Having checked out the South, Jon E. Bagg now casts his wise eye over the lineup of the NFL NFC West.
Just who dominates in this division is anybody’s guess. Pete Carroll’s superbly coached Seattle Seahawks are probably the best-balanced single team playing the game this year. Period! Full stop! They’re awesome. Motivation-wise, the fact that the Super Bowl will be played at New Jersey’s Rutherford Stadium will be a huge motivation for an emotional man like Carroll. Relentlessly abused by the New York sports press when he took the impossible Don Quixote-type gig that is coaching the New York Jets, Carroll would love to return and offer a middle-finger salute and a custard pie in reply. Meanwhile, the surprise package of last season was the San Francisco 49ers. The very fact that they made it to the Super Bowl only seemed to overwhelm the team at the moment when they ought to have been at their strongest. The St. Louis Rams may well prove to be the surprise team, like the Panthers and the Lions if their late season can be repeated. Their QB Sam Bradford is a bright fellow with a fine sense of improvisation. No such improvement for the Arizona Cardinals, but expect over-achievement from Carson Palmer.
Seattle Seahawks: Pete Carroll is the kind of micro-managing coach who prepares well in advance for every individual possibility in a game. Protected by a fantastic defensive line, QB Russell Wilson seems to do what no other NFL QB can’t do: avoid getting concussions. With the best pass-rushers and the finest, biggest and quickest corners, they look better than in 2012. Well aware of the shock of their late loss in the playoffs to the 49ers, I would expect Pete Carroll to have two-dozen plans to stymie Colin Koepernick and company next time. Absolutely 100% my pick to win the Super Bowl over the Patriots. Prediction 11-5.
San Francisco 49ers: Despite only making ten starts, rookie QB Colin Koepernick led them to the Super Bowl. Had the cynical nonsense perpetrated upon them by a crafty Baltimore team not turned their collective heads, they would have won it all. Consider the awesome power of the team’s front seven. Players like Frank Gore, LaMichael Jones, Kendall Hunter and a newbie rookie safety in Eric Reid, are assassins. The only team who truly stymied them was the Seahawks. Their games against the Seahawks will be war, a beautiful kind of war. Bagg says 11-5.
St. Louis Rams: Led by the awesomely brave Sam Bradford, the Rams, like the Lions and the Panthers, enjoyed a late season revival that was inspirational in a world where professional sports is so often viewed so cynically. QB Bradford’s defense can be an awesome thing to regard. Quick to improvise on the fly, they executed an NFL high 52 sacks last season. Despite a weak secondary and a lack of speed in its running backs Bradford still managed to score 21 touchdowns. Expectations are for them to go 8-8.
Arizona Cardinals: You’ve got to love Darnell Dockett. Injured for most of the 2012 season, he can be a frightening opponent and should do a good job of protecting QB Carlton Palmer. Palmer played for a far worse side in the Oakland Raiders and shone as he has repeatedly showed himself to be one of the top eight passers in the league every year since he was drafted. Can Larry Fitzgerald finally have the year he’s promised to deliver upon but always failed in delivering? A master coach for their superb wide receivers in his days with the Indianapolis Colts, the Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians is expected to be a sort of good fairy to the Cardinal’s offensive line. What’s problematic, however, is time. The Cards simply have too many veterans. Bagg says 7-9.