By Will Robinson

Here is part two of my NFL previews, taking a look at the NFC West. Check out my other preview(s) (Note: projected records have been removed and will return in my season forecast/playoff predictions. I’m still working out who I want in the post-season, and I want the records to add up correctly):

AFC West

AFC South

NFC South



Arizona CardinalsCardinals Kolb Football

2010 Record: 5-11

Notable Additions: Patrick Peterson (CB), Ryan Williams (RB), Kevin Kolb (QB), Daryn Colledge (G), Lyle Sendlein (C), Stewart Bradley (LB), Richard Marshall (CB), Todd Heap (TE)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Steve Breaston (WR), Alan Faneca (G), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (CB), Derek Anderson (QB), Alan Branch (DT), Tim Hightower (RB)

Strengths: Kicking game, Larry Fitzgerald, safeties

Weaknesses: Everything else

2010 Season Summary: Contrary to their record, the Cardinals were worse than 5-11 suggests. They were so, so, SO bad; they were 26th in points scored, 30th in points allowed, 31st in passing yards, 32nd in rushing, 23rd in opposing passing yards and 30th in opposing rushing. Take yards how you want, but the fact that of all those metrics, the best they were was 23rd is not good. At all. In my opinion, they were the worst team last year. Larry Fitzgerald still had a good season, but there was no doubt he pined for the days of Kurt Warner, (even) Matt Leinart and Josh McCown. The lack of a consistent quarterback killed the Cardinals all year long, culminating in this clip that immortalized Derek Anderson. Their season highlight (just like Oakland) was destroying the Broncos with the help of Jay Feely and this trick play by him en route to a 43-13 win. The offense was typically stagnant, and the defense didn’t really help keep them in games. The stars of the defense were probably Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, with three picks and 17 passes defended and linebacker Paris Lenon and his 125 tackles. But other than that, the fact that they were TWO GAMES from first place in their division just shows their terribleness (if you like advanced stats, Football Outsiders is a great site, and also had Arizona as their worst team last year).

2011 Prospects: This year would have to be historically bad if they want to trump last year. The Cards acquired the largely unproven Kevin Kolb for their best defensive player and a draft pick. Hmm. On the plus side, they did happen to replace DRC with arguably the strongest player in the last draft, Patrick Peterson. The terms of the deal that could occur are staggering – it seems like Arizona is putting a lot into this deal. The defense can use all the help it can get, but if Kolb turns out to be legit, the “Free Larry Fitzgerald” campaigns will be put on hold. Since they left Steve Breaston walk, the Cardinals must think Early Doucet is a capable number two. In terms of running the ball, newly drafted Ryan Williams will hopefully give the back field some life. Up front though it the main problem: Their line is very poor. More often than not, running success or lack thereof can be attributed to the offensive line; Denver boasted a few unknown 1000-yard rushers behind an excellent line in the middle of the 2000s. If they can pick a lineman in free agency in addition to former Packer Daryn Colledge, they’ll be on the right way. The only bright side to their veteran defense is their safeties, Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes. Rhodes is average to good, but Wilson is All-Pro caliber. Besides that, sorry Cardinals fans, it looks like another long year.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Ryan Williams (RB)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Kevin Kolb (QB)


St. Louis Ramssam-bradford-rams

2010 Record: 7-9

Notable Additions: Robert Quinn (DE), Lance Kendricks (TE), Quintin Mikell (S), Harvey Dahl (G), Mike Sims-Walker (WR), Justin Bannan (DT), Al Harris (CB), Jerious Norwood (RB)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Mark Clayton (WR), Laurent Robinson (WR), O.J. Atogwe (S), Jacob Bell (G), John Greco (G), Daniel Fells (TE)

