With the 2014 NFL season a few days away here is the division preview of the NFC West.
4. St. Louis Rams:
The Rams lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford for the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee. Veteran backup Shaun Hill takes over the starting role and the franchise also claimed Case Keenum who got waived by the Houston Texans.
Even with a healthy Bradford the offense is the biggest question mark for St. Louis. Their top receiver in 2013 was tight end Jared Cook who caught 51 passes for 671 yards, second on the team in receptions, was first-round pick Tavon Austin who finished with 40. It didn’t get better when the Rams ran the football as Zac Stacy did finish with 973 yards rushing, yet averaged 3.9 yards per carry.
A dark horse may emerge offensively for the Rams in receiver Kenny Britt who is looking to resurrect his career after struggling with injuries and inconsistency the past three seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
Defensively the Rams have the best front seven in the NFL and got even stronger with first-round pick Aaron Donald out of Pittsburgh. The only weakness is the secondary, which did get bolstered with their second-round pick LaMarcus Joyner.
If St. Louis was in any other division there’s an opportunity for winning the division unfortunately the NFC West is the toughest in the NFL, so not likely to make the playoffs.
With the Rams losing Bradford it opened up the opportunity for the Cardinals to sneak by the Rams.
Offensively Arizona has the better weapons with wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald who is coming off a sub par season and Michael Floyd who came into his own in 2013. Second year running back Andre Ellington has taken over as starter for 2014 as he excelled in the backup role for the now retired Rashard Mendenhall. In 15 game as a rookie with one start he averaged 5.5 yards per carry while carrying the ball 118 times for 652 yards with a long of 80.
On defense this is where the Cardinals are hurting as Darnell Dockett tore his right ACL and is out for the season and their best linebacker Daryl Washington got suspended for the season after violating the NFL’s Substance Abuse Policy.
To replace Dockett, the Cardinals signed Tommy Kelly who got released by the New England Patriots. Their secondary has two of the better athletes in Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu.
Offensively the 49ers are the deepest team in the NFC West. Illustrated by the drafting of running back Carlos Hyde, acquiring wide receiver Stevie Johnson from the Buffalo Bills , signing Brandon Lloyd and drafting Bruce Ellington.
On defense San Francisco did lose key pieces including Donte Whitner who signed with the Cleveland Browns, Aldon Smith to a 9-game suspension, Ray McDonald recently got arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and may become the first player to get disciplined by Roger Goodell after implementing a tougher policy on those who commit violence towards women, which means a six-game suspension and Glenn Dorsey might miss the entire season after tearing his bicep.
NaVorro Bowman got placed on injured reserve as he continues to rehab from his torn ACL and MCL.
Also, noteworthy is that the 49ers did cut three key members of their special teams. Showcasing that San Francisco is sticking to its plan of getting younger.
1. Seattle Seahawks:
Playing in one of the toughest venues in the NFL and coming off a Super Bowl win, Seattle is the favorite to win the NFC West for the second consecutive season.
The Seahawks drafted wide receiver Paul Richardson who adds another speed threat to the outside along with a healthy Percy Harvin. Arguably their best receiver from 2013 Golden Tate didn’t get re-signed and he ended up signing with the Detroit Lions.
Still with the two receivers with speed, their offensive philosophy will not change much. Running back Marshawn Lynch is going to carry the football at least 280 times in 2014. Quarterback Russell Wilson will continue to manage the offense and in certain cases will use his athleticism to his advantage.
Defenisvely the Seahawks are physical even their corners, which resulted in a rule change. Surprisingly enough during the preseason Seattle didn’t get called once for the rule that has caused many complaints about too many flags.
Cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas form the best cornerback, safety duo in the NFL.