Here we are. It’s what you all have been waiting for. Labor Day. Troy’s NFC Preview. The NFL’s only division where you could make several different arguments that either 4 of the teams could snatch up the first spot, and either 4 of the teams could finish last. There’s enough 8-8, 9-7, 10-6 records to go around, folks.
You guys know the disdain I have for the 49ers, as seemingly every NFL enthusiast, fan, etc. has given them the cinderella moniker. I disproved that thought here. Let’s ponder over a thought here — the Niners, who were by many the supposed “team to beat” last season, are at it again. Hello, San Francisco! You guys can’t be the “team” to do it again.
Let’s ponder over another thought, shall we? This guy here has the Arizona Cardinals, who have been overhyped two years and running, winning the NFC West. If that’s not laughable enough, he has the St. Louis Rams finishing last — of course, as scary as it is in my mind to think, it COULD happen. But, here’s the dumb thing, he thinks the Rams will falter to 7-9. That’s where I draw the line. You can’t get much worse than the 2006 St. Louis Rams. Brand spankin’ new coaching staff, innately enabled to start the run and screw around with Singleback sets, and really awful play from the defense mixed with inconsistent play from the offense. Alright, the Rams dump off their worst defensive liabilities (Travis Fisher, Jimmy Kennedy, and Jerametrius Butler), yet you still call them a 7-9 team. I think they will at least finish 8-8, just like they did last year, at the worst. There’s no way they’ll be worsened and fried from what they were last year. You couldn’t even name one defensive player for the Rams, yet you say they have no athletes without meriting any kind of source to give fans something to think about. No way, kid.
Let’s get to the predictions.
1.) Seattle Seahawks
Being only two years removed from its first ever Super Bowl appearance, the Seattle Seahawks come into the 2007 season for the first time in a while not being the top dog. In ’06, they suffered injuries to Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander, their best core players. Seneca Wallace and Mack Strong, the respective backups, did good jobs coming into replace them, and limped along long enough for Hasselbeck and Alexander to get back on the field and take control. Neither were 100 percent healthy, but they managed to win a playoff game, and nearly advanced to the NFC Championship game before they were tossed out of the playoffs by Chicago Bears’ kicker Robbie Gould.
There are a lot of fans out there that speculate the defense will erode due to the loss of Ken Hamlin. I wouldn’t worry about that because their secondary (top names being Michael Boulware and Brian Russell) are still decent enough to hold it down. I’m not saying their pass D will be anything spectacular (more like mediocre), I’m just throwing out my opinion on their secondary. As for their d-line and LB core, they added Patrick Kerney over the offseason and paid him Grant Wistrom-type of stuff, and coincidentally I think he will be Grant Wistrom in Seahawks blue all over again, as he’s aging and they paid him some nice “spare change.” The rest of the Seahawks d-line is simply alright. Bryce Fisher’s ability to make the periodical play sure helps, now if he could do it even more. Lofa Tatupu is one of the best linebackers in the league, and is always around sniffing out the ball.
Get over yourselves, people, if the Seahawks are able to stay 100 percent healthy this season (or at least 90 percent; or, well, if Alexander Hasselbeck are let’s just say), and Shaun Alexander is the same type of player he was in 2005, then they will still win this division (depending on.. read the rest of my post). Your probable question — “Troy, if they win it this year, when will they lost it?” I say next year, but that’s irrelevant as of my 2007 predictions.
2.) St. Louis Rams
Here we go again. Here’s my boys. The team I have hyped up for far too long over the past couple of years for far too many reasons. But the same reasons return. But don’t lament about this, Troy, I mean your Rams were only (subtracting) two Josh Brown field goals from a 10-6 record from the playoffs last season. Yeah, but in the first game Alexander didn’t play; in the second, neither Alexander or Hasselbeck played. That sets the tone. No team morals for the St. Louis Rams when all you have to do is play smart defense and be aware of what is going on around you on the football field. That was the case for the Rams in 2006 — defense.
But hey, kids, let’s start out with the offense. I mean, look at ’em. You got Marc Bulger, Steven Jackson, Brian Leonard, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Drew Bennett, Dante Hall. The list goes on. Hell, the other day they picked up Ohio State graduate (Running Back) Antonio Pittman. How much more depth could this offense feature? Even though it will never be Greatest Show on Turf-good, maybe they can at least be a mediocre parody of it.
