first start against Chicago. Getting rid of the ball quicker, moves the chains, keeps him from getting sacked and into bad down and distance situations, and actually allows the Cards to more successfully mix in running plays ( which helps out the offense, and even the defense).

I said it earlier, but my money is on Leinart, Alex Smith, or Eli to be the better quarterbacks of the future. It might not be this year, but in the next 3-4 seasons that transition could happen. I still think Leinart has some growing pains, and I picked this team to finish last in the division. One of the things I noticed, is that Leinart seems to like throwing to Bryant Johnson as well as Quan and Fitz.

The Cards have a stud on every level of their defense. Berry on the line, Dansby at LB, and Wilson in the secondary. Berry was hurt last year, which really hurt that D.

Arizona might be a better team next year, but their record might not show it. Their first 7 weeks before the Bye will be tough. @ SF, Sea, @ Bal, Pit, @ Stl, Car, @ Washington and then their Bye. The Cards could potentially be 2-6 at that point and the same old last place Cardinals. I do think they have some quality pieces in place, but they could also be a year away.

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