Originally posted on Cippin on Sports  |  Last updated 5/30/13
Over the last few seasons, the NFC West has developed from one of the weakest divisions to what is now arguably the strongest division in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers were division champions and Super Bowl runners up in the 2012 season, but they will not have an easy task repeating this feat due to the play of the revitalised Seattle Seahawks franchise, which won a wild card spot in the play offs last year and made it to the divisional round. Granted, both the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals are improving teams, however, Seattle are by far the biggest threat to San Francisco’s title hopes. Seattle’s 11-5 record was nearly good enough to clinch the NFC West; they only finished one tie behind San Francisco’s 11-4-1 record, after they tied their week ten game with St. Louis. After another solid offseason by both teams, predicting the winner of the NFC West is a difficult task. This offseason, the 49ers have made some good acquisitions that should help them stay atop the NFC West. The trade for Anquan Boldin, one of the most reliable pass catchers in the NFL, gives Colin Kaepernick another weapon on the outside. This trade gives the 49ers arguably the best receiving corps in the National Football League. However, last Wednesday during OTAs, Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon and, as a result, Kaepernick has lost his best receiver for what will seemingly be the majority of the season. Moreover, the 49ers drafted receiver Quinton Patton in the fourth-round of the 2013 NFL Draft, giving them another good receiver. In light of Crabtree’s injury, Patton should see significant playing time. After losing starters Dashon Goldson and Ricky Jean-Francois to Tampa Bay and Indianapolis respectively via free agency, the 49ers headed into the draft with serious needs at safety and on the defensive line. These needs were filled with selections of Eric Reid (S, LSU) with the eighteenth overall pick, and Cornellius Carradine (DE, Florida State) with the fortieth overall pick. Reid is a physical safety who possesses good coverage skills and tackling ability. If Carradine can recover fully from his torn anterior cruciate ligament injury, he will be another quality lineman to add to a group that already boasts the likes of Justin Smith. In short, the 49ers have made some good moves this offseason, replacing expensive players, such as Goldson, with younger players who can contribute this season, along with adding more depth. The 49ers’ roster is one of the most complete in the NFL. However, despite the stellar work of the 49ers offseason, the division rival Seahawks also had a positive offseason. Perhaps the biggest move of Seattle’s offseason – and one of the biggest moves in the whole of the NFL this offseason – was the trade with Minnesota for the dynamic wide receiver Percy Harvin. Harvin is a playmaker that has the ability to turn the slightest defensive mistake into a touchdown with his speed and elusiveness. He caught 62 passes for 677 receiving yards in nine games in 2012 with Christian Ponder as his quarterback; imagine his numbers with Russell Wilson throwing him the ball. Harvin’s addition gives Seattle one of the best and most versatile receivers in the NFL – Pete Carroll even plans to use him as a running back! This year’s second-round pick Christine Michael (RB, Texas A&M) could be a great pick if he plays down character concerns that damaged his stock entering the 2013 Draft – he had issues with A&M coaching staff in 2012 which lost him playing time. I think he will prove to be a solid back up behind the beast that is Marshawn Lynch. Moreover, the Seahawks’ only obvious position of weakness in 2012– albeit it wasn’t very weak – was their pass rush, which was solidified by the acquisitions of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, who combined for 18.5 sacks in 2012. The defensive line was further solidified by the addition of Jesse Williams (DT, Alabama) in the fifth-round of the draft. Williams would have been taken much higher than the fifth-round were it not for his late season knee injury. If he can get healthy for this season, he will be a solid addition to the interior of Seattle’s defensive line. Staying on the defensive side of the ball, the free agent addition of veteran Antoine Winfield from Minnesota gives the Seahawks another starting-calibre cornerback to line up alongside Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, one of the NFL’s better defensive back pairings, in the nickel-back role. Like the 49ers, the Seahawks boast one of the most complete rosters in the NFL. So, who will win the division? Firstly, I’d like to point out that these teams are both stacked. Regardless of who claims the NFC West, both will still make the play-offs. However, I have to favour Seattle. I like what their front office did in the offseason more than what San Francisco did and as a result, Seattle has the stronger roster of the two. I would also argue that the likes of Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Christine Michael give the Seahawks more explosive players on offense. Rosters aside, the Seahawks’ home form last season was perfect; they went 8-0, whereas the 49ers were beaten at home by the New York Giants in week six, and suffered another setback in the week ten tie with St. Louis. When it comes down to it and the two teams face each other – in Seattle on September 15th and in San Francisco on December 8th – I think the Seahawks will win, although I don’t expect Seattle to produce another blow out win such as their 42-13 week sixteen victory. Moreover, Michael Crabtree’s injury will make a difference to the 49ers season. Until his return, Colin Kaepernick will be lacking his number one receiver who accounted for twice as many receptions as anyone else on the 49ers offense in 2012. Would I have predicted differently if Crabtree were healthy? No. Although I feel his injury does affect the 49ers, I think the Seahawks’ secondary is good enough to compete regardless of whether Crabtree is on the field or not. This article was written by Rhys Norman. You can follow him on Twitter @RhysNorman1
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