2016 NFC West Previews & Predictions

Michael Bennett & Cliff Avril sandwich Drew Brees amid the din of Qwest Field.

Michael Bennett & Cliff Avril sandwich Drew Brees amid the din of Qwest Field.

If you go back to last year’s NFC Divisional Round, the Seattle Seahawks learned the hard way how valuable the homefield advantage was they had enjoyed the previous two seasons. After having traveled 8,931 miles in round trips to Phoenix, Minnesota in the Wildcard, then taking the field in Carolina, they were an exhausted team. Falling behind 31-0 by halftime to the eventual NFC Champion Panthers. Their season came to a close with a 31-24 defeat at the hands of Cam Newton and company.

In an attempt to make it to their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years, Seattle needs to draw teams up to the Pacific Northwest. Let them fatigue with the travel. Yet a question remains: So who are they?? The team that fell behind big in Carolina or the team that came roaring back outscoring them 24-0 in the 2nd half??

seahawksalt22016 NFC West Predictions

Seattle Seahawks 12-4**

Arizona Cardinals 10-6*

San Francisco 49ers 6-10

LA Rams 4-12

The first question that will arise from the desert will invariably be: “What about the Arizona Cardinals? They won the NFC West last year?”

Which is 100% true. Yet let’s take you back to week 17 of the 2016 campaign and offer the genesis why they aren’t favored.

In week 10 the Cardinals had knocked off the Seahawks in a rousing 39-32 road win to become the media darling of the NFC West. National sports shows and pundits flocked to the desert to interview this team. Some even waxed philosophical about Carson Palmer for league MVP, he was having that good of a season. Yet a date with an old bully loomed in the last week of the season.

There was an outside chance the Cardinals had a shot at homefield advantage, and more important could knock the Seahawks from the playoffs. Just as important to the Cardinals psyche was the chance to sweep their nemesis and prove to themselves the first win was no fluke. They had become the heavy in the NFC West and this would cement that notion to both teams…to everyone.

carsonpalmerWell the Seahawks punched the Cardinals right in the mouth as Palmer deteriorated (12 of 25 for 129 yards 1 TD / 1 int) into his worst performance of the year. He was pulled in the 2nd quarter in the middle of being routed 30-6 by intermission, finally falling 36-6. His spotty play continued against Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs, as the offense struggled for continuity in a 26-20 overtime win.

The only reason they won that game was Larry Fitzgerald early in overtime caught an intermediate route, cleared Clay Matthews, and in normal circumstances runs out of bounds with a 1st down. However Fitzgerald knew he had to take matters into his own hands and turned upfield instead of going out of bounds. He ran like the Cardinal’s playoff life depended on it going 75 yards to the Green Bay 3. Winning the game with a shovel pass 2 plays later.

Then comes the 4 interception and 2 fumble meltdown 49-15 loss to the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. Palmer finished with 3 poor games when the stakes were the highest and has to prove he’s not a shot fighter. He hasn’t had a good postseason outing since the 2002 Orange Bowl in college. Only problem is Pete Carroll was his coach then and not the division rival as he is now. Much like a boxer after a vicious knockout loss, the Arizona Cardinals need to win the battle with themselves psychologically. Starting with Palmer. That is why they aren’t favored.

Bruce Arians and the window for the Arizona Cardinals is going to close after this season. Its now or never to make it to the Super Bowl with Palmer (37 yrs of age) and Larry Fitzgerald (33 yrs of age) leading the charge. David Johnson is coming into his own at RB and should rush for 1,300 yards this season.

The Cardinals had the 5th best defense in football and pulled off a coup of a trade picking up OLB Chandler Jones from New England. However his addition is offset by Tyrann Mathieu rehabbing another blown out knee. Can Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher get enough out of top pick DT Robert Nkimdiche and Jones in the rush to keep from his exotic blitz packages?? Mathieu had CB like coverage skills when 100% healthy. This season he could get exposed by those blitzes so they need the front seven to get after opposing QBs.

rams.takingfield.losangeles

The L.A. Rams taking the field for the 1st time in the 21st century.

