Posted July 12, 2013

2013 NFL Preview: NFC West

Arizona Cardinals, Division Previews, NFC West, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams
Percy Harvin could be the missing piece in the Seahawks' Super Bowl puzzle. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Percy Harvin could be the missing piece in the Seahawks’ Super Bowl puzzle. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

With training camps about to begin, we take a division-by-division look at where each team stands heading into the 2013 season.

One way or another, be it San Francisco or Seattle, the NFC West will be a favorite when the experts make their Super Bowl picks in August. The 49ers nearly pulled off an epic, post-blackout comeback in last year’s Super Bowl against Baltimore; the Seahawks would have been in the NFC title game, had they not allowed two 20-yard passes from Matt Ryan to set up a field goal late the week prior.

The West could be a three-playoff-bid division in 2013, too, if the Rams continue to build on last year’s momentum. The sky is brighter even in Arizona, with a new QB and coaching staff.

Week to week, there may not be a more compelling division race than the one that unfolds right here.

Arizona Cardinals

Key moves: Signed RB Rashard Mendenhall, DE Frostee Rucker, DE Matt Shaughnessy, OLB Lorenzo Alexander, LB Jasper Brinkley, LB Karlos Dansby, CB Antoine Cason, CB Jerraud Powers, S Yeremiah Bell; traded for QB Carson Palmer, CB Javier Arenas; drafted RB Stepfan Taylor, WR Ryan Swope, G Jonathan Cooper, LB Kevin Minter, OLB Alex Okafor, S Tyrann Mathieu; lost QB Kevin Kolb, QB John Skelton, RB Beanie Wells, WR Early Doucet, G Adam Snyder, LB Paris Lenon, CB William Gay, CB Greg Toler, S Adrian Wilson, S Kerry Rhodes; hired head coach Bruce Arians, OC Harold Goodwin; DC Todd Bowles

Where they got better: Quarterback. Carson Palmer has just a 12-28 record over his last three seasons as a starting QB but, if nothing else, he appears to be a good fit for the vertical-passing game of new head coach Bruce Arians. Palmer also cannot be much worse than Arizona’s 2013 whack-a-mole QB situation, which saw Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer all pop into the lineup at various stages. Palmer can still wing it, at age 33, and he has the veteran experience that quartet did not. The Cardinals also upgraded their depth at the quarterback spot by signing athletic backup Drew Stanton. The ex-Lion and Colt (and, very briefly, Jet) has not played in the regular season since 2010, but he was 2-2 as a starter for Detroit.

Where they got worse: The secondary. Opposing teams often ran roughshod over the Cardinals’ run defense, so they did not need to pass all that much. Still, Arizona finished fifth in pass defense last season and picked off more passes than every team other than Chicago. Can they repeat that success minus William Gay, Greg Toler, Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes? That’s a daunting task, even if No. 1 cornerback Patrick Peterson is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowls in his first two years. The Cardinals stemmed the tide a bit by signing CBs Antoine Cason and Jerraud Powers. They also added ex-Dolphin Yeremiah Bell at safety, then drafted the “Honey Badger,” Tyrann Mathieu. There is talent, but the losses will be tough to overcome.

Breakout player: Rob Housler, TE. Housler trended upward last season, going from 12 catches in his rookie year to 45. He should see another increase in 2013, even more so if the Cardinals again fail to find Larry Fitzgerald a complementary WR. Housler can work in all levels as a pass catcher, and he might be one of Palmer’s favorite targets.

Where they stand: Everything seems to be headed in the right direction, finally. What will that mean in terms of results this season? Maybe not all that much. The Cardinals have the misfortune of having to play San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis a combined six times — with 0-6 there a distinct possibility (they went 1-5 within the division last season). Baby steps here.

