NFL Season Preview: NFC West

Posted by Jack Tumen

Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

We finally reach the end of the Jacked Up Sports 2014 NFL Preview Series with a breakdown of the league’s best division; the NFC West.

The St. Louis Rams took quite the blow when Sam Bradford tore his ACL last week. You know what that means? (Besides the fact that their season is already lost) – He’s a bust. Sign it, stamp it and put it in the mailbox; Sam Bradford is officially a bust. He’s been in the league for five years now and has never made the playoffs or even finished with a winning record. I don’t care that he won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010; he has never made the full transition from Oklahoma to the NFL.

Jeff Fisher is left with a 34-year-old backup in Shaun Hill. He’s really one of the best backups in the league but expect St. Louis to acquire another capable QB before week 1. It’s a set of unfortunate circumstances for a team that was looking to make a leap in a deep division. Not only does this put the Rams’ season in jeopardy before it even starts – it beckons the search for a new franchise quarterback.

But there are games to be played – and this roster is solid at other positions besides quarterback. This defensive front might be the best in the NFL. Robert Quinn comes off a 19-sack performance from a year ago and is joined by Chris Long, Michael Brockers and stand-out rookie, Aaron Donald. These four will be the main force keeping St. Louis in games this year. The secondary has been considered a weak spot but I’m a fan of Janoris Jenkins and rookie DB, Lamarcus Joyner. E.J. Gaines has also shown well as a sixth-round pick. The safety spot is where the weakness is on this defense.

David Welker/Getty Images

David Welker/Getty Images

On offense, St. Louis is deep with middle-of-the-road talent. This receiving corps has been a work-in-progress for multiple seasons now; six-deep, but it’s a group of no. 2 and 3 receivers. Until Kenny Britt proves he can return to his Titan form, he’d be the second option on most teams. Tavon Austin struggled to adjust at the pro level and never expanded his role asides from being a gadget player and returner as the eighth-overall pick a year ago. Brian Quick has shown promise, but again, he’s a no. 2 option at best in this league. Stedman Bailey and Austin Pettis have flashed ability but haven’t separated themselves from the pack while Chris Givens has the wheels to be a deep threat but just doesn’t possess a well-rounded game overall.

Other Notables: Zac Stacy is the presumptive starter at RB but will be pushed for carries by Benny Cunningham and rookie, Tre Mason; Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks are two reliable receiving tight ends; James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree are a pair of stud linebackers who both surpassed 115 tackles last season; No. 2 overall pick, Greg Robinson, will grow into his role as an anchor on this o-line.

In this division, the Arizona Cardinals are the team that can shake up the standings if they hit their stride at the right time. They finished 10-6 in Bruce Arians’ first year as head coach but still missed the playoffs behind San Fran and Seattle. Remember; this was the only team to win a game in Seattle last year. The pieces are there; they just need to be put together.

Carson Palmer shadily had one of his best seasons as a passer, throwing for a career-high 4,274 yards. 22 interceptions, however, was another career high for Palmer; just a few less of those and we’re talking about a playoff team last year. I’ve never been a Carson Palmer guy, but he’s in the right place to succeed now on the back end of his career. AZ drafted Virginia Tech quarterback, Logan Thomas – a measurables freak – to be groomed under Palmer. He’s flown under the radar but has been one of the best rookie QBs this preseason.

Fitz:Floyd - Jonathan Ferrey:Getty Images

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are one of the best receiver-duos in the league. Floyd surpassed 1,000 receiving yards last year while Fitz tallied double-digit touchdowns. There’s been much hype surrounding third-round rookie, John Brown, who’s been pegged as the T.Y. Hilton of Bruce Arians’ offense. Ted Ginn’s on this roster as well.

The backfield situation is not ideal but Andre Ellington will be the top-dog for this season. Arians refused to use him as a workhorse back last season but might not have much of a choice with his only other options being Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer. Ellington excels outside the tackles as a shifty runner and a pass-catching threat.

On defense, this secondary is shaping up to be one of the leagues’ best. Patrick Peterson will play like a $70 million man across from former Jet, Antonio Cromartie while Tyrann Mathieu and first-rounder, Deone Buchannon, will solidify the back end at the safety positions.

However, this unit took a huge blow when Darnell Dockett’s season ended last week with a torn ACL. That certainly puts a damper on things but it’s a next-man-up league and someone’s gotta fill his shoes. Newly signed Tommy Kelly might be that guy.

With Karlos Dansby in Cleveland and Daryl Washington suspended for the entire season, the name to watch at linebacker will be second year man, Kevin Minter. He’ll look to make his mark as a long-term starter alongside Larry Foote, Desmond Bishop and Lorenzo Alexander. Outside ‘backer consists of John Abraham, Sam Acho and Alex Okafor.

Other Notables: Tight end is deep with John Carlson, Rob Housler and second-round rookie, Troy Niklas; Jonathan Cooper needs to prove he was worth the first-round pick Arizona spent on him to play guard; Rookie LB, Glenn Carson, was solid at Penn State and could see meaningful snaps this season.

