Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) fights off a tackle from Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, right, in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
With the regular season just nine days away, Grizzly Detail is going through our predictions for each of the NFL’s eight divisions, as well as our picks for the Super Bowl and the various awards available after the campaign.
We’ll continue our preview today with a look at the NFC West, which provides the Chicago Bears with their first big test of the season when they hit the road to open Levi’s Stadium against the San Francisco 49’ers on Sept. 14.
Seattle Seahawks: 12-4
The defending Super Bowl champions are locked and loaded for another run at the championship, with head coach Pete Carroll’s championship-winning squad largely intact. Quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch will help pace the offense, and stars like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor will be a big help on defense.
The only real question surrounding the Seahawks is whether or not their grueling schedule will wear them down. Within the first three weeks of the season they have home games against the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos, and those sandwich a tough road test against the San Diego Chargers. Add to that the fact they have to play both the 49’ers and the Arizona Cardinals twice, and you have a really tough road to hoe as they try to become the first team since the New England Patriots in 2005 to repeat as champions.
San Francisco 49’ers: 10-6
While the Seahawks are busy trying to contend with having the proverbial target on their back, the 49’ers are in a position that few teams would envy. They not only have to deal with several key players that are nearing the end of the line in Vernon Davis and Frank Gore, but they also have to deal with the suspension of Aldon Smith, which will really hurt them defensively. Linebacker Navarro Bowman will also miss at least the first six weeks of the season with a knee injury, so the defense will also have to deal with his absence when making their way through the tough early slate they have.
Add to that the struggles of Colin Kaepernick and the team’s offense during the preseason, and there are a lot of worried fans in the Bay Area. Fortunately for the Niners, they still have head coach Jim Harbaugh at the helm, and under his direction they’ve come close to championships in each of the past two seasons. If there’s anyone that can get the ship heading in the right direction with so little time before the season starts, it’s him.
Arizona Cardinals: 9-7
The Cardinals are one of the most intriguing teams in the NFL. On offense, they are loaded with elite-level talent, with wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd being complemented by hot-shot running back Andre Ellington. Their secondary is also one of the best in the NFL, with Patrick Peterson (now the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL) and Tyrann Mathieu leading a group that rivals the Seahawks and 49’ers on the defensive side of things.
The real question for Arizona is just what on Earth they plan to do with their front seven. Linebacker Karlos Dansby left for Cleveland in the offseason, and the team lost Darnell Dockett for the season with an injury. With Darryl Washington also suspended for the year, the defense has taken some huge hits in recent weeks, so it’s going to be very interesting to see whether Bruce Arians’ squad can overcome those difficulties.
Another big question surrounding the Cardinals is whether or not Carson Palmer is going to be able to direct the offense to the big numbers they are capable of. He looked great toward the end of last season as the Cardinals fought for a playoff spot, but he isn’t getting any younger, and the team’s window of opportunity seems to be closing.
St. Louis Rams: 7-9
Speaking of teams that hold a lot of intrigue, the Rams are a club that it’s hard to get a read on. Defensively they are loaded, with Robert Quinn and Chris Long (Bears OG Kyle Long’s brother) anchoring the line and James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree, and Jo Lonn Dunbar serving as a potent force in the linebacker corps.
Unfortunately for St. Louis, their chances this season took a big hit over the weekend as quarterback Sam Bradford was lost for the year with an ACL injury. They’ll still be able to move the ball with Zac Stacy and Tre Mason in the backfield, but will Shaun Hill be able to take a wide receiving corps that is woefully thin outside of Tavon Austin through one of the most grueling schedules in the league?