San Francisco 49ers

Key moves: Signed DT Glenn Dorsey, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, S Craig Dahl; traded for WR Anquan Boldin, QB Colt McCoy; drafted RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Quinton Patton, TE Vance McDonald, DE Tank Carradine, DE/OLB Corey Lemonier; S Eric Reid; lost QB Alex Smith, WR Randy Moss, FB/TE Delanie Walker, NT Isaac Sopoaga, S Dashon Goldson

Where they got better: The pass rush. Wide receiver would have been the pick here, with Quinton Patton and Anquan Boldin arriving, but Michael Crabtree’s Achilles injury set that unit back. So, it’s the DE/OLB spots in the spotlight. The 49ers finished 11th in the league last season with 38 sacks, and they return an elite group in Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and others. What they did not have in 2012 was a ton of depth at DE or OLB. In drafting explosive athletes Tank Carradine and Corey Lemonier, San Francisco solved that problem. Plus, the 49ers rolled the dice on Glenn Dorsey, who gives them an extra usable body along the interior of their D-line.

Where they got worse: Safety. First-team All-Pro Dashon Goldson may have been slightly overrated last season, but he leaves behind big shoes to fill for rookie Eric Reid and backup Craig Dahl. Reid should claim the starting job Goldson vacated, alongside Donte Whitner. Goldson had 69 tackles, three interceptions and 11 pass break-ups from that spot last season. The bar will need to be lower for Reid, who’s a promising and hard-working prospect, but one who struggled in pass coverage and as a tackler at times during his LSU days. Dahl is a decent safety net, but he’s no Goldson.

Breakout player: LaMichael James, RB. James had just 27 carries during the 2012 regular season and another 11 in the postseason. He only broke one of those for longer than 30 yards and found the end zone just once, too. But he showed enough explosiveness so that San Francisco should want the ball in his hands — especially in a creative offense led by a mobile QB.

Where they stand: The 49ers did not come within a play of winning the Super Bowl by accident. This team is loaded, and it took off to another level once Colin Kaepernick inherited the QB role. They should run near the top of the NFC West division again this season, with a chance to go all the way. The lingering mystery right now: Will Crabtree’s injury, and resulting multi-week absence, tip the division scales in Seattle’s favor?

Seattle Seahawks

Key moves: Signed QB Brady Quinn, QB Tarvaris Jackson, DE Cliff Avril, DE Michael Bennett, DT Tony McDaniel, CB Antoine Winfield; traded for WR Percy Harvin; drafted RB Christine Michael, WR Chris Harper, DT Jordan Hill, DT Jesse Williams; lost QB Matt Flynn, RB/KR Leon Washington, DT Alan Branch, DT/DE Jason Jones, OLB Leroy Hill

Where they got better: Wide receiver. Drop the mic and walk away. The Seahawks paid a pretty penny, including their 2013 first-round pick, for Percy Harvin. He will be worth it, provided he can put his recent injury history behind him. Few players in the league are capable of changing a game like Harvin, who sure feels like the piece Seattle was missing. Rookie Chris Harper could be one to watch eventually, as well. He’s a physical receiver who will make catches in traffic and might battle for playing time as the year progresses.

Where they got worse: Outside linebacker, if anywhere. The Seahawks did not lose many contributors off their 2012 team, and where they did — like at defensive tackle, with Alan Branch — quickly replaced those parts with multiple options. But at outside linebacker, they need third-year player Malcolm Smith, he of three career starts and 22 tackles in 2012, to take over for Leroy Hill, a starter in Seattle since 2005. Hill hit free agency this offseason, then was arrested for an alleged domestic violence incident. Seattle could mix and match here, with guys like Bruce Irvin or Mike Morgan. It’s one of the few spots, though, where the answer is not obvious.

Breakout player: Christine Michael, RB. The path to playing time has one big hurdle in it, in the form of Marshawn Lynch. That said, Michael very well might knock Robert Turbin from the backup role, giving him some looks — Turbin had 80 carries from that spot last year.

Where they stand: Seattle and San Francisco are 1 and 1a in this division. The two dates to circle are Sept. 15, when the 49ers visit Seattle; and Dec. 8, when the Seahawks make the return trip to San Francisco. Those games could decide the division. And if Seattle somehow can come up with home-field advantage in the playoffs, the 12th Man might be enough to push them all the way through to the Super Bowl.

