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Football picksJuly 25, 2008

NFL Previews 2008: NFC West

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
 
1. SEATTLE
2. ARIZONA
3. ST. LOUIS
4. SAN FRANCISCO

SEATTLE
COACH: MIKE HOLMGREN 10th yr (86-67)
LAST YEAR:  10-6
GAMES DECIDED BY 3 OR LESS:  1-4
BIGGEST ADDITION: JULIUS JONES  RB
BIGGEST LOSS: JOSH BROWN  K
 
DIRECTION: GOING NOWHERE
OUTLOOK: Matt Hasselback is a quality QB but the biggest question is, who is going to be catching the balls he throws? Deion Branch went down in the playoffs last season with a torn ACL and will miss a good portion of the season, and who knows what he’ll have to give in his return. DJ Hackett left for free agency and although Bobby Engram had a career year last season, he is now 35. An historic strength for this team has become a big question mark. Shaun Alexander never made it back after injuries so Julius Jones now gets the load in the backfield. We don’t see him as an every down type back and he gained 1.2 yds less than Barber last year for Dallas at 3.6. The Seahawks will still mange to win games because their defense is amongst the best in the NFL and they have one of the best coaches. The Seahawks lost four games by 3 points or less last year, and if the offense struggles, they may face a lot more of these types of games this season. This team may slip a bit, but given their weak division, they are still a playoff team.
 
PROJECTED FINISH:  10-6

ARIZONA
COACH: KEN WHISENHUNT 2nd yr (8-8)
LAST YEAR:  8-8
GAMES DECIDED BY 3 OR LESS:  2-3
BIGGEST ADDITION: TRAVIS LEBOY  LB
BIGGEST LOSS: BRYANT JOHNSON  WR
 
DIRECTION: GOING NOWHERE
OUTLOOK: The Cardinals have played a lot of close games over the past few seasons and they are making progress. They finally have a bit of continuity from year-to-year. Two years ago, five of their eleven losses were by a TD or less. Last year six of their eight losses were decided by a TD or less. They have done a good job beginning to establish a homefield advantage as they were 6-2 at home last year. Their problems though are clear. They finished 29th against the pass and Edgerrin James, despite producing a lot of yards on the ground, only managed 3.8 yards per carry. He is now 30 with lots of wear and tear. Special teams has long been an issue here as the Cards have allowed nine punt or kickoff return TDs over the last eight years, and in the last three they have had four punts or kicks blocked. While this team is slowly getting better, the key word is slowly. We expect another .500 finish for the birds.
 
PROJECTED FINISH:   8-8

ST. LOUIS
COACH: SCOTT LINEHAN 3rd yr (11-21)
LAST YEAR:  3-13
GAMES DECIDED BY 3 OR LESS:  0-2
BIGGEST ADDITION: JOSH BROWN  K
BIGGEST LOSS: ISSAC BRUCE  WR
 
DIRECTION: GOING UP
OUTLOOK: The Rams were bitten hard by the injury bug last season. None were as pronounced as the loss of Orlando Pace. He is responsible for protecting Bulger’s blind side and his absence (along with others on the OL), this team allowed 48 opponent sacks. It also forced Bulger into a bad season with more INTs than TDs. Steven Jackson was also a key element missing last year with a variety of injuries, resulting in just 237 carries and 38 receptions, down from 1,528 rushing yards, and 90 receptions the previous year. This is a contract year for Jackson, and we expect the numbers to more closely resemble ’06. The Rams have tons of holes on defense as they ranked 31st last year, and drafting Chris Long should bolster the five sacks they had from DE last year. An improved offense should also diminish some of the pressure on the D, but this is still a pourous defense. The Rams will be improved (hard not to) but they will still be watching the playoffs in January.
 
PROJECTED FINISH:  6-10

SAN FRANCISCO
COACH: MIKE NOLAN 4th yr (16-32)
LAST YEAR:  5-11
GAMES DECIDED BY 3 OR LESS:  3-1
BIGGEST ADDITION:  ISSAC BRUCE  WR
BIGGEST LOSS: BRYANT YOUNG  DE
 
DIRECTION: GOING UP
OUTLOOK: Everyone thought the Niners turned the corner in 2006, and would be in the hunt for a playoff birth last season. Instead, they went backwards, managing just five wins, with three coming by 3 points or less. All you have to do is look at the QB position for answers. Alex Smith had a horrendous rookie season in ’05, with a 50.9% completion rate, 11 fumbles, 11 picks and one TD. He appeared to be emerging in ’06 with 58% completions and 16 TD’s to 16 INT’s. But last year he fell off, regressing to a sub 49% completion rate and more INTs than TDs. He wasn’t helped by the 55 sacks the Niners front allowed either. They added Bryant Johnson and Issac Bruce to try and shore up an inept recieving corp. This is certainly an upgrade, but this team is far from instilling fear in NFL secondaries. Perhaps the best addtion to the offense will be Mike Martz taking over as OC. He has a proven track recod of being able to put points on the board. While his style is too pass-happy and predictable, it will be an upgrade where San Francisco needs it most. The Niners have added some veterans which should help, but not enough to push this team into playoff contention.
 
PROJECTED FINISH:  6-10