2011 NFC West Division Preview and Predictions ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
By Mike Ivcic
1) Arizona Cardinals
The other aspect where Arizona needs to improve is on defense. They barely won their playoff game two years ago as Aaron Rogers and Green Bay torched the Cardinals before the defense finally made a play in overtime to win the game. The defense was no better last year, and with a less explosive offense, the team had no shot. In order to fix their offensive struggles, they traded for Kevin Kolb in the offseason, but had to give up Dominic Rogers-Cromartie in order to do it, so it’s not as if this unit is going to make a push for top five status. What they need to do is be serviceable enough to keep the offense within striking distance and hope Kolb can become a clutch quarterback in late-game, come-from-behind situations. That has to be the Cardinals game plan heading into this year.
Even for the NFC West, the Cardinals benefit from an easy start to the season, as the schedule sees them open at home against Carolina and then head to Washington and Seattle. They also close with four of their final five at home, with only a trip to Cincinnati on Christmas Eve away from University of Phoenix Stadium â and those four home games are Dallas, San Francisco, Cleveland, and Seattle to end the year. Yes, there’s that four week stretch in the middle where this team will really be tested, facing the Steelers, Ravens, and Eagles between weeks 7 and 10, but if Arizona can take even one of those games and beat the other teams they’re supposed to beat, they’ll return to the top of the weakest division in sports.
2) Saint Louis Rams
Well, apparently the Rams did, because one season removed from having the top overall pick, they were one game away from going to the playoffs. Sure they play in a terrible division, but that team was putrid in 2009 and improved dramatically with just those two big changes in 2010. I still wouldn’t be surprised if they win the division, and hold your breath for this one â if they don’t win the division, I think they will have a very good shot at a wild card berth. Hear me out here â Arizona and St. Louis both schedules with a good amount of potential wins. Seattle will stink, and San Francisco won’t be much better, if at all. Let’s just say both teams go 4-0 in those games and split with each other. Now, both teams also get the AFC North, and I know in that division preview I said Cleveland would be 8-3 at the end of November, but let’s just imagine one of those three losses is to the Rams (Cardinals and Browns play week 15, so they’re exempt from this). Now both teams are 7-3 with losses to the Steelers and Ravens. The remaining schedule is filled out with the NFC East (both teams beat the Redskins and lose to the Eagles) and the other two conference games (Arizona beats the Panthers and Vikings, the Rams lose to the Packers and Saints). That puts Arizona at 10-4 and St. Louis at 8-6. The two games I haven’t counted are against the other two wild card contenders from the East in Dallas and New York. Is it absurd to think that both the Rams and Cardinals could each split those games? That would give Arizona the division at 11-5 and put St. Louis right in the thick of the wild card at 9-7, and I think the second wild card will have that record. The Giants, Cowboys, Rams, Lions, Bears, and Buccaneers are all flawed teams that do some things very well and other things poorly, so it could all come down to who beats who for that final playoff spot.
3) San Francisco Giants
For Harbaugh, he does have an absolute beast to build around on defense in Patrick Willis, but the Niners will need to do more than just get stops, they’ll have to make plays in order to be successful. This is not a division stacked with talent, so winning 6-8 games shouldn’t be that tall of an order for this team, and they will have a chance to win the division late in the season regardless of how well they start. That’s because they play five of their six division games in the final seven weeks of the season â the only exception being the home opener against Seattle in week one. Yes, that means the 49’ers will go from September 11 to November 20 without a division game. Gotta love the NFL schedule makers.
4) Seattle Seahawks
Coupled with the lack of solid quarterback play, the Seahawks will also have to deal with a first place schedule from last season, meaning they draw the Falcons and Bears as their in-conference crossover opponents. Like everyone else in this division, Seattle does play six games against the other three division teams, so there are chances for wins on the schedule. The issue with those games is that there is a loser for every winner, meaning someone has to lose. Given the holes on both the offensive and defensive side of the football, the Seahawks will likely lose more of those division games than they’ll win, making it extremely difficult with that first place schedule to duplicate their performance from last season.
Coming tomorrow: Playoff and Super Bowl predictions
Monday, September 5: AFC North