In Los Angeles we had 90,000 come out to the LA Coliseum to witness the Rams returning to Southern California, and we are in the honeymoon stage. Lets not forget this was the 32nd or dead last offense in the NFL last season, and 1st pick Jared Goff needs a lot of work.  Despite RB Todd Gurley’s 1,106 yd 10 TD debut season, this is a team that had to take a QB#1 overall after tossing an anemic 11 TDs last season. It looks like journeyman Case Keenum will start as the prized rookie (Goff) learns the pro game from the sidelines. The question that arises… Can Coach Jeff Fisher and QB Coach Chris Weinke get Goff ready to be an NFL signal caller?? Maybe they will…but not this season.

The 49ers could be the surprise of the season with Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick leading a new charge under Chip Kelly. Carlos Hyde will have to become the every down back Frank Gore used to be and rush for 1,200 or better. Kaepernick and an improved Gabbert will win 6 games this year as the 49ers build back to respectability.

Now Russell is as big a threat in the pocket as outside of it.

Now Russell is as big a threat in the pocket as outside of it.

Which brings us to Seattle. The Seahawks had a dress rehearsal of the upcoming year without Marshawn Lynch in 2015.  Wilson became the focal point of the offense and developed as a total signal caller. In completing 329 of 483 for 4,024 yds 34 TDs to just 8 ints, Wilson graduated from being the resourceful scrambler to a bonafide elite QB add MVP candidate.

With so much attention on Wilson, Rawls (830 yds / 4 TDs) was able to settle into the RB position along with Christine Michael. The defense is still one of the NFL’s best although they lost LB Bruce Irvin to the Raiders. Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman are still patrolling the secondary with LBs Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright eating up the passing lanes underneath. The Seahawks have to get more from Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett up front this year. At times the pass rush wasn’t there last year and exposed the back 7 some.

Seattle is the class of this division and should challenge for homefield advantage.

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Midterm Review Seattle Seahawks: Quiet Storm Brewing

A consensus started to take shape when the Dallas Cowboys won in Seattle 5 weeks ago. Folks started to bury the defending Super Bowl champions. Further fuel was dumped on the fire with a loss to the Rams the following week. Then they endured the Percy Harvin trade after that. Yet this team bounced back with 3 consecutive wins and will face the meat of their season with 5 divisional games in their last 7.

Marshawn Lynch's 4 touchdown performance last week propelled a 38-17 drubbing of the Giants last week.

Marshawn Lynch’s 4 touchdown performance last week propelled a 38-17 drubbing of the Giants last week.

Every NFL season takes its own shape and the 2014 Seahawks aren’t the 2013 Seahawks. They have had to learn what it means to be the hunted as they have been hit with everyone’s best shot. Still they’re 6-3 and field the 3rd best defense in the NFL. Many pundits were writing their epitaph as though their season was over. One friend to Taylor Blitz Times suggested they may not make the playoffs. No chance of that… Did you know over the next 7 weeks Seattle will face the 22nd, 24th, 17th, 17th, 24th, and 30th ranked offenses in 6 of those games?? Two will be against Arizona now without QB Carson Palmer.

Truth be told the Seahawks got away from who they were trying to implement Percy Harvin in their offense. He is a tweener that isn’t a polished receiver and too small to play running back. From the Super Bowl until he was traded, his touches took away from Marshawn Lynch who establishes the attitude and tone for the team. Bubble screens and Jet sweeps were featured as the offense got away from power and became a finesse offense. Not one time with Harvin in the lineup did the Seahawks have any offensive continuity.

Last week the Seahawks rediscovered who they were with a 350 yard rushing performance buoyed by Lynch’s 21 car. 140 yards and 4 touchdowns. His physical runs wear down the opponent while galvanizing Seattle. Everyone feeds off the toughness he exhibits. This comes just in time for the stretch run to the playoffs. The new media darling is the Arizona Cardinals who have earned that distinction with an 8-1 record. Keep in mind the Seahawks have two cracks at them along with two more with the 49ers. By the way, Patrick Willis was just put on IR for San Francisco today.

