Another division that will be going through some turnover this year is the NFC West. The Cardinals have ruled the roost in this relatively weak division for the past two years, and represented the NFC in the Super Bowl (tear) in 2009. However, with the retirement of Kurt Warner this entire division is flipped on its ear. With Warner gone, it is my opinion that the San Francisco 49ers will win this division in 2010. If it is not out of fear of Mike Singletary mooning them, or the improved play of the offense, it will be the old school uniforms that push the Niners to the top of the division this year. Classic. Just classic.
1. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The Niners have been on the rise for a few years now, and with Kurt Warner out in Phoenix I think it is their time to take this division by the horns. They improved their offense immensely in the offseason with the additions of Mike Iupati at guard, Brian Westbrook at running back, and a full training camp with wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Alex Smith has all the pieces around him, now he just needs to prove that he can lead this offense.
On defense, Patrick Willis is the leader and is quickly becoming a carbon copy of his head coach. Look for him to put up defensive MVP type numbers and galvanize this squad. Overall, I see the Niners going 11-5 in this division and restoring the glory of red and gold in gay-town.
2. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
It's hard to believe that the Seahawks are only 4 years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. With Pete Carroll now at the helm with a revamped defense, look for the Seahawks to over-achieve this year in the NFC West. Their offense is pretty stale with Hasselbeck, TJ Housh, Julius Jones and Deion Branch still leading the charge; but they have some decent young talent in John Carlson and Justin Forsett ready to step up.
On defense, this team could stymie a lot of offenses. First round pick Earl Thomas is going to be a star, and Lofa Tatupu, Aaron Curry, Marcus Trufant and Jonathan Babineaux are all very good defenders. This defense will certainly win ballgames for a mediocre at best offense. I like the Seahawks to go 9-7 this year and be just on the outside of the playoffs.
3. ARIZONA CARDINALS
After a good run in the NFC West, the Cardinals really lost a lot in the offseason. Kurt Warner retired, Antrel Rolle left for the Giants, Anquan Boldin peaced for Baltimore, and Karlos Dansby took his talents to South Beach. That is an awful lot to lose. I don't think that the Cardinals can come back from that, and as a result they will slide pretty far back in the NFC West.
Offensively, everything comes down to Matt Leinart. Can he replace Kurt Warner? All indications are that he cannot so far. This will effect Larry Fitzgerald negatively, and place more defensive focus on the run game, hurting Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower. However, if Leinart can figure it out, I see no reason why Steve Breaston can't step up and adequately replace Anquan Boldin. Moreover, Early Doucet will have a chance to show his stuff this year as well.
On defense, the Cardinals lost two of their most important players in Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby. They were the heart and soul of this defense for the past few years. Maybe the signing of Joey Porter can help replace some of this, but all in all this team has just too many questions to be a competitor this year. I see the Cardinals falling back to 7-9 or 6-10 and becoming embroiled in a quarterback controversy of sorts.
4. ST. LOUIS RAMS
Here is a team smack in the middle of a rebuilding project. Hence, they could be the worst team in the league again. Steven Jackson is basically all they have. It will be interesting to see how Sam Bradford does, and if his shoulder can survive the rigors of an NFL season. On defense, Chris Long and Jack Atogwe are two lone bright spots. This team could threaten to go 0-16 this year, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say 3-13. Let the Steven Jackson trade demands begin!
I've said it before, I'm sure I'll say it again; the threat of seeing Mike Singletary's ass is the single greatest motivator in all of professional sports. This year, the Niners will heed the call and take over the NFC West, all the while hearkening up visions of these kings of the gridiron from days of yore.