How so? Mix that awful defense in, and you got the year 2000 (but much worse) all over again. That’s where we get to the defense. The Rams have already gotten rid of their three biggest liability phenoms from ’06. Travis Fisher is now a Lion. Jerametrius Butler is now a Redskin. Jimmy Kennedy isn’t shit but according to the NFL he’s a Bronco. Where does that leave ’07? It looked like an OK defense, but Fahkir Brown was involved in an altercation over the offseason and will miss the first 4 games of the season, which involves two home games and two away games — Panthers, !49ers!, @ Buccaneers, and @ Cowboys. Lenny Walls and Tye Hill will be filling in. At times, Ron Bartell will be playing corner this year.
Overall, the defense is still paltry. Better than last year, but still has holes that need to be filled with players being determined. Adam Carriker will be a Pro Bowler sometime in the next couple of years, and his old school sense of style gives a lot to the Rams D and essentially the d-line. Also, let me add that Greg Olsen, the offensive coordinator, took over calling plays at the end of last season, and the Rams won 3 consecutive games. Let’s see what happens in 2007; prove me wrong, boys.
3.) San Francisco
Troy, oh, Troy, you bashed the 49ers already here, but you won’t stop? Nope. But I will tell you what I’m going to do; I’m going to be nice and speak good things about them before I knock them back down again. The 2006 San Francisco 49ers came off a year where they improved vastly and if it wasn’t for a Isaac Bruce catch in the endzone (when the Rams defeated them), and another game in which they lost to a different opponent, we could be talking about the ’06 NFC West champions right now. They ousted the Seattle Seahawks, sweeping the three-peating Western division champions. Alex Smith is maturing into one hell of a QB with poise, discipline, and knowledge. Frank Gore is one of the best young RBs in the league with power mixed with quickness. Nate Clements is an obvious shutdown corner. And Vernon Davis is an tough and athletic tight end. If an injury hadn’t cut his season short, the Niners could have won the West. But they didn’t, and won’t this year neither.
Norv Turner, the essential key that helped Alex Smith mature from a 1-TD QB in his rookie campaign to a 16-TD QB in 2006. Turner left the 49ers for a head coaching job in San Diego. I don’t blame him. Smith could definitely improve on his passer rating and his pass completion (58%). Not to mention he could balance out his TD:INT ratio in his favor. Frank Gore is essentially the best option for this team to score, so including him in several different plays other than running would be a prominent way to attack opposing defenses. If Vernon Davis stays healthy, then the Niners will have a nice little trio going for them. I’m not too big on their receivers, but Darrell Jackson will provide them a nice possession weapon to get the good yardage. But after defenses key in on him and Davis, they will have to rely on Lelie and Battle. Not the best options in the world.
As for their defense, what more can I say than from what I said here? Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote about the defense:
“The 49ers defense is better than the Rams, but not better than the Seahawks. Nate Clements and Walt Harris as their top corners. That’s great. Fine and dandy. That’s damn good. Yeah, keep going. Wait, I can’t. How are they alone going to stop the Rams passing attack, or their rushing attack. How is that even going to stop the Cardinals (Sorry, I had to mention them) or even the Seahawks? It’s not going to do it. Keith Lewis is their starting Free Safety. Who in the Aaron-Brooks-hell is that?! Some guy from Oregon, 6th round, 30-something pick of the 2004 NFL Draft. Get out of here.”
4.) Arizona Cardinals
Oh, boy, here we go again. In 2005 and especially 2006, these guys were dubbed the “surprise team” moniker by fans to finish second or first in the NFC West. Didn’t happen. Fans expected Edgerrin James, the guy who was fed with a silver spoon by the Indianapolis Colts offensive line, to rush for 1800 yards and become the Cardinals savior. Didn’t happen did it? Nadda. Instead, they blew games, crowned some asses, and played idiotically. I’m not going to make a long rant like I did for the first three teams since I believe the Cards will finish last once again to solidify their spot before they turn everything around for 3rd place in 2008.
Their offense is nice. Better than the Seahawks, and the Niners if you subtract their putrid offensive line. Not better than the Rams. If you include the offensive line, you could say that they have the worst offense in the division because of that. Their receiving core is also nice. Better than Seattle’s and San Francisco’s, but not even close enough to being better than St. Louis’s. Their defense is questionable. Adrian Wilson is the tone-setter, so I’m going to be on a lookout for him to get the whole defensive hyped up.
Enough with the nice this, nice that; bad this, bad that. Southern California’s baby boy, Matt Leinart, is loved by many. However, I’m not sold on this cat. He leaves passes floating far too many times, and makes mental errors in which he won’t forgive himself until the next week, and keeps it hanging over his head for the rest of the game. Sometimes, this is a good case. Leinart’s case is not. He thinks too much, and it ultimately opposes and rivals him. He has exceptional mechanics. But again, if he can’t sling a ball in there consistently and not floater it, what’s the use?