Keep in mind last year the Cardinals won in Seattle in week 16 although the Seahawks had already earned home field advantage. Most pundits won’t tell you that. What they also failed to mention was where the Cardinals gained their motivation for that game. Well in the 2012 season as the Seahawks were establishing themselves as an NFC heavyweight, they crushed Arizona 58-0 in the worse NFL shutout loss of the century. It was an ass whooping of epic proportions, one the Cardinals didn’t forget. The Seahawks will remember last year’s 17-10 loss as well.

Now that the games are big for everyone, Seattle can apply pressure to opponents.

Now that the games are big for everyone, Seattle can apply pressure to opponents.

A closer look will tell you no one is going to sneak up on anyone as the playoffs beckon. The Seahawks will now have opponents feel the pressure of making it to the postseason instead of feeling all the anxiety themselves. Now the games get bigger and more important. Just in time for a LB Malcolm Smith to return to the lineup. Just in time as big hitting SS Kam Chancellor works his way back into game shape having missed two games.

This team is poised to make a Super Bowl run and now they have gone back to the formula that won the hardware last season. Does anyone believe Dallas will go up there and run like that in the playoffs if they faced one another?? Who really thinks the Cardinals will sustain their 2 game lead over Seattle?? What about all of ESPN’s reports the team is going to do away with Marshawn Lynch once the season is over?? The Chancellor doesn’t think so but we do know the Seahawks will ride Lynch all the way to Glendale and Super Bowl XLIX if they can. If they can do that they can establish the first post Bill Belichick dynasty.

Stay tuned…

 

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Arizona Cardinals – Ode To Professionalism

Over the last several weeks a lot of attention has been heaped on the Dallas Cowboys. Whether the conversation covered power rankings or flat X’s and O’s, they deserved all they received. However a closer look and the team that has more quality wins is the Arizona Cardinals.

Bruce Arians has to be NFL Coach of the Year for his team's performance.

Bruce Arians has to be NFL Coach of the Year for his team’s performance.

In their 6-1 start, they edged the 5-3 Chargers 18-17, pounded out a 23-14 win over the 4-3 49ers, and now a 24-20 victory over the 5-2 Philadelphia Eagles. The only blemish on their schedule was a 41-20 loss to the 6-1 Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning vs. Drew Stanton?? Those were the quarterbacks on the marquee in that defeat in Invesco Field with Carson Palmer nursing an injury.

How are the Cardinals doing this and more importantly can they sustain it? Did you know the Cardinals are ranked 24th in defense, 25th in total offense while being 22nd in gaining first downs?? They don’t have a top ten rusher, receiver, and Bruce Arians has used 3 different starting QBs thanks to injuries.

A closer look reveals Andre Ellington is 11th in rushing with 464 yards and 2 TDs. Yet that doesn’t explain anything. DeMarco Murray has that in his last 3 games alone.

Three keys to this team’s success are:

1. Their esprit de corps in executing Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles’ game plans.

2. Arizona is 2nd in the NFL with a +9 turnover ratio while keeping 6 opponents to 20 points or less.

3. Winning situational football week in and week out which can only be attributed to coaching.

“Situational football” is a phrase used by Bill Belichick in practicing specific moments that can arise in a game. What situation?? Take game 1 against the Chargers when they had a tentative lead with just a minute to go. Instead of lining up in a passive prevent zone and allowing Rivers to calmly lead his team in field goal range. They came after him on 3 successive plays with 0 coverage blitzes. Three incompletions and the Cardinals win.

John Brown is the Cardinal's version of the Steelers Antonio Brown. Diminutive and can flat out fly.

John Brown is the Cardinal’s version of the Steelers Antonio Brown. Diminutive and can flat out fly.

Another situation was this past Sunday with 1:39 to go in the game facing 3rd and 5. Rookie wideout John Brown sticks his foot in the ground 15 yards downfield then bursts pass S Nate Allen for the game winning 75 yard touchdown.

That is just it. The situation where all these cookie cutter coordinators are totally coaching their players what to expect, the Cardinals are going for broke. Carson Palmer pulled the trigger and led Brown perfectly on the game winning touchdown.

Arizona is keeping everyone close with this approach and finding ways to win it in the end.

