San Francisco, CA. Before last season began, it was really up in the air as to who the favorite was to win the NFC West in 2011. After seemingly several years where this division has been regarded as the worst in all of the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers proved what all football fans have known for years….the National Football League is the most unpredictable of all the major professional leagues. Not too many people had them winning had them winning this division, let alone dominating it the way that they did. Behind Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers went 13-3, and displayed a toughness and winning attitude that fans of San Francisco hadn’t seen in quite some time. They trounced the rest of the NFC West, and even clinched a first round bye in the playoffs. The Niners came within just a few plays of meeting the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and now are the obvious favorite to finish atop this division in 2012. Alex Smith showed a level of consistency and confidence which nobody had ever seen before, and this tenacious defense returns all eleven starters from a year ago. On paper, they look to be the class out west and another trip to the post-season seems to be a forgone conclusion. However, as previously mentioned, the NFL is one crazy, unpredictable league. Teams routinely go from cellar dwellers to contenders very quickly, as the San Francisco 49ers proved that just a season ago. So can anyone else in the NFC West come to the forefront and give the Niners a run for their money? Let’s examine the other three teams, and their chances of knocking off the prohibitive favorites…..
Arizona Cardinals - This team would absolutely stun me if they even sniffed .500. Their QB situation is a mess, and the offensive line has plenty of holes. It’s really too bad for Larry Fitzgerald too, because he is a class act and such a great player. The Cardinals will likely be playing musical chairs at quarterback all year, and should be in the sweepstakes to draft Matt Barkley next April. Patrick Peterson is a superstar in the making on defense, and may be the NFL’s best cornerback by years end. There just aren’t enough players to make up for the problems they will have under center, and huge mistakes on offense are on the horizon down in the desert. A season finishing around 4-12 seems to be in the “Cards”.
Seattle Seahawks - This team intrigues me, and in my opinion, is the only potential threat to the 49ers. Seattle, and Pete Carroll, surprised most by naming rookie Russell Wilson the opening day starter. He is not big, but has already shown amazing confidence for a first year player. He is quite elusive, and can make plays with his arm or his legs. Wilson just seems to have “it”, and a knack for coming through in big moments. At Wisconsin, he showed all of these abilities, and looks like he is getting better by the day. Marshawn Lynch got paid, and can now hopefully just concentrate on football this year. The defense should be solid, as they have some guys who can be very opportunistic at times. The Seahawks may have caught lightning in a bottle with their rookie QB, and could be a big-time surprise this season. 9-7 sounds about right, but if a few games fall their way, they could scare San Francisco come December.
St. Louis Rams - I love the hiring of Jeff Fisher as head coach, as he brings stability and toughness to St. Louis. The Rams do have some talent here and there, and one of the best running backs in Steven Jackson. This is a big year for Sam Bradford, who battled injuries for most of 2011. The Rams passed on drafting Robert Griffin III, and instead acquired several draft picks in the next few years. These picks should lay the foundation for improvement down the road, but this team is still lacking some talent at key positions for 2012. St. Louis should be better than their record of 2-14 last season, but only a few games better. They are in full rebuild mode, but will be more competitive this year. A season around 5-11 sounds about right, but the future does have some promise with the right head coach in place.
The San Francisco 49ers have too much talent on defense to not win this division. As long as Alex Smith doesn’t fall back into being the Alex Smith of a few years ago, the offense should be improved. Adding Brandon Jacobs, Mario Manningham, and Randy Moss will give them more flexibility in play-calling, and more shots down the field should be in order. Although they won’t go 13-3 again, an 11-5 year seems right, and another NFC West title. The experience they gained from last season will help them this year, and a trip to the New Orleans in February would not be a huge surprise.
Denver Sports by J Simp