St. Louis Rams

Key moves: Signed TE Jared Cook, OT Jake Long; drafted RB Zac Stacy, WR Tavon Austin, WR Stedman Bailey, OL Barrett Jones, OLB Alec Ogletree, S T.J. McDonald; lost RB Steven Jackson, WR Danny Amendola, WR Brandon Gibson, LB Rocky McIntosh, CB Bradley Fletcher, S Craig Dahl, S Quintin Mikell

Where they got better: On offense. Pretty sweeping review, that, but it’s the truth, even with Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola out. The Rams finished 7-8-1 last year and went 2-1-1 against San Francisco and Seattle, despite an offense that finished 25th. So, they upgraded pretty much everywhere, with former Pro Bowler Jake Long in at left tackle, the high-upside Jared Cook at TE, college teammates Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey joining the receiving corps and Zac Stacy helping to replace Jackson at running back. There really are no excuses left for QB Sam Bradford now. Either he takes advantage of all his new toys and plays like the Rams expected him to after taking him No. 1 overall in 2010 or this reworked offense could have a new passer next season.

Where they got worse: Safety. Another NFC West team with potential issues in the deep secondary. St. Louis received 16 starts from Craig Dahl last season and 15 from Quintin Mikell. Both have moved on now, dropping the onus on 2011 starter Darian Stewart (who’s yet to play a full NFL season) and third-round pick T.J. McDonald. St. Louis may be looking for another choice as we speak, because it cannot feel too confident about a Stewart-McDonald combo for Week 1, in a division where the top two teams run intricate offenses that put pressure on opposing safeties.

Breakout player: Alec Ogletree, LB. Off-field incidents, including a pre-combine DUI arrest, drove Ogletree down the draft board. St. Louis may have landed a Defensive Rookie of the Year contender at No. 30, as a result. Ogletree will start at one of the Rams’ outside linebacker spots and, with a strong line in front of him, will be free to utilize his quickness all over the field.

Where they stand: Were it not for an 0-4-1 stretch in the middle of last season, the Rams might have been in the wild-card mix. The 49ers and Seahawks definitely would be making a mistake to overlook this team in the division this year. Does that mean that St. Louis can sneak in and steal the NFC West? Probably not — at least, not until 2014. But the Rams will be very competitive and should stay in the postseason race until the latter stages of the season.

44 comments
j7apple
j7apple

I am not a Hawks fan to much, but I there is nothing I like to see better than Wilson sticking it to all those teams that passed him over because he was a couple inches to short.. Cleveland? Not once, twice but three times passed him over....lol

nyjets011269
nyjets011269

Two of the best teams in the NFL an up and coming team in the Rams and a 6 or 7 win team in Arizona.  A pretty damn good division.

MikeHiggins
MikeHiggins

RU serious? its freekin July and ur writing about football?? who cares?

PaulSharpe
PaulSharpe

Sorry, but NFC West / Worst is a total JOKE...   top 2 teams Overachieved / were lucky and are due to settle, and the Lambs & Cardinals are Utterly Lame...

couch68
couch68

As long as Seattle continues to use the stolen moniker "Home of the 12th Man," they'll be cursed and doomed to failure. Teams that create their own identity carry the positive Mojo - they should be proud of their energy and forge their own niche.

They also have to battle the embarrassment of wearing the ugliest uni's in the league. I know it may be small-potatoes, but imagine you're standing at midfield for the coin-flip against a team like the Niners, who all decked out in a real uniform You're standing there looking like a fool in something that the cheerleaders should be wearing.,,it's gotta make you feel a little silly.

Cincinnati anyone?

CliveOwen
CliveOwen

As long as the NFL continues to ignore PEDs and other "enhancements" the Seahawks should do okay. Every Carrol led team has built its success on bending and breaking rules. Once the league gets tired of his antics he'll be through there as well.

RayHuggyBearYoung
RayHuggyBearYoung

I am a fan of the NFL.  Knowledge yes, genius no.  But I still cannot understand all the greatness heaped on Percy Harvin.  I see a very good player WHEN healthy.  that is all and that WHEN part is a big question mark.

Nathan1112
Nathan1112

Rookie receivers are known for their great production.

CalvinGSuddeath
CalvinGSuddeath

Excuses?I guess you don't watch a lot of Rams games.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

Do you get the feeling that if SF doesn't win it all in the next year or two, all that intensity of Harbaugh's will have worn a little thin? 