Can they sustain the rate of committing just 5 turnovers in 7 games?? If they can they’d break the record of the 1990 New York Giants with fewest (13) in a season. Doubtful they can sustain it. Yet they have NFC tie breakers over San Francisco and Philadelphia. With a win this Sunday against Dallas, they will add another tie-breaker. Dallas better not overcoach this week.

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2014 Seattle Seahawks Preview – The Birth of a Dynasty?

As time wound down toward the end of Super Bowl XLVIII, there were several questions floating around Met Life Stadium. Was this one of the NFL’s greatest defenses?? Are we looking at the birth of a dynasty out in Seattle?? The first question is a resounding yes and the next question can’t be answered for a few years. Yet one point definitely remains, how can the Seahawks not be the odds on favorite to defend their crown in Super Bowl XLIX out in Arizona next February??

The Legion of Boom leads one of the best defenses in NFL history.

The Legion of Boom leads one of the best defenses in NFL history.

They just re-signed WR Sidney Rice to bolster the receiving corps along with a healthy Percy Harvin. The front office just signed Pro Bowl S Earl Thomas and CB Richard Sheman to long-term deals. It’s only a matter of time before they ink a deal with QB Russell Wilson.

Next is the feel good story that shapes the Seahawks different from other NFL franchises from a culture standpoint. The signing of 6th round pick OT Garrett Scott knowing he had a heart condition, allows him his full compensation of $550,000 even though they had to release him. Guarantee that struck a positive chord in every player across the league. If you thought free agents wanted to play for Seattle now, this move will resonate for years to come.

Quarterback: The Seahawks seem slated for a 7-10 year run with Russell Wilson at the helm. Yet make no mistake he still has to improve his ability to go through his progressions within the structure of the offense.

Russell Wilson keeps plays alive with his legs if they're not there initially.

Russell Wilson keeps plays alive with his legs if they’re not there initially.

Think back to the NFC Championship where Russell was really in a slump. Up until that 4th quarter touchdown bomb to Jermaine Kearse, we weren’t sure Wilson could make a play to end the ball game. Too many times if his first read wasn’t there, he’d take off. Coach Pete Carroll’s staff does a great job in calling play action roll-outs and half rolls where he has two reads. Sure this limits throws to half the field. However Wilson’s decision making of when to run or when to throw has been great. It was off kilter for those first two playoff games though.

For the season, Wilson completed 63.1% of his passes for 3,357 yards 26TDs to only 9 interceptions. Terrific numbers but his game has to evolve. When the Seahawks are in shotgun they normally run slants and go routes. Teams will adjust and start throwing zone blitzes in an attempt to force him to be hesitant and cut off running lanes with speed. The Seahawks also should watch for delayed blitzes designed for him to pull the ball down and scramble into an area where a defender will be headed.

If The Chancellor of Football has seen this on film, you better believe Jeff Fisher, Bruce Arrians, and Jim Harbaugh within the division have. Yet because of his decision making and ability to run, their playoff level at quarterback.

Offensive Backfield: For all the conversation, the NFL is a passing league and the running back has been devalued, here is exhibit A on quite the contrary.  Marshawn Lynch is the attitude and toughness of his team. From an X’s and O’s standpoint his downhill running style is why Russell Wilson is effective.  Teams have to honor that stretch run which makes the play fake so successful. When they don’t, Lynch bursts through for 4.2 yards per carry. Last year he did so while running for 1,257 yards and a career best 12 touchdowns.

Marshawn Lynch is the key to Seattle winning this game.

Lynch is the tone setter for the Seahawks.

Lynch runs with fury and reminds The Chancellor of Marion ‘The Barbarian”Barber yet he doesn’t seem likely to burn out in the next year or so. He sets the tone for the entire Seahawk football team. This year they may have to spell him in games to keep him fresh for the stretch run. If he’s able to power the team to another Super Bowl win, his resume becomes a Hall of Fame one. Still Super Bowl quality at running back.

Receiver: This is where the offense needs improvement the most. A rejuvenated Sidney Rice could help them stretch the field. Doug Baldwin is a gritty receiver who won’t wow you but slips to get open when Wilson scrambles and catches passes in traffic.

