2013 NFL Preseason Predictions: NFC West (Woodhull)
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Here are my preseason picks for the NFC West:
1. St. Louis Rams (schedule): 11-5
Jeff Fisher has gone to work building a solid football team and in the model that he likes. The Rams will out 49er the Niners this year and squeak out the NFC West regular-season division crown. By that, I mean they will win by smothering defense, and smash-mouth running.
The Rams have the best young defensive line in the NFL. They have two former first-round draft picks anchoring the end positions, Chris Long and Robert Quinn. And if you don’t know defensive tackle Michael Brockers yet – you will by the end of the season. He was a little raw coming out of college, but he should shine in his second year in the pros.
They also have a savvy veteran in James Laurinaitis calling the shots from the middle linebacker position. They might be a little weak on the back end of the defense, but Long and Quinn can rush the passer to make up for any deficiencies in coverage.
They grabbed the best offensive tackle, Jake Long, in free agency to anchor the line, so they should have plenty of room to run the ball. This team is emerging as a perennial contender and I expect this year is when they take a big step forward.
2. San Francisco 49ers (schedule): 10-6
I still like the 49ers to make playoffs coming out of the toughest division in football, but they are going to face some serious heat from the Seahawks and the Rams.
The Niners have been dealing with their share of injuries. Star linebacker Patrick Willis has a broken hand, and fortunately he is supposed to be ready for season opener. More notably, they’ve had a season-ending injury to cornerback Chris Culliver (torn ACL) and their best wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, will start the year on the PUP list due to his Achilles injury.
They were able to back-fill some talent by replacing Dashon Goldson, who left in free agency, with veteran Nnamdi Asomugha and Anquan Boldin will provide another receiving threat in Crabtree’s absence.
My take on the Niners goes back though to last year's move to insert Colin Kaepernick into the starting lineup. It was about seeing who gives the best opportunity to win in the long run. Kaepernick gives their offense a dynamic threat that wasn’t there and can help offset let-downs in the defense due to attrition, injury or just off days.
With an exceedingly difficult schedule, it will be tough to match last year's win total, but they’ll collect 10 “W”s and make the playoffs.
3. Seattle Seahawks (schedule): 9-7
Seattle is going to be the odd man out, a good team that will fall short. They made some nice adds in the offseason, picking up underrated defensive end Michael Bennett to fill the void during Bruce Irvin's suspension. The Seahawks have probably the best starting secondary in the NFL anchored by shutdown cornerback Richard Sherman.
With the injury to Percy Harvin though, they continue to lack an explosive offensive threat. Sidney Rice has proven a career of inconstencies and Marshawn Lynch is plodding work-horse back, but isn’t a game-breaker. All eyes will be on Russell Wilson at QB and a repeat of last year’s success just seems unlikely. Wilson and Seattle will be good, but I see them as coming up a little short this year.
4. Arizona Cardinals (schedule): 6-10
The good news for the Cardinals is they now have Bruce Arians as coach and Carson Palmer at quarterback. And I’m sure Larry Fitzgerald is grateful for that after last year’s pu-pu platter of quarterbacks.
The bad news is they will still struggle this year as they are out-manned at nearly every position. Setbacks have already mounted this year, as they lost their first-round pick, Jonathan Cooper, with a broken leg for the season. Arians will make use of the bevy of receiving options that complement Fitzgerald, so they can win some games, especially since they bring back an above-average defense.
I like Arians as a coach and he should get the team moving in the right direction, but it's too much to ask for the Cardinals to be competitive this year.
All of our contributors will make their division and Super Bowl picks and we will track those on this centralized predictions page.