Found August 15, 2013 on The Sports Headquarters:
Never short of a storyline, the NFC West always seemed to have a team dominating the headlines in 2012. From Seattle’s ‘Fail Mary’ victory to Arizona’s 4-0 start to Seattle’s Richard Sherman taunting Tom Brady to Colin Kaepernick replacing Alex Smith in San Francisco to Seattle upsetting the Bears in Chicago to Seattle’s cornerbacks battling PED suspensions to… well you get the picture, Seattle had a lot to do with most things. San Francisco was the most successful team all year going 11-4-1 and coming so close to winning the Super Bowl. Seattle was 11-5 and won a playoff game in Washington before losing to Atlanta, St Louis finished 7-8-1 and showed good signs in Jeff Fisher’s first season. Arizona meanwhile faded badly after their hot start going 1-11 the rest of the way and finishing at the foot of the division. Arizona Cardinals Is Carson Palmer going to make all the difference? After their collapse to end the 2012 season the easy theory is that they will continue on their path of mediocrity but with Bruce Arians now at the helm the Cardinals may be on the upswing. In comes Carson Palmer a talented quarterback looking to recover after a messy divorce in Cincinnati and two rough seasons in Oakland. While Palmer is far from an elite quarterback he is a major upgrade over the cavalcade of mediocrity that Arizona has trotted out since Kurt Warner retired. Helping Palmer’s transition is the fact that he has one of the best receivers in the league to throw to in Larry Fitzgerald who must be over the moon with having a quarterback who can throw the ball. Of course no offense can ever be a one man show and Fitzgerald will need some support from his fellow receivers. When a defense is able to just key off on one receiver then the secondary cast of Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts and possibly even Patrick Peterson who has been mentioned as a potential offensive weapon from time to time. Simply having a legitimate quarterback who can make a decent throw from time to time will no doubt aid the Cardinals chances this season. Unfortunately they are in a division with several tough opponents and they will likely find themselves in the cellar once more but they will win six or seven games this year and be much more competitive in their losses. San Francisco 49ers How can they break the trend of Super Bowl losers having disappointing season? New England broke the recent trend of the Super Bowl losers struggling the following year by reaching the AFC Championship game. San Francisco has that unenviable task this year as they look to follow up their loss to Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVII with one more win in 2013. After breaking through as the starter in the middle of last season, Colin Kaepernick will have a full offseason to work as the unquestioned starter. His rare combination of athleticism and throwing ability allowed the 49ers offense to go from competent and stable to explosive and lethal while running the infamous read-option style of play that catered best to his dynamic skills. In the end, the 49ers NFC title defense all comes down to health, if their team stays clear of major injuries then they will be in contention for the division title and a potential Super Bowl run once again. Unfortunately the injury bug has already his hit the 49ers quite hard, especially in their receivers. Mario Manningham tore his ACL at the end of last year and is currently on the PUP list as he tries to rehab before the start of the season, meanwhile Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles and is likely to be out until late November or even December robbing Kaepernick of his favourite target. With the read-option opening Kaepernick up to more hits from the defense, San Francisco must be hoping their star quarterback can stay healthy. In terms of talent, the 49ers are head and shoulders above the rest of the NFC but with the roster already looking a bit depleted through injury, it has the potential to go pear shaped. Seattle Seahawks Can their offense evolve and keep defenses on their heels? Much like their major rivals in the division, the Seahawks return the bulk of a very talented roster looking to improve on their 11-5 record from last season. Like the 49ers, the Seahawks are returning a young, athletic quarterback in Russell Wilson who came from the third round of the draft to start all 16 games as a rookie. To add to the offense, Seattle traded a bevy of picks for Percy Harvin from Minnesota, only for Harvin to go down with a major hip injury which will knock him out until week 12 at the earliest. The good news for the Seahawks is that means their offense is no worse off than they were last year and as Arizona, Buffalo and San Francisco found out when Seattle put up 150 points in three straight games against them. Last year Seattle ran a variation of the read-option to take advantage of Wilson’s mobility and teams were on the back foot as they learned to defend it. After having an offseason to study and analyse the scheme, the consensus around the league appears to have determined that if you hit the quarterback at every opportunity, the coach will stop calling those plays to keep the quarterback healthy. With Wilson’s small stature, there is a concern that he may not be able to hold up to much punishment and if he gets injured, the Seahawks offense will lose its dynamism. Their defense will no doubt be fine if they can keep their all-star secondary healthy. That unit will have the Seahawks contending for the NFC West and the Super Bowl spot and if the offense can at least match last season’s production then they will be in the mix with the rest of the top teams. St Louis Rams Is this a make or break year for Sam Bradford? A disappointing 2012 season saw the Rams finish just under .500 courtesy of a mid-season tie with the 49ers. After a five game winless streak in the middle of the year, St Louis closed the year with a 4-2 run which included a victory over San Francisco, the eventual NFC Champions. Their ability to improve in 2013 and make a run at a playoff spot comes down to their central figure, Sam Bradford. With oft-injured running back Steven Jackson gone from the team, Bradford is the undisputed leader of the offense and as he enters his fourth season in the league, it is time for him to stand up, especially given the success other quarterbacks have had. With a $12.595m cap hit this year that escalates up to $17.6m next year, the Rams would be well positioned to move on from Bradford next year if he underachieves this year. If Sam Bradford is to succeed he will need help from his young receivers which will be highlighted by rookie Tavon Austin who the Rams traded up to get in the first round. If Austin’s big play skills can immediately transfer over then the Rams have a legitimate home run threat that will at least keep the defense honest. As mentioned earlier Steven Jackson has left the team and despite his talent, he was never able to stay healthy, so youngsters Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead will take over the lead back duties for the Rams. With the skill set of a third down back, Richardson could very well contribute with some big plays when called upon this season. Overall the Rams will be competitive in most games as they were last year and if luck is on their side they may push 10 wins but as it stands, an 8-8 record is the most likely outcome for Jeff Fisher’s rebuilding project.

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