However the Seahawks have a serious jolt of speed with 2nd round selection Paul Richardson. If Harvin can stay healthy, this group could be lethal from multiple receiver (3 or more WR) sets on the field. First is where will Harvin line up?? In a slot position? Wing Back? Out of the backfield. While opponents concentrate on Percy, the Seahawks now have several receivers who can get deep.

The player who should be on the field more this year is Jermaine Kearse. Going into his 3rd year he should fully know the system. He just passes the eyeball test at there is more potential to his play than Baldwin. This year will also be a full year with Percy Harvin in the mix. This is still a receiver by committee group. If Sidney Rice can be the player he once was this could be a playoff caliber group. As of right now they’re average.

Offensive Line: The most misleading statistic afforded this team all year would be the 44 sacks allowed in 2013. How many times on rolls and scrambles were defenders able to track down Wilson to shove him out of bounds behind the line?? Those are recorded as sacks. Yet it’s a give and take scenario with Wilson making a rusher miss when protection breaks down.

Led by Pro Bowl Center Max Unger, this is a relatively young line with no starter past his fifth season. In pounding up the middle, Seattle in obvious power situations (3rd/4th & 2 or less) converted 60% of the time. For a straight ahead running team with 509 rushing attempts, to be tied for 5th in the league with just 6 negative rushing plays, says a lot about their blocking. When you can power your team to 2,188 yards, 14 TDs, and a 4.3 yard average, you’re playoff caliber up front.

Defensive Line: Now the best off-season move last year happened on day two of free agency when they plucked DE Cliff Avril, formerly of the Detroit Lions. His addition along with Michael Bennett allowed the team to terrorize opponents with a 3 DE alignment in Nickle and Dime sub packages. Bennett had 8 1/2 sacks while lined up inside Avril who had 8 as well. These two combined for 10 forced fumbles that usually broke the back of opponents.

Avril terrorized quarterbacks rushing them from the front side.

Avril terrorized quarterbacks rushing them from the front side.

Brandon Mebane is the stay at home Defensive Tackle that offsets this. So when teams run draws and screens, he’s nomally there with the linebackers to make a play. Seattle did lose DE Chris Clemons, but he had his least effective season with only 4 sacks. One replacement for the 3rd rusher is 3rd year player Bruce Irvin #51.  He was used more at linebacker in 2013 yet amassed 8 sacks as a rookie. Still a Super Bowl level group up front.

Linebackers: Did you know that Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith wasn’t a week 1 starter?? That’s right the man who sealed both the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl has to beat out KJ Wright #50 (80 tackles/4 passes defensed) for the OLB position on the weakside.

Yet Smith had a great postseason to boost his resume. In the regular season he started 8 games had 54 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 sack and 2 interceptions. He will definitely be on the field to accompany MLB Bobby Wagner (120 tackles/ 7 passes defensed/ 5 sacks). With another season like that he will replace either Bowman or Willis of San Fran in the Pro Bowl. Don’t forget Bruce Irvin also aids here. Defensive speed is the mantra to this group and it cleans up what makes it past the front four with aplomb. This is a playoff level group. They need to force a few more turnovers.

Once Seattle funnels your receivers to the middle, Cam is there to knock 'em  out.

Once Seattle funnels your receivers to the middle, Kam is there to knock ’em out.

Secondary: The reciprocal advantage to a pass rush is a secondary that won’t have to cover more than 5 seconds. When the secondary play extends beyond that, it allows the pass rush more time to get to the quarterback& you get the coverage sack.

Both happen in Seattle. Starting with the coverage of reigning Taylor Blitz Time Defensive Player of the Year in Richard Sherman. He led the NFL with 8 interceptions, returning them for 158 yards and that significant touchdown. He also was 7th on the team in tackles with 48, defensed 17 passes and recovered 2 fumbles.

By the time you add Pro Bowl FS Earl Thomas (105 tackles/ 5 ints/ 11 pass defensed/ 2 forced fumbles) & the thunderous shots by Pro Bowl SS Kam Chancellor (99 tackles / 3 ints/ 12 passes defensed/ 1 forced fumble) you have one of the best secondaries in history. That’s what a championship can elevate you to. Three of four in the secondary in the Pro Bowl. That’s beyond outstanding and now Sherman and Thomas are signed to long term deals.

