Seattle Should Reign Again
Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
There's not much difference between the offense of the 2007 Seattle Seahawks and that of the 2005 NFC Champion Seahawks, except 2006's plague of injuries to many key players, including quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and running back Shawn Alexander. Former New England Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch is now the No. 1 receiver, and he has a lot to prove, but the addition of former Indianapolis Colts tight end Marcus Pollard gives Seattle a new dimension they've lacked. The Seahawks have a solid offensive line, which will make their job easier in this division, as long as the middle with new center Chris Spencer and left guard Rob Sims find their place.
On defense, Atlanta Falcons castoff Patrick Kearney solidifies one of the conference's better defenses. Seattle's defense kept the Seahawks in the division race in 2006, and if the offense can return to its former productiveness, Seattle could be a team to watch down the stretch.
The Seahawks should get a few good tune-up wins under their belts out of the gate, and if they can win a couple tough ones, they should cruise to their Week 8 bye. It's a little tougher in the third quarter of the season, but they should get it together again late in the season.
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St. Louis Rams (9-7)
St. Louis might not be the Greatest Show on Turf anymore, but that's one heck of an offense they're maintaining there. With the emergence of running back Steven Jackson and the acquisitions of tight end Randy McMichael and wide receiver Drew Bennett, this is one scary-good scoring machine. Yeah, don't forget wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt and a very good offensive line.
But as good as the offense is, the defense is not. The Rams will be dependent on rookie defensive tackle Adam Carriker to bring new life to an otherwise mediocre crew. Head coach Scott Linehan is in his second year, and St. Louis needs to hope he learned a thing or two last year and has better plans for his defense. The Rams have enough offensive power to beat most teams in the conference. The question is: Can they stop anyone?
St. Louis should have a pretty good start, but three of four on the road against tough opponents in the second quarter of the season should send them limping into their Week 9 bye. Inconsistency has been the Rams' calling card, but if they can rectify that even just a little, they should contend for a Wild Card berth.
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San Francisco 49ers (8-8)
A sure up and coming team, but not quite there yet. I'm not by any means sold on Alex Smith, and he doesn't have a great stable of weapons, even after stealing Jackson from Seattle. Running back Frank Gore had a great season in 2006, but the Niners' offensive line is a little thin (depending on the development of Joe Staley), and it's going to be a good trick balancing Gore's running and Smith's throwing to keep defenses honest.
There have been significant upgrades on defense, but with six new starters, it might be a while before they really come together. San Fran is counting on ridiculously over paid Nate Clements to solve most of the D's problems. Tully Banta-Cain, who couldn't start on New England's "aging" linebacking corps, is expected to give them a boost. Defenses with a lot of new faces can sometimes take longer to gel, if they do at all. It should make for an interesting season, at least.
The 49ers have a tough early schedule and an early bye in Week 6. The schedule is much easier in the second half, so they're going to need to earn some tough wins in the first five weeks if they want to make a run at the playoffs.
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Arizona Cardinals (4-12)
A new coaching staff led by Ken Whisenhunt probably won't be enough to spur this team to any significant improvement this season. I, for one, won't be one of those guys who every year since the Cardinals beat Dallas in the playoffs slots Arizona as the surprise team of the year.
A mediocre (at best) offensive line with a new line coach probably isn't going to make Matt Leinart or Edgerrin James's life much easier. And the defense will just get worn down if the offense can't stay on the field.
Arizona has a brutal schedule for a bad team. But I guess most schedules look tough when you're on the bottom looking up. Still, at San Fran, home vs. Seattle, at Baltimore, home vs. Pittsburgh and at St. Louis doesn't bode well for this team opening the season with success.
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