The 49ers have been relentless in their pursuit for a Super Bowl title this decade. They have one of the best rosters in the NFL from top-to-bottom and they only seem to improve on that each year. This team is playing good football at the right time – they get to host next year’s Super Bowl in brand new Levi’s Stadium and could make a push to be the true home team in that contest.

Colin Kaepernick got himself a new deal this offseason and will look to continue polishing his game. He’s got weapons around him – even in a run-first offense. At age 30, Frank Gore still managed to be a top-10 rusher last year, finishing with 1,128 yards and 9 TDs. He’s now joined by bruiser, Carlos Hyde, to create a very imposing backfield along with LaMichael James.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

This offensive line could be the best in the league. Guard, Alex Boone, has been holding out all of training camp but San Fran needs to pay da man. Mike Iupati, Adam Snyder and Joe Staley are all the cream-of-the-crop at their respective positions. With center, Jonathan Goodwin, now in NOLA, Marcus Martin and Ryan Kilgore will compete for his old spot.

Assuming he can stay healthy, Michael Crabtree will be the no. 1 receiver on this team. Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis will get their share of targets as well in what is a well-rounded receiving corps. Stevie Johnson, Bruce Ellington, Brandon Lloyd and Quinton Patton are further down the depth chart.

Not having NaVorro Bowman will hurt this defense and Aldon Smith has been suspended for the first nine games of the season – but Patrick Willis is still one of the best linebackers in the league. He’s got plenty of young talent around him with guys like Chris Borland and Aaron Lynch. Don’t forget always-reliable, Ahmad Brooks.

This secondary is highlighted by first round picks, Eric Reid and Jimmie Ward. Antoine Bethea joins the crew at safety while Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver will hold down at corner.

Other Notables: Glenn Dorsey won’t be available ’til late this season with a torn bicep but was inked to a long-term deal that will keep him around for years to come; Justin Smith and Ray McDonald will anchor this defensive line; TE Vance McDonald will push for more snaps this season; What’s the deal with Marcus Lattimore?

The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl last season by fielding possibly the best defense in NFL history. With the crew being much of the same this year, a repeat isn’t out of the question for the team from the Pacific Northwest.

Russell Wilson is one of the most unique athletes in sports. He’s only 5’11”, but has massive hands, smooth mobility and a good head on his shoulders. It only took him two seasons as a pro to achieve the greatest accomplishment in sports. He’s only getting better, but for him to keep improving, he’ll need better protection from his offensive line. Russell was sacked more than any other QB in the league last year and will need some help from guys like Russell Okung, James Carpenter and Max Unger if Seattle wants to continue its success.

Kevin Casey/Getty Images

Kevin Casey/Getty Images

Marshawn Lynch will continue to be Beast Mode for this physical offense but look for Christine Michael to finally emerge as a contributor to Seattle’s ground game. Doug Baldwin, Percy Harvin and Jermaine Kearse will small-ball their way through the season with the additions of Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood. Zach Miller and Luke Willson are an overlooked pair of tight ends that help this offense move the chains drive-in and drive-out.

Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and an unlikely Super Bowl MVP in Malcolm Smith will make up this linebacking corps. Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Brandon Mebane are the main men up front.

And now introducing, the Legion of Boom: Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor; the best secondary in football.

Other Notables: Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell add more depth to an already deep secondary; Steven Hauschka was one of the best kickers in the league last year; Second-year DT, Jordan Hill, should have an impact as a rotational player on this defensive front.

Final Standings

  1. Seattle: 12-4

  2. San Francisco: 11-5

  3. Arizona: 10-6

  4. St. Louis: 6-10

The toughest division in the NFL plays the AFC West and NFC East this season. Seattle is still one of the top-three teams in the league and I expect Russell Wilson to continue growing as this defense shuts down just about everything it faces. Their schedule is highlighted by a week-three rematch with the Broncos; San Francisco is incredibly deep at just about every position – but they’re still going to be the little brother to Seattle. They’re both run-first teams, but the Seahawks have the advantage on defense and at quarterback. 11 wins sounds about right to me; It’s hard to put a finger on Arizona. They were a quiet 10-6 team a year ago, playing in the shadows of Seattle and San Fran. Year two for Bruce Arians should be much of the same as I expect the Cardinals to tip-toe their way through the season and be fighting for a Wild Card spot come December; I originally had both St. Louis and Arizona at 8-8 – but after Sam Bradford went down, I gave two divisional wins to the Cardinals. St. Louis really caught a tough break by losing their starting quarterback and I just don’t see any way for them to recover from that. Shaun Hill is capable but not great; they need to acquire another big arm in order to salvage this season before it begins. Their defense will keep them in some games but points will be hard to come by. Jeff Fisher needs to start watching film on Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

That wraps up the Jacked Up Sports 2014 NFL Preview Series. Thanks everyone for following along and keep coming back for more content as the NFL season is just about to kick off.

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