Seattle did lose Nickel Back Walter Thurmond and regular starting CB Brandon Browner to free agency. However Byron Maxwell manned one of the corners after Browner’s suspension, and picked off 4 passes and defensed 11 others while starting 5 games. This is a Super Bowl caliber secondary if ever there was one.

Overall: This juggernaut has been the NFL’s best for the last two seasons and will be for a third. Although they are league champion you still can’t put a finger on where you would start to attack this team. One of history’s finest defenses and they come at you in waves with no true focal point. Right now the rest of the NFL is in a conundrum. Everyone is lining up in multiple receiver sets and playing in space. Seattle performs best here and Chancellor, Wright, and Wagner are there to lay pads on receivers.

teishaseahawks3

Teisha, will it be confetti or raining skittles next February in Arizona??

They stay to the ground and minimize offensive mistakes. Since they take long drives and dominate time of possession, opponents feel rushed to score and get back into the game. This plays into Seattle’s hands again where they have taken the 2007 New York Giants’ blue print of 3 DE alignments, and tweaked it. Instead of 3 power rushers they have ends who are speed rushers. Couple that with the crowd noise and this is going to be a 14-2 or 15-1 team when you look at their schedule. A possible loss to St Louis on the road in week 7 and maybe one more in Arizona in week 15 look like the only hiccups. Carroll’s team should bludgeon their way to Super Bowl XLIX easily.

Next up: The Denver Broncos

The model in the pic where it’s raining skittles is the lovely Teisha Lyons. International Fashion Model and friend to TBT. Please click the link and like her page as well.

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NFL Week 3: NFC West – Not Just The Province of The 49ers

Cardinals reaction to Gostkowski’s blown field goal in their 20-18 upset of New England

Last year the San Francisco 49ers ran away with the division and it seemed a forgone conclusion they would repeat that performance this year. So far San Francisco has proven to be the vanguard of the NFC with convincing wins in Lambeau over the Packers, then the Lions. However there is more than a pulse being generated by fellow NFC West teams.

The biggest upset of the season so far was the dominant defensive performance put on by the Cardinals in New England. With a 20-18 victory the Cardinals proved they’re a force to be reckoned with. All day they made Tom Brady uncomfortable with an array of blitzes and crisp tackling once he checked down to backs and receivers. A performance for the ages when you consider the offense needed Kevin Kolb to come off the bench for an offense that was outgained 387 to 245 in the game.  They came up with timely stops and played a physical brand of football that kept Gillette Stadium quiet from the beginning of the game. This week they face Michael Vick and the NFL’s #1 offense at home. So far they haven’t given up more than 20 points in a game. If they can come up with another defensive gem and come out of this 3-0, look out. On top of that Kevin Kolb gets a shot at the team that traded him away. Our CEO thinks they’ll get it in this week’s upset special. Cardinals should beat the Eagles.

Lets take a look at the NFC West Standings:

West Division

W

L

T

PCT

PF

PA

HOME

ROAD

DIV

CONF

STRK

LAST5

Arizona Cardinals Cardinals 2 0 0 1.000 40 34 1-0 1-0 1-0 1-0 W2 2-0
San Francisco 49ers 49ers 2 0 0 1.000 57 41 1-0 1-0 0-0 2-0 W2 2-0
St. Louis Rams Rams 1 1 0 .500 54 55 1-0 0-1 0-0 1-1 W1 1-1
Seattle Seahawks Seahawks 1 1 0 .500 43 27 1-0 0-1 0-1 1-1 W1 1-1

Seahawks score on special teams to get the Seattle crowd fired up to a fevered pitch.

So after two weeks who has the best defense in the NFC West?? A surprising look at the statistics will show you the Seattle Seahawks are 6th in the NFL in total defense. The highest ranking in the division. On Sunday they punched the Dallas Cowboys square in the mouth as they held the Cowboys to under 300 yards of offense in winning 27-7. You saw a team flying to the football when they burst out of the locker room. The special teams got into the act blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown and got the 12th man into the game.

