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We’ll start this years NFL prediction show with that runt of a division known as the NFC West.

This is a young division, much maligned for the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks taking the crown last season. Were it not for a stellar post-season, there might be more outcry about how bad this division was last year. Consider that 2 teams picked in the top 5 in the draft last year.  Last year, the division was quite easily the worst in the NFL.

This year, they’ve got new blood in coach Jim Harbaugh, they’ve added experience to up and comers such as Sam Bradford, and a wealth of new veterans via trades and signings. Here’s our predictions:

Seattle Seahawks

Cole: The Seahawks are the perennial winners in this division, punctuated by the Cardinals for a short time. They are in complete transition, however. Pete Carroll has brought in the Minnesota offense that ran Brad Childress out of town in Tavaris Jackson and Sidney Rice. Charlie Whitehurst isn’t quite out of the picture, but signs are pointing towards Jackson replacing Matt Hasselbeck. They spent their draft picks on the offense in James Carpenter and John Moffitt. They should improve an already sound rushing attack down the road, but expect Jackson to be scrambling a lot early. Carroll has proven he can hang wit hthe big boys, but this will be a rough year without the experience of Hassellbeck to rely on.

Andy: Seriously, giving up Matt Hasselbeck and getting Tavaris Jackson?  I don’t see the angle in it.  Sidney Rice can be great, but he’s an injury risk, and no good without a good QB to throw him bombs.  Marshawn Lynch could be a stud if the line gives him some holes to go through.  There are still many questions on the line while their rookies are developing, and a mediocre defense with a pretty bad secondary didn’t improve much over the offeseason.  Combine that with a tough schedule, and I see a bad year ahead for Seattle.

St. Louis Rams

Cole: Give the Rams credit. They’ve identified their needs this off-season and addressed them in some ways. They’ve signed Mike Sims-Walker as a new WR, drafted receiving tight end Lance Kendricks as possession types Austin Pettis and Greg Salas. Can’t fault them for attacking a weakness. They also selected high potential end Robert Quinn to pair with developing stud Chris Long. They’ve gotten what looks like a solid backup runinng back in Cadillac Williams and Bradford has a year under his belt. Still, they lack an elite number 1. Donnie Avery is more of a 2 type receiver and most of the rest fit slot roles. Combine that with a new offense under Josh McDaniels and you can see how there’ll be some struggles this year.

Andy: A lot hinges on Sam Bradford.  St. Louis has quietly made some nice pickups in free agency for their defense, notably Quintin Mikell, Ben Leber, and Justin Bannan, as well as Robert Quinn in the first round of the draft.  They also added some depth for the offense in Cadillac Wiliams, guard Harvey Dahl and WR Mike Sims-Walker, who could have a good year if he can stay healthy.  That being said, barring some unexpected breakout from 3rd round WR Austin Pettis, Bradford’s WR options still aren’t very impressive.  On top of this, they have a fairly difficult out of conference schedule.  If Bradford continues to improve upon his great rookie season, I could see them winning the division.  If not, then look for a mediocre season.

San Francisco 49ers

Cole: Maybe the team with the most hope coming into this year, again. Harbaugh has brought a lot of hope that they can finally return to the days of star quarterback play. They spent picks on both sides of the ball. Aldon Smith has the potential to develop into a sound rush linebacker to pair with Patrick Willis. They also selected Colin Kaepernick, a development project at the Quarterback position to give hope to a fan base that needs some. Still Alex Smith is back at the helm. The perpetual hope that this is the year he becomes a consistent player has been renewed with Harbaugh’s track record, but it is more diminished. They’ve signed Braylon Edwards and have high potential guy Michael Crabtree to combine with Vernon Davis to feature a lot of talent at their skill positions. Frank Gore is excellent when healthy, and they have two solid backup running backs should he go down again. Their defense has a few holes. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin has departed, and they cut Nate Clements. Their secondary is pretty weak right now, but Patrick Willis still makes this a formidable defense.

Andy: As usual, the 49ers are a bit of a wild card.  They have a proven RB in Frank Gore and some decent handcuffs when he gets injured (only a matter of time).  The WR corps is questionable with two divas in Braylon Edwards and the always ‘could be stud someday’ Michael Crabtree, but have one of the best TEs in Vernon Davis.  Losing Nate Clemets is bad, but not terrible considering his price tag was outrageous.  The defense overall is ok, not great, not bad, but ok.  The problem remains at QB.  Colin Kaepernick is a project, and Alex Smith is hit or miss every game.  Additionally, coaches from the college ranks tend to struggle in the NFL.  Jim Harbaugh will eventually succeed I think, but look for this year to have both ups and downs.

Arizona Cardinals

Cole: With the trade for Kevin Kolb, the Cardinals hope to start a fresh string of domination of this division. Kolb has some very impressive games to his resume, and some very rookie-like games. He has one of the top 5 wide receivers in the NFL in Larry Fitzgerald and Todd Heap has been brought in to be a sure hands guy in the middle. Currently Andre Roberts, out of Citadel, has the edge as the number 2, but Early Doucet could develop into a big playmaker with a quarterback who can spread the ball around. Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams should compete this year for the job, but Beanie will have the opportunity to start first. Their defense should be solid this year. Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett are a powerful 1-2 at end, with Dan Williams clogging the middle. They drafted Patrick Peterson to play corner back and lessen the departure of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. This is a team that may need a year for chemistry or could explode out of the gates.

Andy: Just like in St. Louis, a lot rides on the arm of the QB.  Trading for Kevin Kolb was obviously a big move, and it could push them into competition in the division if it pans out.  If it doesn’t, uh-oh.  After losing Steve Breaston, there is not much left in depth at WR behind Larry Fitzgerald, with Early Doucet (or possibly Andre Roberts) making an ok 2nd WR.  Ryan Williams could be great, but the problem for me lies with the defense.  This team had the 3rd worst rush defense last year, and they didn’t do much to improve it.  Patrick Peterson helps the pass defense though, and they have solid DE play.  I think Kolb helps them to a winning record, helped in large part by a relatively easier schedule compared to others in the NFC West.

Predictions:

Seattle: Andy – 5-11 / Cole – 3 – 13

Arizona: Andy – 9 – 7/ Cole – 11 – 5

St. Louis: Andy & Cole – 7 – 9

San Francisco: Andy – 6 – 10 / Cole – 4 – 12

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