The NFLs best division, featuring Superbowl 48 champion Seattle, San Francisco, with 3 straight NFC Championship Game Appearances, Arizona, who won 10 games in 2013 and missed the playoffs, and the St. Louis Rams, who went 7-9 and are hoping their franchise QB Sam Bradford can finally stay healthy for an entire season. Whoever finishes last will probably be the best last place team in all of football. No division was more impacted with the introduction of the New NFL in 2002, when New Orleans, Atlanta, and Carolina moved to the newly formed NFC South, along with Tampa Bay, (St. Louis and SF remained) while Seattle moved from the AFC and was joined by Arizona. That’s how badly the NFL needed to be realigned, three teams east of the Mississippi in the NFC West.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers finally open their new home in Santa Clara, California, on Sep 14, 2014. San Francisco, winners of 5 Lombardi trophies, finally move out of Candlestick Point (when the new stadium opened for the Arizona Cardinals in 2006, Candlestick became the worst stadium in the NFL. I lived in the bay area for several years, difficult times for the niners with the change in ownership, the Dennis Erickson years, the Mike Singletary debacle, and only 2 trips to the postseason between 1999 and 2011 when Jim Harbaugh took the reigns and guided the niners to a Superbowl and 3 straight NFC Championships. I expect the trent to continue in SF with the Yorks opening up their pocketbook to keep their coach in Santa Clara. Harbaugh’s contract, paying $5 million annually, enters it’s final year in 2015. Colin Kaepernick, University of Nevada Reno, enters his second full season as the starter (on Sep 14, when the niners open Levi Stadium, Kaepernick will be making his 25th career start in the NFL. Last season seemed a disappointment, 3197 yards, 21 TDs, 8 INTs, a 4% decrease in completion percentage, 524 yards on the ground (5.7 YPC). The Read Option, the play Kaepernick eviscerated teams during the 2012 NFC playoffs (his 181 yards against Atlanta is an NFL record for the position), was really a flavor of the month similiar to the Wildcat. Remember, I’m an interesting guy and I lived in Reno when Kaepernick was QB, he and RB Vai Taua became the all time leading rushing duo in NCAA history (they passed the pony express at SMU), I saw him run the read option play for 40 yard TDs for 3 seasons. When the niners traded into the second round in 2011 to draft him, I told a close friend he was going to win a Superbowl in San Francisco. They were my pick at the beginning of the season in 2013. I’m certainly going to pick them to win this division, the niners welcome Levi Stadium with style. 13-3
Defending Superbowl Champions heading into 2014. In 2013, I picked the Seahawks to miss the playoffs, I wasn’t buying the hype. Shows you what I know about the NFL. I underestimated the strength of their defense and their invincibility in Seattle. 9-1 at home in 2013, including the playoffs, their only loss coming in Week 16 to division rival Arizona. Its scary to think they could be better this season when you look at the surface. This website likes to dig into the issues, perhaps make some speculation, hell I’m trying to predict the 2o14 NFL season with a write up on each team. Underneath the expectations are there for a repeat trip to the Superbowl and as of this writing, Vegas agrees. Second, Pete Carroll is in charge. It’s easy for me to criticize a guy who’s only history of winning, at USC in the mid 2000s, was rife with scandal and later NCAA sanctions. His departure from USC in 2010 was more like an escape. It’s difficult to criticize him with the Superbowl ring and draft history. In 2010, Seattle drafted Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor. In 2011, they drafted Richard Sherman in the 5th round along with starting LB K.J. Wright, and in 2012 they scored with 3rd round QB Russell Wilson, plus Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner. Is this Carroll or John Schneider, the man behind the scenes making the calls? Third, this is the New NFL, and nothing is easy to predict. In 2014, the expectations, issues on the offensive line, depleted depth in the secondary, and a digression from Russell Wilson due to a lack of legitimate offensive weapons beyond Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin find this team on the road in the 2014 NFC Playoffs. 11-5
St. Louis Rams
It’s 2014 or never for Sam Bradford if he’s going to even collect his 2015 paycheck from the Rams, let alone receive a big extension. Second overall pick Greg Anderson will improve his protection, Tavon Austin is in his second year, added troubled Kenny Britt (coach Jeff Fisher got the most out of his untapped talent for 2 seasons in Tennessee), Austin Pettis continues to improve, there’s depth at RB with Zac Stacy and 3rd round draft pick Tre Mason, while TE Jared Cook provides yet another option. The 2014 Rams are the case study for whether or not Indianapolis made the right decision regarding Peyton Manning. The Washington Redskins traded a lot to the St. Louis Rams for the rights to Robert Griffin III. The Rams have drafted the following players from that trade (Greg Robinson, plug him at LT for the next 10 years, LB Alec Ogletree, DT Michael Brockers, RBs Zac Stacy and Isiah Pead, and CB Janoris Jenkins. Combined with their own draft picks (Tavon Austin and DT Aaron Donald), the Rams built a team around Sam Bradford, drafted #1 overall in 2010. The good thing for the Rams and Bradford, in even number years he plays 16 games. The real strength of this team lies on defense, the addition of DT Aaron Donald and his potential may have the Rams moving from third in 2013 in sacks to first. 9-7, and the Rams are in the 2014 NFC Playoff picture come Week 17.
In 2013, the Cardinals missed the playoffs with 10 wins and 12 win San Francisco traveled to 8 win Green Bay in the 2013 NFC wild card weekend playoffs. The NFL needs playoff reform the same way division reform was needed in 2002. I expect expanded NFL playoffs, along with other restructuring, for 2015. There are expectations in Arizona for 2014, and they may be justified. Carson Palmer has shown he has another couple years, when complimented with Larry Fitzgerald, decent offensive line proving to be improved in 2014, the emergence of Michael Floyd, Andre Ellington at RB, Andre Roberts and new target Ted Ginn Jr. The defense, finishing 6th overall in 2013, will take a hit with the departure of Karlos Dansby and the suspension of Daryl Washington. The NFL really needs to look into marijuana reform, especially when their are doctors stating it helps with pain. Combined with the difficulty in the NFC West plus games against Atlanta, Detroit, Denver, Philadelphia, New York Giants and Dallas has this team struggling to stay above .500. 8-8.