For all the talk of Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, its time to give fellow rookie QB Russell Wilson some credit. He’s looked comfortable and hasn’t turned the football over. Did you know he has a 1.9% interception ration after two games?? Sure he has only thrown for 304 yards in two games but he has Marshawn Lynch (207 yards in 2 games) to do the heavy lifting. He will improve as the season goes on and has big play WR Sidney Rice right there to help with that development. This week is a true test as they host the Green Bay Packers. If they play with emotion and can get an early lead they could pull off another shocker. Again they need to put themselves in position to run the football at the Packers 27th against the run defense. Can they do it again?? If they do it again, how serious does the rest of the NFL have to take them?? Pete Carroll has a sneaky fast, aggressive team.

The Rams got off the canvas after a week 1 narrow defeat in Detroit and outlasted the Redskins 31-28. They had a huge game from WR Danny Amendola (the new Wes Welker) who torched the Skins for 15 rec. for 160 yards and a touchdown. However the Rams have allowed way too many yards and points per game. In week 1 they were opportunistic with 3 interceptions, including two near the goal line. Yet last week Griffin III torched them going 20 for 29 206 yards and a touchdown. His rushing for 82 yards and another 2 touchdowns kept the Rams off balance all day. Had the Redskins not incurred a dumb unsportsmanlike conduct foul, Billy Cundiff would have had a more reasonable field goal attempt. Jeff Fisher has to get his defense playing more stout and he has to get the football to RB Steven Jackson. Right now Sam Bradford is completing 71% of his passes (508 yds / 4TDs/1int) in what has become a bounce back season for him. Can they beat the Chicago Bears (with 10 days off) this week?? Not sure about that one but they better bring a defense.

Frank Gore gashed the Lions on the ground Sunday Night.

Which brings us back to last week’s marquee matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Detroit Lions. In a 27-19 win again showed a penchant for smash mouth straight ahead football. With teams rushing themselves in exotic 4 receiver sets, this team lines up with H-Backs, multiple tight end sets and comes off the ball like a team of yesteryear. They have a battering ram in Frank Gore (89 yards / 1TD against Detroit) and Kendall Hunter (23 yards) to keep him fresh. Understand the old axiom: Rushing the football with power wears down the defense late in games. They impose their will on their opponent.

Do you realize we have to go back 9 games (incl. playoffs) to find the last time Alex Smith threw an interception?? That’s going back to November 24th against the Ravens. How about the fact Smith has only thrown 6 interceptions in his last twenty three games?? That is a phenomenal number. His stat line is 40 of 57 (70.2%) for 437 yards and 4 touchdowns on the new season. Can you say Pro Bowl quarterback?? The Chancellor can. There are some pessimistic fans who are waiting for the old Alex Smith to show up but they need to wake up. The team still hasn’t really worked LaMichael James and Randy Moss totally in the mix yet. It’s scary as to how good this San Francisco team can be. Right now the league is playing right into their hands from a tactical standpoint. If everyone keeps lining up and passing, passing, passing…this team will continue to come off the ball and beat teams that are playing too high. Better get your pad level low.  The second you do, Smith is popping up and off play action is getting the ball downfield to one of the best tight ends in football.

Right now this is the best team in the NFL. Looking ahead, they go to Minnesota then off to the New York Jets. Unless they lose a game where they’re weary from travel, it’s hard to find a spot on their schedule where you can see a loss coming. However it looks like some of the best competition surprisingly may come from inside their own division. Arizona is looking the strongest and split with the Niners last year and don’t look now but the season finale has these two playing it out in Candlestick. Could be a big one brewing there.

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2011 NFC West Previews & Predictions

In the NFL, all divisions are not created equally. The NFC West has been in flux for the last decade without a clear cut champion. Even the 2008 Arizona Cardinals run to Super Bowl XLIII was a season where they were 9-7, and lost a late season game 47-7 to Matt Cassel and the Patriots. Last year’s 7-9 division champion Seahawks was more of a product of a young St. Louis Rams team that came up short in the end than brilliant Seattle play.  As we march into 2011, it looks like the Rams will rise from the ashes in this division.