DarinPike
DarinPike

@PaulSharpe Sorry, but you seem to have wandered from the soccer pages to the NFL. The Cards will surprise quite a few teams this year, and how can you say the Seahawks over-achieved last season? They had the top scoring defense and one of the top offenses over the second half of last season. You are living in the past...

John4
John4

@PaulSharpePaul - I have got to disagree.  While I am no fan of the 49ers or Seahawks, both teams appear to be top 5 in the NFL.  The Seahawks DID get lucky vs. the Packers with that offensive pass interference call against Golden Tate that should have been called, but the Seahawks are a very good team.  The 49ers appear to be the best team in the NFC.  Both of these teams have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations for the coming season.  The Rams are improving.  The Cardinals need to improve.  Clearly, the NFC West is NOT a total joke. 

John4
John4

@couch68 couch 68 - i agree 100%.  "Home of the 12th Man" belongs to the Texas A&M Aggies.  Stealing someone else's moniker is just pathetic.  The Chicago Bears have done the same thing with "Bear Down".  They already have "Monsters of the Midway", "Da Bears" and are the originators of the 4-6 Defense.  So what do they do, they STEAL the "Bear Down" moniker from the University of Arizona.  University of Arizona - Bear Down began in 1926.  Chicago - 1941.  A google search, so simple even a Bears' fan could do it would prove this in less than 5 minutes.  Those who steal other teams' monikers are just wrong.  

Worst of Luck to the Seattle Seahawks in 2013.  

nortran11
nortran11

@CliveOwen You're saying all 31 other teams are completely clean? Notice how nobody out there is saying anything except Harbaugh? That's because you don't throw stones when you live in a glass house.....as Harbaugh will soon find out.

DarinPike
DarinPike

@RayHuggyBearYoung He missed three games over his first three seasons and then hurt his ankle last year, yet people act like he's never on the field. I still don't understand this argument. 

donniejohnson4
donniejohnson4

@RayHuggyBearYoung Last year, he was not just good, he was the best player in the league before he got hurt.  The year before that, he piled up 1,000 receiving yards, and after Peterson got hurt, moved to running back and rushed for 345 yards on 6.6 yards per carry.  And as if that wasn't enough, he was also the best return man that year leading the league in kick return average. Add in he was 23 years old when that happened and it should be plain to see why many consider him the ultimate weapon. Thats why Peterson was so angry when he was traded.

mike.russell
mike.russell

@Rickapolis Nope, because his intensity is the kind players understand and respect.  He is really coaching, not contriving an image of it.  His teams improve and get solid, and he hasn't had anything in coaching handed to him.  What he did at Stanford was practically a miracle, and his revival of the 9ers may not be miraculous, but it's amazing.

CliveOwen
CliveOwen

@Rickapolis I'm betting if success doesn't continue Jimmy will dissolve in his own gastric juices and then implode. He's the type that always has to have an enemy either real or imagined. That's why his press conferences are so antagonistic. It's Jimmy against the world.

mike168
mike168

@Rickapolis

No question. Just like Rex Ryan, who is now a joke. He made it to two straight Conference Championship games just like Harbarugh...think about it

HankMoses
HankMoses

@John4 @PaulSharpe Seattle didn't get lucky against the Packers it was the correct call. And no matter who won or lost that game, playoff seeding would not have changed at the end of the season for either team. Do any of you do ANY actual research before trolling? Obviously not. And when was the last time you EVER saw offensive PI called on a Hail Mary? Are you all sure you actually watch football? I'm thinking no.

DarinPike
DarinPike

@John4 @couch68 Come on...Texas A&M "stole" it from Iowa, and some reports say they "stole" it from UW. Some young fans mistakenly believe Seattle started to use the 12th Man recently, but it has been throughout their existence. They retired No. 12 and were calling their fans the 12th Man long before A&M got their ill-advised trademark.

