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GZL14 | NFC West | Best of the Wild, Wild West?
By John Stanley
Special to gzl-football.com

GZL DIVISION PREVIEW
NFC West
Sunday, January 13th, 2014
John Stanley, GreenZone Media Committee





St. Louis Rams

Key Additions:
WR Vincent Jackson (Trade)
DT Michael Neal (Trade)
LG Chris Kuper (Trade)
HB Pierre Thomas (Free Agency)
WR Dwight Jones (Trade)
CB Xavier Rhodes (Draft)
HB Laívonte Bell (Draft)
FS Eric Reid (Draft)
LT Owen Hartley (Draft)
DT Daniel McCullers (Draft)

Key Losses:
LT Charlie Johnson (Amnesty)
HB Keith Payne (Trade)
LG Robert Gallery (Trade)
LOLB Chris Carter (Trade)
DT Kenrick Ellis (Trade)
MLB Terrell Suggs (Contract Expired)

Strengths:
The Rams were the winners of the NFC West last year, and now they may have had one of the best offseasons in the entire GZL. Through the draft and trades they have added weapons and players on both sides of the ball, that should allow them to improve on last seasonís (10-6) record. As far as strengths go on offense, you have to start with the QB position and Sam Bradford. Bradford is one of the better QBís in the league, and had 2 back to back really good seasons, he will look to improve on that this year and take another step forward. On offense, you have also got to like the weapons that Bradford has at his disposal. At WR they have newly acquired Vincent Jackson to along with Donnie Avery, Stephen Hill and David Clowney. They also have Aaron Hernandez and Kevin Boss at TE, with rookie Laívonte Bell at RB. The Rams offense should be one of the better ones in the league, at least on paper. On defense, the Rams are also very talented. It starts up front with their DLine. They have bookend DEís in Justin Houston and Chris Long, a top tandem in the league, and they also have Michael Neal (acquired from SD) and rookie Daniel Mccullers at DT. At LB they are also very talented, with players like Von Miller and Dontay Moch who are some of the most athletic players in the league at their positions. In the secondary with the additions of rookie Xavier Rhodes at CB and Eric Reid at FS they are deep and talented.

Weaknesses:
Itís hard to come up with much of anything to call a weakness when I pretty much just listed most of their team as a strength. If I had to nitpick though, two potential ďweaknessesĒ would be at Kicker and LT. At LT, they could start rookie LT Owen Hartley, who is talented but raw, which could lead to some hiccups and headaches at the position in the early going as they try to keep Sam Bradford upright. At Kicker, they have the veteran Phil Dawson. Dawson hasnít been all too reliable as a kicker in the GZL as he has missed 33 FG in 4 years, one year missing 10 and another year missing 9. Having a great kicker can be a key to winning close games, especially in the playoffs like we saw last year. Like I said though, those are only nitpicks, this Rams team is really talented and really deep.

MVP:
QB Sam Bradford


Prediction:
(12-4) The Rams won the division last year with a (10-6) record, and all they have done since then is gotten better. Look for their record to improve following a great offseason by GM Tyler Richardson.



Seattle Seahawks

Key Additions:
LG Logan Mankins (Trade)
RT Vernon Carey (Trade)
RE Julius Peppers (Free Agency)
LT Ray Gray (Trade)
WR David Nelson (Trade)
CB Tyrann Mathieu (Draft)
HB Kenjon Barner (Draft)
LOLB Reginald Phillips (Draft)
LOLB Trevardo Williams (Draft)

Key Losses:
LT Anthony Collins (Trade)
QB Ricky Stanzi (Trade)
LG Brandon Frye (Trade)
WR Brandon Banks (Trade)
WR Jonathan Holland (Trade)
RT Brandon Keith (Trade)

Strengths:
The Seahawks were a wild card team last year in the playoffs and have gotten better over this offseason. Iíd look for them to once again compete for a WC spot, and maybe even the division. As far as strengths go, I think the first player you look at is Cam Newton. The playmaking QB is now entering his 3rd season in the league and has to look to take another step forward. If he can improve on what he did last year while keeping turnovers down like he did last year, this could be a really good year for SEA. The Seahawks are also very talented at the RB position, with Maurice Jones-Drew they have a power back who has consistently been one of the top backs in the league, and now they have added the speed back and dynamic threat through the draft with Kenjon Barner. Look for SEA to go to the run a lot this year with those two guys running the ball behind a veteran OL. Defensively, the Seahawks are loaded up front. With star DE Mario Williams and veteran DE Julius Peppers, the Seahawks have some top pass rushers. They also are good at the DT spot with Brandon Mebane and likely DE Red Bryant getting some action there as well. In the secondary they are loaded with talent as well. They go 5 deep at CB with Patrick Peterson and Devin McCourty leading the way, and also have a pretty good S tandem in Earl Thomas and Don Byrd.

Weaknesses:
The Seahawks have a few potential weaknesses that I see, but none that should prevent them doing well this season. Up front on the Offensive Line they are a little old and veterans like Ryan Diem at RG and Shaun OíHara at C are clearly past their prime. With that said though, they are surrounded by the likes of Logan Mankins, Ray Gray and Vernon Carey, so it is a manageable problem for Seattle. On defense they are very solid, with the only potential weakness may be the youth they have at the LB position in some spots, but to be honest, I donít see that being much of an issue. In reality, Seattle is a really talented team from top to bottom that should be a playoff team.