2011 NFC WEST PREDICTION

St Louis Rams        9-7  *

Seattle Seahawks  6-10

Arizona Cardinals 5-11

San Fran 49ers       3-13

St Louis Rams have the best young quarterback in Sam Bradford and another solid season with Stephen Jackson at running back.  Last year, Coach Spagnuolo’s team had to learn how to win and did so with a 5 game improvement in the win total. If they can get a significant contribution from WR Austin Pettis, drafted from Boise St to help Bradford further develop. Folks seem to forget that Sam Bradford is only a few years removed from a Heisman trophy season that saw him throw for nearly 50 TDs as a junior. This is no fluke. Now that Chris Long is coming on (last season 8.5 sacks) and James Laurinitis leadership at linebacker, this team is on the rise and should rule the NFC West for the next few years. They have a murderous early schedule but starting with week 9, should run the table the rest of the way. The only notable game to show that they have grown up is the week 16 matchup in Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve. Just don’t be thrown off when they start out slow.

The Seahawks will look like a totally retooled team in the early part of this season and will revert  back to the enigmatic bunch we saw through much of last season. Only this time it’s going to be growing pains through breaking in Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback once sorry Tavarris Jackson underwhelms again. The second time is a charm, he helped collapse Minnesota when they kept him and let Sage Rosenfels go. So once Favre got injured…they crash landed with Jackson at the controls and that was a team with the same offensive co-ordinator and new wideout Sidney Rice there as well.  Same story, different channel.

They also have to find a leader to take over for Lofa Tatupu who was released. Aaron Curry has to move into that role and now needs to develop into the elite linebacker his draft status calls for. Will Marshawn Lynch blossom into the running back that emerged with the great run in last year’s playoff or will he revert back to the on again, off again runner he was in Buffalo?? This team will win a few games early but will descend to search mode as they need to find out who they are. They still don’t have an identity and the second half of the season will be a struggle for Coach Carroll and his team.

As for the Arizona Cardinals, congratulations on finding a quarterback in Kevin Kolb but you spent too much for him. Should have kept Rodgers-Cromartie and had the division’s best cornerback tandem with he and Patrick Peterson. Yes go ahead and start the rookie and let him take his lumps.  The Cardinals are still anemic rushing the football and teams can gang up on Larry Fitzgerald now that Steve Breaston is gone to Kansas City. Early Doucet and Andre Roberts have to have early success at receiver on the other side or this team will have a long season on offense. Kolb will be out to prove that he is a top flight quarterback and he should have kept his job in Philadelphia. Truth is, he played like he was given the job and not one that he earned. Both Mike Vick and Kafka from Northwestern had better statistics in last year’s pre-season.

Yet Kolb will solidify this franchise’s quarterback situation for the first time since Neil Lomax. Yes Kurt Warner was outstanding for 2 years, we mean a quarterback to build a franchise around for a 5-7 year run. He needs one of his other receivers to emerge to begin the process. On defense this team is in a little bit of flux so they need to break out on offense to win games. They just don’t have enough horses to do that at this point.

San Francisco needs to blow the team up and start from scratch. You have Colin Kaepernick as a quarterback, who isn’t ready, and busts Alex Smith and Troy Smith to man the position until he is. The first item up for bids is to trade Frank Gore for several draft picks to an AFC team. The Browns, Bengals, Patriots, Bills, Colts, all need a marquee running back. Several of those teams want to get over the hump and think they are a running back away, capitalize on it and get some draft picks.  Especially a team you can expect to underwhelm and get even higher draft picks from the resultant record. With an anemic offense and an underachieving receiving corp in Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn Jr, expect 8 man fronts to limit Gore’s effectiveness anyway. He wants to be traded and won’t run hard once the team dips out of contention, so alleviate that problem.

Right now go with Vernon Davis as your leader on offense and Patrick Willis on defense. Treat the 2011 campaign as a prolonged preseason and see who will fit Coach Harbaugh’s future roster. Don’t be surprised if former Stanford Cardinal Toby Gerhart doesn’t find his way to the bay to join next year’s draft pick Andrew Luck (Stanford) if the 49ers finish 3-13 as we think they will. The rebirth of the 49ers could just be in it’s beginning phases and this is a glimpse into next year for 49er fans to get excited about.

Next up: NFC South

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