The NFC West made history in 2010, just not for the right reasons, it was the first time a team clinched a playoff berth, won a division title and won a playoff game with a sub-.500 record. That team was the Seattle Seahawks in coach Pete Carroll’s first season at the helm, sure it seemed dysfunctional at times but it got results which is what matters. The Rams posted the same record on the back of a loss to the Seahawks in week 17 and missed the playoffs on tiebreakers, while the 49ers finished at 6-10 and the Cardinals struggled to cope with the retirement of Kurt Warner finishing at 5-11. The two game split between first and last was actually closest of all eight divisions last year, it would have been nicer if it was 11-9 wins rather than 7-5 though. This season will be interesting for all the teams in the West as they try to get better and above 8-8, for some that goal is definitely reachable.
St Louis Rams: 2010: 7-9 Missed Playoffs
Major Additions: Josh McDaniels (OC), Robert Quinn (DE)*, Mike Sims-Walker (WR), Cadillac Wiliams and Jerious Norwood (RB), Quentin Mikell (S)
Major Losses: Mark Clayton (WR)
Biggest Game: Week 2 at New York Giants (MNF)
While he may have failed miserably as a head coach, Josh McDaniels is a very good offensive coordinator and is the perfect pickup to help tutor Sam Bradford in his second season with the Rams. The talent is most certainly there for him and from what we saw last year, he is looking like growing into the role quite nicely. Finding a roster loss that the Rams didn’t cover was quite difficult with the number of additions they made. Perhaps the biggest additions will be players who won’t even start a game, the running back tandem of former NFC South rivals Caddy Williams and Jerious Norwood will provide legitimate backup to workhorse Steven Jackson and hopefully keep him fresh past week 9. Meanwhile in the draft they stole… I mean added the player I was hoping the Patriots would take in UNC’s Robert Quinn. On the back end Quentin Mikell is a very good safety and should only serve to improve that unit.
Better or Worse in 2011: In Sam Bradford’s second season under the tutelage of Josh McDaniels, that Rams offense should be top 10 and should make the Rams much better than their 7-9 record of 2010.
2010: 5-11 Missed Playoffs
Major Additions: Kevin Kolb (QB), Patrick Peterson (CB)*, Richard Marshall (CB)
Major Losses: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (CB), Tim Hightower (RB), Steve Breaston (WR)
Biggest Game: Week 7 vs Pittsburgh
The blame for the Cardinals atrocious quarterback play ub 2010 can be placed squarely on the shoulders of Saints defensive end Bobby McRay. In the 2009 playoffs he was the one who made the hit that convinced Kurt Warner to retire. After deciding Matt Leinart was not good enough they went with a rotation of Derek Anderson, Brian St Pierre, Max Hall and John Skelton which did not work out well at all.
To fill that hole they traded for Eagles backup Kevin Kolb to be their quarterback of the future. While the price may have been a bit steep (2nd round pick and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) the potential long term stabilty he brings should offset that. While Kolb probably will not develop into a top of the line quarterback throwing to Larry Fitzgerald will certainly help. Some solid offseason acquisitions should also be able to make up for the loss of DRC with the drafting of Patrick Peterson and signing of former Panthers corner Richard Marshall.
Better or Worse in 2011: The Cardinals should be better in 2011 based solely on the fact that they have a semi-decent quarterback this year. This time they should be flirting with 8-8.
2010: 7-9 NFC West Champions. Playoffs: Lost Divisional Playoff Round.
Major Additions: Sidney Rice (WR), Robert Gallery (G)
Major Losses: Matt Hasslebeck (QB), Lofa Tatupu (LB)
Biggest Game: Week 13 vs Philadelphia (TNF)
Signing ex-Viking Sidney Rice will no doubt be a great investment for the Seahawks however it was the signing of another former Viking in Travaris Jackson to compete for the starting quarterback job that raised many eyebrows. Especially considering he will be replacing fan favourite Matt Hasslebeck (now with the Titans) who may have only been a short term option but he would have been a guiding hand. Combine that with the drafting of Alabama’s James Carpenter in the first round it made for an interesting offseason for the Hawks. While the team may not be overly talented, coach Pete Carroll will have them playing hard every week and challenging.
Better or Worse in 2011: The Seahawks weren’t a very good team last year but managed to get into the playoffs because they were the closest to mediocre in their division. The additions and subtractions will offset and 7-9 is the ballpark again.
San Francisco 49ers
2010: 6-10 Missed Playoffs
Major Additions: Colin Kaepernick (QB)*, Braylon Edwards (WR), Donte Whitner (S)
Major Losses: Aubrayo Franklin (NT), Takeo Spikes (ILB)
Biggest Game: Week 1 vs Seattle
The 49ers got their next “future Montana/Young” in Colin Kaepernick this April in the draft and while I won’t speculate as to how his long term future will play out, I will safely say his 2011 impact will be minimal at best barring catastrophic injuries to Alex Smith and Josh McCown. What I will say however is he has a very good tutor to guide him in Coach Harbaugh.
This year they will be lead by a quarterback who was a major let down as the #1 pick (but he’s been decent at times so I wouldn’t call him a bust) Alex Smith who will be auditioning for a job in 2012. The unresolved contract status of Frank Gore appears to be a boom of bust situation where he will run for 1400 yards and start every game or do absolutely nothing because of injury or trade. Meanwhile Braylon Edwards was brought in after being replaced by Plaxico Burress on the Jets roster and you would have to think that in spite of his questionable consistency, he will want to show Rex Ryan what he gave up.
Better or Worse in 2011: In a normal offseason signing a new coach like Harbaugh would be enough to convince me the 49ers are going to improve and make the playoffs this year. Unfortunately for them I don’t see the truncated offseason helping them here and they will probably stay steady at the 6 win mark.
1- St Louis Rams
2- Arizona Cardinals
3- Seattle Seahawks
4- San Francisco 49ers
This group will probably only produce one playoff team again and I see that being the Rams this year on the back of Sam Bradford. Arizona & Seattle will come down to tiebreakers & the 49ers will at least play close in the division.