Strengths: Running game, youth, offensive line, aggressive defense

Weaknesses: No consistent vertical threat, thin defensive depth

2010 Season Summary: The Rams shocked most of the football world in the way that they didn’t roll over and lose 12 games. They had some life in them. Sam Bradford’s first game involved him throwing 55 times in a loss to Arizona. As far as rookie quarterback performances go, Bradford had a good year. No one (sane) predicted he would be as good as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady in this first season, but with 3,512 yards, 60% completion percentage, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, it was a respectable debut. Steven Jackson wasn’t particularly efficient last year, but he’s always a threat. Tackle Roger Saffold was a great pick for the Rams as he stepped right in and protected Bradford’s blind side. Defensively, they were pretty good. Then 33-year old James Hall had 10.5 sacks for the Rams opposite the young Chris Long, who had 8.5. James Laurinaitis is a legit NFL Mike, with three sacks and a pick last year to go along with his 114 tackles. The team was a game away from winning the NFC West and making the playoffs, but a loss at Seattle during the last game of the regular season prevented them from doing so.

2011 Prospects: I like the way the Rams are headed. For one, they added one of the top tight ends from the draft to give Bradford another target to play with. Also, if Mark Clayton is re-signed and healthy, he proved to have a good rapport with the young QB. Even though Josh McDaniels was run out of town during his first head-coaching gig, he is an offensive genius, and will really help Bradford develop; I still wouldn’t be surprised if I saw a sophomore slump from him, though. Steven Jackson still put up numbers, but he has the ability to produce more; 2011 may be an “up” year as opposed to a “down” one. They signed Mike Sims-Walker, a receiver who has shown he can make big plays, but also one who appears on the side of milk cartons from time to time; this could be a critical signing for Bradford’s development. Defensively, the big change has to do with adding Quintin Mikell to replace O.J. Atogwe. Chris Long should develop more this year and expand on the promising play he showed last season. The NFC West is playing the NFC East and AFC North – ripe with hard opponents. But even if they can only manage four wins from those eight games, they still have a legit shot at winning four to six division games, which may be enough to take the division title away from Seattle.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Mike Sims-Walker (WR)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Steven Jackson (RB)


San Francisco 49ers

2010 Record: 6-10

Notable Additions: Aldon Smith (DE/OLB), Colin Kaepernick (QB), David Akers (K), Madieu Williams (S), Carlos Rogers (CB), Braylon Edwards (WR), Jonathan Goodwin (C), Donte Whitner (S)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: David Baas (C), Takeo Spikes (LB), Nate Clements (CB), Aubrayo Franklin (DT), Manny Lawson (LB), Travis LaBoy (LB), Ronald Fields (DT)

Strengths: Run defense, front seven, young offensive line, safeties

Weaknesses: QUARTERBACK, receivers, cornerbacks

2010 Season Summary: On the flip side of St. Louis, the Niners were one of the most disappointing, if the not the most disappointing team last year. Their squad looked streets ahead on paper compared to other NFC West teams, but the lack of a good quarterback really hamstrung the team all year. Their first game of the year was a disaster: a 31-6 blowout against the seemingly lowly (and future division winners) Seattle Seahawks. After that, San Francisco failed to win a game until Week 6 against Oakland. The very up-and-down season led to the firing of head coach Mike Singletary with one week to go in the season. Frank Gore’s limited time in the backfield did not help matters, but neither did Michael Crabtree’s wildly inconsistent play. Crabtree looked good in his rookie year, but he seemed to have a major Sophomore Slump and regressed. He should be primed to breakout if he lives up to his draft hype. The good thing about San Francisco’s offense was the play of rookie guard Mike Iupati. Iupati was money all year long, and definitely has the tools to be one of the best guards in the game. Defensively, the front seven was good, led by the great Patrick Willis. Willis turned in another phenomenal season as an inside linebacker, and Aubrayo Franklin and Justin Smith were solid in locking up blockers. Their man issue on defense was cornerback, and man were they terrible. Nate Clements, the supposedly elite guy they signed a few years ago, was consistently beaten by mediocre players; it was always exciting to see who could torch Clements from week to week. To put it lightly, it was a hard year for the Niners and their fans.

