Prediction: 1st in division (13-3 overall)
Strengths: The 12th man. The Seahawks are just brutal to play at home. Defense gave up just over 11 points per game last season at home. They didn’t lose a game at home either. Oh and Marshawn Lynch is a beast. Russell Wilson is a stud. And Pete Carroll just loves winning.
Causes for concern: Not too many causes for concern for Seattle except for maybe the receiving core. Percy Harvin has no timetable for his return. But Golden Tate and Sidney Rice can still carry the load until he comes back. Wilson should avoid sophomore slump but may be a concern.
X-Factor: Russell Wilson. If he can pick up right where he left off last year, he will have this offense running circles around opposing defenses. Seattle’s defense is tough, the crowd will always be a big factor at home, but if Wilson performs well I like this team to take the whole NFC.
San Francisco 49ers
Prediction: 2nd in division (11-5 overall)
Strengths: Defense. The best defense in the league added Asomugha this offseason. They have studs at all defensive positions. Harbaugh learned the NFL ways real quick.. A competitor on a whole different level than the average NFL coach.
Causes for concern: How will Kaepernick hold up in his first full season? Will teams figure out how to limit his open field running? Also, Crabtree is out for the season. Boldin can be prone to injury. I’m not sold on Kaep as a solid pocket passer.
X-Factor: Vernon Davis. Like I mentioned, Crabtree is done for the year. Kaep will be looking over the middle often and Vernon needs to step up. Additionally, he needs to be able to block. San Fran will run the ball often, whether its Kaep or Frank Gore, they will need Davis to help seal the edge. Vernon Davis will be an integral part of the offense this season.
St. Louis Rams
Prediction: 3rd in division (7-9 overall)
Strengths: Defensively the Rams showed some life at the end of the season. Sam Bradford has showed he can run the offense well. He doesn’t have tons of weapons but he does well anyway.
Causes for concern: The running game is questionable. Daryl Richardson backed up Steven Jackson last year and showed he can contribute from time to time. Expect Isaiah Pead to pick some carries as well. Receivers aren’t proven yet but this could be a big year.. Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, and Brian Quick. They need to step up and be reliable for Bradford.
X-Factor: Daryl Richardson. Or Isaiah Pead. Whoever ends up being the Rams every-down back needs to perform well. Bradford can throw the football but the Rams will need to be able to run the football successfully in order to compete, especially in this division. I do like the Rams and the direction they’re heading but this year won’t be it. Seattle and San Fran are too tough and St. Louis just doesn’t have all the pieces yet.
Prediction: 4th in division (3-13 overall)
Strengths: Not too many strengths for Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald has some of the best hands in the league but he’ll need Carson Palmer to help him out a lot. Defense has some depth, not overly intimidating though. Tyrann Mathieu will be fun to watch.
Causes for concern: The running game, the offensive line, Carson Palmer. All big causes for concern. Running game is a problem.. Rashard Mendenhall is their number 1 back, also one of the biggest injury prone players in the league. The offensive line won’t be much help for him either. Carson Palmer hasn’t had a consistent year in quite some time.
X-Factor: Carson Palmer. For this team to have any shot to win some games this year, he needs to bring back the old Palmer from Cincinnati. They’ll rely heavily on him to drive them down the field, especially if the running game is ineffective. If he plays well, he’ll give them a chance to be competitive. No playoffs for Arizona. Not this year.. or the next few for that matter.
This division will be fun to watch. Seattle and San Francisco are both top teams in the whole league. And St. Louis always plays competitively, particularly in divisional games. I like Seattle to take the division though. Don’t expect them to lose more than one or two games at home. And with the talent in place, they’ll be nearly as tough on the road. They’re my favorite to win the NFC as of right now. San Francisco is a playoff team as well. St. Louis and Arizona, well, they’ll have to wait their turn. Stay tuned!
This article was written by Kenny Decker. You can follow him on Twitter @Inside__Sports.