TC206
TC206

@John4 if anyone cared enough or ur aggies were so popular then Seattle wouldn't have been able to steal ur "moniker", i mean slogan lol. FIRST TEAM TO RETIRE THE NUMBER 12 JERSEY! have fun watching ur Dalllas Quearrboys or Houston Texans......or maybe ur a bandwagon fan? lol

HankMoses
HankMoses

@ John4. What a whiny, ignorant hater. You don't try to hide your pathetic anger and hostility towards the Seahawks. And as far as Seattle "stealing" the 12th Man slogan, why don't YOU do some research before slamming others? The U of Iowa was the first to use it in 1912. Telling people how easy it is to search on google? Good advice. Try it some time. Total fail. BTW you didn't want to be such tool, but somehow you ended up looking a complete one. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12th_man_(football)

DarinPike
DarinPike

@nortran11 @CliveOwen The 49ers were popped too with Larry Grant testing positive, but that doesn't seem to matter because he wasn't on the team any more. People also seem to ignore that two of Seattle's infractions were from players that were never part of their 53-man roster and one tested positive before he was a Seahawk.

nortran11
nortran11

@mike.russell @Rickapolis I am interested to see what happens in SF when all those players start to retire. He was pretty much handed an all star roster from the past regime, he just got the most from them.

DarinPike
DarinPike

@John4 @HankMoses Nobody is saying it wasn't a PI...what they are saying is the NFL doesn't call PI on hail Mary's. One of the Seahawks was pushed on the play, too. It's just what happens. 

John4
John4

@HankMoses Hank - the only way you think it was not offensive PI is if you don't understand the penalty, did not see the game, or are just a fan of the Seahawks, and does not care about reality.  Also, to say it hasn't been called, and therefore should have been called on Golden Tate makes no sense.

John4
John4

@TC206 TC206 - I'm not sure as I don't understand your comment.  It comes across as too idiotic to understand.  Was that something you were trying to do, or is it just the way you communicate?

John4
John4

@HankMoses Hank - you are the poster of the day.  Thank you for imparting some of your valuable knowledge.  That was very cool of you.

DarinPike
DarinPike

@couch68 Why are you so hung up on the specifics of "Home of the 12th Man." Seattle has never used that line, but we have, and continue to, use 12th Man. Seattle has the legal right to do so-with the blessing of A&M...mostly because they didn't want a legal challenge to a trademark they shouldn't have been given.

nortran11
nortran11

@couch68 @HankMoses @Matthew10 @John4 I love how the Seahawks have been using that term since the mid 80's...and quite publicly I might add....but A&M only has a problem with it when we reached the Super Bowl in 05. The only one that really looks foolish is Couch for getting so bent out of shape over something so stupid.

couch68
couch68

@HankMoses @couch68 @Matthew10 @John4 
I like how the idiots of the world reply to something someone posts, in order to tell them that no one cares what they think.

A&M may not have been the first to use it, but they've pretty much been the sole proprietors of the term for SEVERAL decades - at one point they even trademarked it, but I'm not sure when (that's why you can't legally produce anything Seahawks related that says Home of the 12th Man...they can only use the number 12.)

I took a tour of the stadium a few years ago and the tour guide made several derogatory comments about A&M. At one point she argued with me when I mentioned that they weren't legally allowed to profit from the 12th man thing while we were standing outside the pro-shop - I dared her to go inside and find ANYTHING that said Home of the 12th Man, and she just blew it off by saying the A&M had their "panties in a wad" and that the trademark infringement lawsuit (cease and desist) was frivolous.

Seattle just looks foolish for stealing the term - they could have come up with something original that they owned.


HankMoses
HankMoses

@couch68 @Matthew10 @John4 nobody needs or wants the respect of morons. You lost respect for Seattle? Oh no, what are we going to do now that you've lost respect for the Seahawks? boo hoo... oh yeah, nobody cares what you think. BTW A&M was not the first to use it but nice try, hater.

couch68
couch68

@Matthew10 @John4 @couch68 
Definition of moniker = nickname. Perhaps slogan would have been a better term, but nickname kind of fits.

Regardless, I still can't get over how they blatantly stole a slogan - a VERY well-known and historic one at that! I always thought what they had going on up there was REALLY cool, but I've lost respect for them (not that they really care what I think, but what the heck.)

John4
John4

@Matthew10 I suppose I could have corrected couch and said I think he should have used "slogan" but did not want to be such a tool.  You filled that role nicely.  Well done.