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2013 NFC West Division Preview

Evan Budrovich |
September 3, 2013 | 4:45 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

In his first full season, Colin Kaepernick has high expectations from Niner fans. (Jason Ku/Creative Commons)
In his first full season, Colin Kaepernick has high expectations from Niner fans. (Jason Ku/Creative Commons)
Dominating the division ranks for each of the past two seasons, the NFC West defending champion San Francisco 49ers actually looked up to the St. Louis Rams for best record (4-1-1) in the division last year. With top-ten defenses sprinkled in throughout the entire divisional slate and some talented quarterbacks working on full display, here are the regular season predictions and key story lines to follow.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are in the midst of a major culture change on both sides of the ball, beginning with the addition of newest quarterback Carson Palmer. The Arizona Cardinals had the worst offense in the NFL a year ago. After a 4-0 start, the team lost 11 of 12 to finish 5-11 on the year, leading to the firing of coach Ken Whisenhunt after six seasons, the most notable of which was the Super Bowl run in 2008.

Enter former Colts head coach Bruce Arians and the Cardinals will look to counter their sluggish ways by implementing former first-round pick Patrick Peterson at the slot receiver and kick return specialist. Speedy all-around contributor, perennial all-pro WR Larry Fitzgerald will work with Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd and Rob Housler on the outside. 

At the end of the day, the ultimate success or failure of Arizona rests in the camaraderie developed in the passing attack. While the offense garners the bulk of the discussion, the new-look defense adds Karlos Dansby to the roster. While sitting near the bottom of an incredibly competitive division, the Cardinals will not falter to such epic proportions, but will still play themselves away from a winning season. 

Prediction: 5-11, 4th in NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

The Niners enter the season as a team looking to break the Super Bowl hangover, while also recovering from dropping their best play-making receiver Michael Crabtree early this summer. What the 49ers do have in their favor is the more experienced play of Colin Kaepernick, now with a full offseason under his belt and the return of his entire offensive line which featured two Pro Bowl players. 

That being said, the club added Anquan Boldin and fifth-round draft pick Quinton Patton (Louisiana Tech) to bolster the suddenly-thin wide receiving corps. On the defensive side of the ball, the roster is basically the same except for the addition of first-round pick Eric Reid of Florida and Craig Dahl, who is formerly of St. Louis. 

In what could ultimately make or break their chances, San Francisco battles a rather difficult schedule filled with targets on their backs. Opening up the year with road tests at Seattle and St. Louis along with home games against playoff clubs Indianapolis, Green Bay and Houston, the Niners will certainly be battled tested.

That being said, the talent on this team is immense, and head coach Jim Harbaugh’s club continues to dominate opposing sidelines with a physical brand of football. Expect this team to ramp up the turnovers this season with a fresh Justin Smith up the middle, helping guys like Aldon Smith (18.5 Sacks) wreak havoc in the backfield.

Prediction: 12-4, 1st in NFC West

Not to be overshadowed, Russell Wilson is quietly developing into a top-tier leader. (Larry Maurer/Flickr)
Not to be overshadowed, Russell Wilson is quietly developing into a top-tier leader. (Larry Maurer/Flickr)
SEE MORE: 2013 AFC West Division Preview

Seattle Seahawks

Hyped as one of the breakout teams in the NFC coming into the season, the Seahawks have plenty to celebrate this year with the emergence of Russell Wilson as a top-tier leader and decision maker in this conference. Following a nearly perfect rookie campaign, committing only 13 turnovers, Wilson has given the Seahawks the centerpiece to compete with San Francisco for the next decade. 

Under the somewhat whacky, yet conventional tutelage of Pete Carroll, the Seahawks have avenged their roster-flipping days in 2011 and have established clear depth all across the field, mostly noted by their cover corners Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner setting the tempo at the back end on defense.

The Seahawks' greatest strength, however, lies in their ability to pound the football while nearly strangling opponents at CenturyLink Field with the help of their 12th Man. Tailback Marshawn Lynch should once again play a key factor in the offense, especially in read-option situations that worked to perfection late in the season. 

What stands as a major road block in the offense however, is the season-ending loss to deep threat Percy Harvin. If the Seahawks want to excel following a fantastic run to end last season, they must continue to control the turnover battle (+13) which ranked fourth in the league last season, tied with, fittingly enough, the Falcons.

Prediction: 11-5, 2nd in NFC West

St. Louis Rams

Now in his second season at the helm, Jeff Fisher is slated with the task of utilizing the potential of 2011 first-overall pick Sam Bradford to revitalize the offense. Losing leading rusher Steven Jackson certainly doesn’t help the cause, though the Rams did grab the explosive offensive weapon Tayvon Austin out of West Virginia. 

Luckily the St. Louis defense is locked and loaded to develop into a top-ten unit, with playmakers sprinkled across the board. Starting with Chris Long up front, following an 11.5 sack season, the Rams front-seven is stocked. He's joined by a dynamic pairing of fellow first-rounders in defensive tackle Michael Brockers and defensive end Robert Quinn, leading the team to an impressive 52 sacks last season.  

Move over to linebacker and former Ohio State star James Laurinaitis returns to the unit as the team's leading tackler. Then combine Cortland Finnegan as a free agent along with former second round pick Janoris Jenkins, the Rams have assembled a rather physical defensive secondary for years to come. Former USC Trojan T.J. McDonald should also see some snaps at safety in his first NFL season. 

In a season destined for risen expectations and expected greatness, the Rams will have to find ways to work out road victories if they want to crack the .500 threshold for the first time since the air-it-out bad boy days under Kurt Warner in 2003.  

Prediction: 8-8, 3rd in NFC West

Reach Staff Writer Evan Budrovich via e-mail or on Twitter.



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