FanPost

NFC West Redux...

I'm not a bucs fan - hides behind poster of Warren Sapp - but I do occasionally lurk on Buc's Nation because you guys have some really good content, and I heart procrastination. My favorite teams plays in the NFCW (I'll try and hide my personal bias, although you could easily figure it out by looking at my profile). So when I saw the fanpost on the NFC West, I figured this would probably be my only chance to actually contribute anything to Bucs Nation. So here goes, an updated NFCW scouting report, from a guy who saw all 69 games last year. [programming note, all rankings are courtesy of Football Outsiders] Seahawks - 49ers offseason. It seems like the 'hawks and '9ers are locked into an arms race. San Fransico trades Alex Smith for draft picks, Seattle deals Matt Flynn. Seahawks trade for Percy Harvin, 49ers trade for Anaquan Boldin. Seattle gets Avril and Bennett to help the passing game, San Fransisco counters with Nnamdi Asomugha, and the Seahawks counter-counter with Antoine Winfield. Michael Crabtree destroys his leg, Anthony McCoy says me too! Hell, Baalke literally traded for backup QB Colt McCoy while Colt was on a plane to Seattle. 13-3 Seattle Seahawks I'm a huge believer in ranking teams from the line out on both sides of the ball. Towards that end, it's worth noting that in 2012 the Seahawks had the 3rd best run blocking line in the NFL, but only the 20th best pass protectors. Most of the hype this year is (understandably) going to be on sophomore sensation Russel "the robot" Wilson and Seattle's extremely talented WR trio Golden Tate, Sidney Rice, and Percy Harvin. However this team led the NFL in rushing attempts last season with 536, and I'd be shocked if they fall out of the top 5 in 2013. Lynch himself will likely get far less touches, as Seattle's quietly drafted a trio of talented tailbacks over the last 2 years to reduce his mammoth workload. The passing game should be every bit as explosive as it was in the second half of the season last year, with newcomers Percy Harvin, Chris Harper, and Luke Willson competing for touches in an already crowded rotation. Defensively, Seattle's line was fairly mediocre last season. Between Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Jordan Hill and Jessie Williams, it's safe to assume the front office shares my assessment. The Seahawks 2 returning starters at LB are both very good, with MLB Bobby Wagner standing a legitimate shot at the DROY title last year. Nobody knows what's going to happen with the third spot. There's been talk of Ty Powell, Bruce Irvin, and Malcom Smith and Cliff Avril. The one thing all four guys have in common is freak athletic ability, although none of them have starting experience as an NFL LB. The real strength of this defense is the secondary. Fun fact, 4 of the Seahawks top 5 DBs have been voted into the pro-bowl. The lone snub? Richard Sherman! Their biggest weakness last season was the nickel back, but with Antoine Winfield patrolling that stretch of dirt in 2013 they should be better than last year's 3rd overall (according to Football Outsiders). 11-5 San Francisco 49ers San Fransisco has Seattle's highest rated run-blocking unit, handily trumping their division rival's 3rd place finish. Unfortunately they were one of the worst pass-blocking teams in the league, coming in at a whopping 29th! It's hardly a surprise then that San Fransisco finished 7th in the league in total carries, and 4th in YPG. Fun fact, San Fransisco's 436 passing attempts last year were second fewest in the league, leading only... Seattle (405). Prior to the Crabtree injury, I would have suggested that the addition of Vance McDonald, Quinton Patton, and Anquan Boldin would likely tilt this number up. However Michael Crabtree was the apple of Kapernick's eye, and it remains to be seen how well this team will be able to function without him. I don't care for their current WR situation, although Vernon Davis is arguably the league's best TE, and LaMichael James does an acceptable Darren Sproles impersonation. I have no idea what SF is going to do at Nose Tackle this year. I believe the plan is Ian Brooks, although this is most likely a camp battle. Justin Smith has one of the DE positions locked down, as he's one of the best in the league. The other is a 3 way battle between incumbent Ray McDonald and newcomers Glenn Dorsey and Tank Carradine. Linebackers are the strength of the 49ers defense, as they're just stupid good. Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, and Navarro Bowmann are simply not human, while the 4th spot is likely to mostly be Ahmad Brooks with a sprinkling of rookie Corey Lemonier as a situational pass-rusher. The secondary remains a bit of a liability, as I'm not yet sold on rookie FS Eric Reid, and nickel CB Chris Culliver looked really good for the first 10 games or so, but the last few and the playoffs his weaknesses were exposed. A great pass-rush helps to offset some of this, as does Harbaugh's coaching acumen. 9-7 Saint Louis Rams Yeah, I just predicted what could possibly be the first winning season for the rams since the Greatest Show on Turf (I'm too lazy to look it up and verify). I won't bother telling you how the Rams O line did last year, because they've since added Jake Long and drafted Barrett Jones. When you replace 40% of your starters, last years values really lose any predictive powers they might have had. The Rams lost a clearly declining Steven Jackson to St. Louis, and are in the unfortunate position now of having a bunch of athletes with little or no experience at RB. I wouldn't be shocked if they put things on Sam Bradford's shoulders, at least until the RB committee gets settled. This isn't a bad thing though, as the Rams have been quietly cultivating a talented group of ball-catchers over the last two years, investing 4 draft picks at WR and snagging Jared Cook. It's not a top-heavy group, as Tavon Austin is (probably) the only guy in the group who "tilts the field". But St. Louis can run out 4 other guys who are "pretty good" and one of them is going to get an exploitable 1 on 1 matchup against your 4th or 5th best coverage guy. It's the Colts (with Manning) or pre Wes-Welker Patriots approach to passing. The Rams D line has two superstars in Chris Long and Michael Brockers. Robert Quinn and Kendall Langford don't get much press, but they're also above NFL average. As a whole, this unit was rated #2 against the run and #3 against the pass, so you could say they're *some* good. No noteworthy additions or subtractions this offseason, so expect more of the same. The linebackers are led by MLB James Laurinitas. Rookie first rounder Alec Ogletree should be an upgrade on the weak-side, and could develop into a playmaker as well. This front 7 is definitely built around Line play though, with the backers there to clean up the mess and act as a safety blanket. The CBs Janoris Jenkins and Courtland Finnegan both excel in Fischer's zone D. Rookie Brandon McGee looks like a good fit for the slot as well. Safety is more of a question mark. I'm not sold on rookie T.J. McDonald being a good scheme fit, and SS Darian Stewart is just another guy. 4-12 Arizona Cardinals As with StL, the line stats are no good this year. Jonathan Cooper and Earl Watford were both drafted to start, and it's very possible a rookie ends up starting at center too. Arizona has quite a bit of talent at WR, with Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and last year's 12 overall selection Michael Floyd. Incoming freshman Michael Swope makes this group impressively deep, and capable of beating you with depth the way I described in the St. Louis section. It'll actually be harder for AZ despite the superior WR talent, as Palmer isn't nearly the QB that Bradford is. The RB situation is a disaster. Ryan Williams returns, and is joined by free agent Rashard Mendenhall, as well as rookies Stephan Taylor and Andre Ellington. That's a collection of guys who can't run a sub 4.55 40. I wouldn't expect this team to run very often or very effectively, although you never know. Every now and then one of those big slow guys goes all LeGarrett Blount on the league for a season or two. Defensively, Arizona's line is all about the edge guys Calais Campbell and Darnell Docket. That's probably the best DE tandem of any 3-4 team in the NFL. Last year under Ray Horton they would often penetrate inside, barreling down the A gap and getting right in the QB's face. No clue if they'll keep doing that now that Horton's still in Cleveland, but I sure would. Daryl Washington and Sam Acho are the LBs to scheme around, although rookie Kevin Minter will likely be a very reliable 2 down run stuffer (something you need when you get 4 games a year against SEA and SF) Fellow Rookie Alex Okafor is likely the opposite, a 3rd down pass rush specialist. The secondary is a mixed bag. Patrick Peterson is one of the best in the business, but he's the only proven playmaker in that backfield. Antoine Cason and Javier Arenas aren't terrible, but they won't swing games either. The Cardinals really need rookie Tyrann Matthieu to force his way into the starting lineup somewhere and be an impact playmaker for the team.

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