MVP:
QB Cameron Newton

Prediction:
(10-6) I think Seattle will improve by 1 win on last seasonís record and that should be good enough to get them in the postseason once again and hopefully this time make some noise.



Arizona Cardinals

Key Additions:
K Josh Brown (Free Agency)
LOLB Jermaine Cunningham (Trade)
WR Mario Manningham (Trade)
WR Joshua Cribbs (Free Agency)
P Nick Harris (Free Agency)
C Eric Andrews (Draft)

Key Losses:
WR Larry Fitzgerald (Trade)
TE John Carlson (Contract Expired)
C Mike Pouncey (Trade)
WR Steve Breaston (Trade)
P Max Bauer (Cut)
DT Alan Branch (Cut)

Strengths:
Of all the teams in the NFC West, the Cardinals may have been the one to take a step back. They lost quite a few players through trades and didnít really regain a ton of that talent. They are still a solid team, but not quite sure a playoff team yet. On offense, WR Julio Jones is the best and most talented player, he will need to be a star this year if the Cardinals are to overachieve and make the postseason. At QB, Christian Ponder is pretty talented and has had some great statistical seasons in his GZL career thus far but team success hasnít been so good. He will not only need to take a step forward individually but also help the team take a step forward. HB Beanie Wells has also been one of the top backs in the GZL statistically in his career, and that will need to continue for Arizona to be successful. Up front defensively, the Cardinals have a pretty solid defensive line with Calais Campbell and Jake Bequette at DE with Stephen Paea and Terrence Knighton at DT. The DLine could help to mask some other potential weaknesses on that side of the ball. On the rest of the defense, Arizona has some pretty talented players individually like Antoine Cason at CB and Daryl Washington and Jermaine Cunningham at LB, but overall they are pretty average.

Weaknesses:
The offensive line of Arizona could be a concern going into the season. The left side of their line is rather young and inexperienced, which could be a concern because they will need to be good in order to create some holes in the run game for Beanie Wells and to give Christian Ponder time to throw. If the OL isnít playing well for Arizona, then they will have no shot. Defensively for Arizona they really donít have any major weakness, but if I had to comment on them, I would say the one weakness could be that the team is simply too ďaverageĒ to really be a good defense. Sure they have some very good players here and there, but overall, I simply donít think have enough talent to be a really good defense, which they will need to be, since the offense is also pretty average.

MVP:
WR Julio Jones

Prediction:
(6-10) I have the Cards taking a step back this year. They lost a lot this past offseason, and I donít see where the scoring is going to go from. If you can stop Julio Jones at WR, the Cardinals will become very one-dimensional, and there defense simply isnít good enough to win games by themselves.



San Francisco 49ers

Key Additions:
LG Steve Hutchinson (Free Agency)
WR Taylor Price (Free Agency)
DT Paul Solai (Free Agency)
QB Geno Smith (Draft)
WR Stedman Bailey (Draft)
CB Jayron Hosley (Draft)
MLB Mike Mauti (Draft)
ROLB Sean Porter (Draft)
LOLB Sio Moore (Draft)
SS Michael Graham (Draft)

Key Losses:
FS Dashon Goldson (Cut)
WR Michael Crabtree (Cut)
ROLB Raymond Turner (RFA)
DT Brian Price (Contract Expired)

Strengths:
The 49ers are an improved football team for sure from last season, but will that be enough to make them competitive this year? Iím not so sure. Offensively for the 9ers it starts and ends with the 1st and 2nd year players, Geno Smith at QB and Trent Richardson at RB. Those two are the future of the 49ers and will form a pretty darn good tandem for a long time. There will certainly be bumps in the road for the two of them, as Trent already struggled in his rookie year. But long-term, they are the right move for SF, and should have them headed in the right direction. Also on offense, the 49ers boast a pretty good offensive line. Headlined by a mixture of veterans and younger players, the line should be very stable for San Fran and help youngsters Richardson and Smith. Defensively, the 49ers have some bright young players like LE Whitney Mercilus, CB Jayron Hosley, CB Chase Minnifield and SS Taylor Mays, but overall they are pretty underwhelming unit who are very young and will need some time to improve and add talent across the board.

Weaknesses:
The receiving corps of the 49ers isnít too impressive. They lack a true #1 WR but they do have some nice #2/#3 type WR like youngsters Stedman Bailey and Taylor Price. With Gronk at TE, they should be ok, but it is an area they can improve in the future. Defensively, my comment would be that they are very young and very average. They really have no true leader of the defense or star of the defense. As I mentioned above, they have some promising young players, but they still need help at every level of the defense but that will come with time and development, and also future additions and acquisitions. I expect this to be another tough year for SF, so they will have time to continue to remake the team and patch up their weaknesses.

MVP:
HB Trent Richardson

Prediction:
(4-12) I expect this season to be another pretty tough year for the 9ers. It has been a slow rebuilding process thus far, but it is definitely now headed in the right direction with QB Geno Smith and HB Trent Richardson on offense. They still need talent all over the board, but a few more good draft picks, acquisitions through trade/FA, and development of this very young roster and they arenít too far off.


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