2011 Prospects: Admittedly, the Niners haven’t made much progress to show that they could improve. They did hire the hottest coach in Jim Harbaugh, but with Alex Smith returning for another year, it will be a hard year for Niners quarterback. Again. They drafted another backup for Frank Gore in Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter, who will hopefully have a nice impact regardless of Gore’s health/holdout status. I don’t like the state of their offense, even with them adding Braylon Edwards. Harbaugh could be going for Andrew Luck, but who knows. They also drafted a pass rusher to replace Manny Lawson in Aldon Smith. Lawson was not particularly good last year, so this was a nice move to pick Smith and not re-sign Lawson. San Francisco needs to address their corner problem outside of the two they drafted. Since they missed out on Nnamdi, they had to settle on Carlos Rogers (uuuh…). They have some tough games this year outside of their out-of-division games (at Detroit and another Tampa Bay game this season– yikes). Dashon Goldson, Reggie Smith and Taylor Mays make up an interesting three safety team. Smith and Goldson are pretty good together, but there’s only so much of an impact they can make if they don’t have help on the outside. The addition of Donte Whitner will be an interesting addition to the crowded safety crew. I don’t have a lot of confidence in this team to do well, as they have fallen short of their expectations too often the past few years.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Michael Crabtree (WR) [maybe he finally breaks out?]

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Frank Gore (RB) [I don’t like the injury risk associated with him]


Seattle Seahawks

2010 Record: 7-9

Notable Additions: James Carpenter (G), Tarvaris Jackson (QB), Sidney Rice (WR), Robert Gallery (G), Alan Branch (DT), Zach Miller (TE)

Notable Team Free Agents/Possible Departures: Matt Hasselbeck (QB), Stacy Andrews (G), Olindo Mare (K), Will Herring (LB), Lofa Tatupu (LB), Jordan Babineaux

Strengths: Linebackers, Earl Thomas, special teams, defensive ends

Weaknesses: Passing attack, consistent rushers, defensive backs

2010 Season Summary: Seattle was the surprise team last year in the sense they won their division; I don’t think anyone had them over .500 (I had them at 8-8 at the BEST with no playoffs). They also shockingly defeated the defending Super Bowl champions with the help from the greatest run in post-season history from Marshawn Lynch. They were convincingly beat the next week, but since no one had them making the playoffs (much less with a record a game under even), the season was a success for new head coach Pete Carroll. Mike Williams resurrected his career from death with a respectable 65 catch, 751-yard season with the aging but still effective Matt Hasselbeck. Rookie Earl Thomas was a standout at safety, and was one of the best rookies last year (probably the best safety). I mean, the Seahawks had a pretty unremarkable season. Nothing really stood out besides winning their division at 7-9.

2011 Prospects: I don’t feel good about this year for Seattle. Matt Hasselbeck has moved on to Tennessee, and they have to replace him with either Charlie Whitehurst or Tarvaris Jackson. If I had to pick two quarterbacks to fight to start for my team, I would probably not pick Charlie Whitehurst or Tarvaris Jackson. Even though Seattle has been active in free agency, I really don’t like the pieces they have added. Sidney Rice had one great year, but it was with Brett Favre as his quarterback in one of his best years ever. He missed half of last year and didn’t really look very good with Tarvaris throwing him the ball. And now they’ve reunited in Seattle – it’s not like they were Montana and Rice. Fortunately, they added tight end Zach Miller into the fold. Miller, who has had the misfortune of playing with JaMarcus Russell for part of his career, may not have found a competent quarterback in Seattle; however, if you look at his numbers, they were barely affected by Russell throwing the ball. In the secondary, Lawyer Milloy, who started last year, is gone, and a replacement may be hard to come by after Jordan Babineaux left. The fact that the NFC West is playing the NFC East doesn’t particularly help their cause this year, as last year they played the AFC West. And without a proven quarterback on the roster, the only possible thing that could ensue is chaos. I don’t think this team will be very significant this season.

Sleeper Fantasy Player to Have: Mike Williams (WR)

Fantasy Bust to Avoid: Marshawn Lynch (RB)

  1. Gil says:

    how’s ryan williams looking as a fantasy sleeper?

  2. Well, clearly not good now. Man, I wished I knew he would go out and rupture his patella tendon…


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