There's a reason the Seattle Seahawks won this division the past four years. They're better than everyone else.
Nothing has changed, with the Seahawks the pick to lap the field again this season. Only now they have Arizona on their heels, and, no, that is not a misprint. The Cards were 8-8 a year ago, and while that doesn't seem like much it is there.
It was the Cards' first non-losing season since 1998.
But if Arizona is serious about reaching the playoffs for the first time in a decade, it better learn how to win on the road; the Cardinals lost 40 of their last 49 away from home.
That's another reason to like Seattle.
The Seahawks have talent everywhere, particularly on defense where they're loaded at linebacker and defensive back. If they're going to make Mike Holmgren's last season worthwhile, however, they better plug the holes that Ryan Grant exploited in last season's NFC playoffs.
St. Louis and San Francisco once dominated the West, but no more. And now the question is: How much longer does either go with its head coach? The 49ers have an abundance of young talent but couldn't get their offense untracked last season.
That's why Mike Martz is here, and why the 49ers could be worth watching -- but I didn't say worth considering. This division belongs to one team, Seattle, with Arizona closing on the outside.
Most significant additions: RB Julius Jones, RB T.J. Duckett, G Mike Wahle, K Olindo Mare, DT Larry Triplett, TE Jeb Putzier, DE Lawrence Jackson, TE John Carlson.
Most significant subtractions: WR D.J. Hackett, RB Shaun Alexander, FB Mack Strong, T Tom Ashworth, K Josh Brown, DT Chuck Darby, TE Marcus Pollard, DT Marcus Tubbs, Lb Kevin Bentley, LB Niko Koutouvides.
Biggest offseason move: Cutting loose Alexander. He was the league MVP only three years ago, but he did little for the Seahawks last season. So they decided he was too costly to keep and moved on to Jones, Duckett and Maurice Morris.
RB: Frank Gore (8th overall)
QB: Alex Smith (209th overall)
WR: Isaac Bruce (137th overall)
TE: Vernon Davis (84th overall)
RB: Edgerrin James (58th overall)
QB: Matt Leinart (134th overall)
WR: Larry Fitzgerald (19th overall)
TE: Leonard Pope (197th overall)
RB: Steven Jackson (5th overall)
QB: Marc Bulger (74th overall)
WR: Torry Holt (34th overall)
TE: Randy McMichael (195th overall)
RB: Julius Jones (47th overall)
QB: Matt Hasselbeck (75th overall)
WR: Nate Burleson (93rd overall)
TE: John Carlson (230th overall)
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Will make the playoffs if ... They can run the football. They ranked 20th last season, but that was with Alexander. The additions of Jones, Wahle and offensive line coach Mike Solari should make the Seahawks more effective.
Rookie to watch: Carlson. The Seahawks had 41 catches out of their tight ends last season. That changes now -- this guy hauls in everything.
Overview: The Seahawks are the most talented team in the division. They should win it again, not only because they look like a more balanced team on offense but because they're loaded on defense -- with an air-tight secondary and the one of the best sets of linebackers in the game.
Most significant additions: LB Clark Haagans, DE Travis LaBoy, DE Bryan Robinson, TE Jerame Tuman, LB Brandon Moore, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, WR Early Doucet, RB Tim Hightower.
Most significant subtractions: LB Calvin Pace, RB Marcel Shipp, T Oliver Ross, G Keydrick Vincent, S Terrence Holt, WR Bryant Johnson, LB Darryl Blackstock.
Biggest offseason move: Drafting Rodgers-Cromartie. He won't start, but he should make an impact. I watched him defend one pass during practice and couldn't figure out how he put himself in position to make the play. This guy is a playmaker, someone the league's 28th-ranked pass defense could use.
Will make the playoffs if ... Coach Ken Whisenhunt resurrects the league's 29th-best rushing attack. When he took over as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator, Whisenhunt's job was to return the Steelers' running game to pre-eminence. He did that and now he must find something here to make opponents respect something other than the arms of Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner.
Who will win the NFC West?
Total Votes: 24,136
Rookie to watch: RB Tim Hightower. He's physical, productive and versatile. And with the release of Shipp, Hightower will get carries -- lots of them if Whisenhunt finds that elusive rushing attack.
Overview: Arizona thinks it has a chance to catch Seattle, and it does. But the Cardinals absolutely, positively, must find the running game they've been missing for years. Make no mistake, they'll produce lots of yards and points with the forward pass, but they don't close down opponents until or unless they can grind out the clock.
Most significant additions: TE Anthony Becht, K Josh Brown, WR Reche Caldwell, QB Trent Green, CB David Macklin, DE Chris Long, WR Donnie Avery.
Most significant subtractions: K Jeff Wilkins, G Milford Brown, LB Brandon Chillar, QB Gus Frerotte, C Andy McCollum, WR Isaac Bruce.
Biggest offseason move: Hiring Al Saunders as offensive coordinator. This offense is more to his liking, with Steve Jackson capable of doing for Saunders what Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes did in Kansas City.
Will make the playoffs if ... Steven Jackson stays healthy. Marc Bulger stays healthy. The offensive line stays healthy. Think injuries played a role in last year's collapse? Go to the head of the class. Oh, and did I mention turnovers? The Rams had an NFC-high 37 a year ago, including 28 interceptions. That must stop.
Rookie to watch: Long. Some people say he's a more complete player than his Hall of Fame father. Now this I have to see.
|Predicted Order of Finish|
|1. Seahawks||2008 standings: 4-12|
|2. Cardinals||2008 standings: 9-7|
|3. 49ers||2008 standings: 7-9|
|4. Rams||2008 standings: 2-14|
Overview: Once the Rams were the Greatest Show on Turf. But the show left town, and the Rams were left to pick up what remained. What remains is Bulger and an offense that should be effective -- provided, of course, it avoids the injuries and stupid mistakes that crippled it a year ago. A better offense should make for a better defense, with the Rams able to hold the ball and grind out drives. Still, they have a lot of ground to make up to catch Seattle.
Most significant additions: DE Justin Smith, WR Bryant Johnson, T Barry Sims, LB Takeo Spikes, WR Isaac Bruce, RB DeShaun Foster, QB J.T. O'Sullivan, KR Allen Rossum, DT LaJuan Ramsey, LB Dontarrious Thomas, DL Kentwan Balmer.
Most significant subtractions: RB Maurice Hicks, De Marques Douglas, T Kwame Harris, G Justin Smiley, WR Darrell Jackson, QB Trent Dilfer, LB Derek Smith, G Larry Allen, DT Bryant Young.
Biggest offseason move: Hiring Mike Martz as offensive coordinator. I don't know of anyone who runs more imaginative offenses. Look for the 49ers to throw and throw a lot.
Will make the playoffs if ... Bill Walsh runs the club.
Rookie to watch: Sixth-round draft choice Josh Morgan has been a pleasant surprise. With injuries sidelining Ashley Lelie and Arnaz Battle, Morgan averaged 20 yards per catch in his first three exhibition games and hauled in a 59-yard TD. Maybe that's why he's pushing for a starting job.
Overview: The 49ers have spent a lot of money on players -- particularly defensive players -- and still park at the division curb. There's something wrong here, and Mike Nolan has one year to fix it. Frankly, I can't see it happening, partly because Seattle is better and mostly because Nolan hasn't done anything in three years. In fact, the 49ers last season looked worse than in 2006, and that's not a good sign. It's now or never.
|NFC West Training Camp Tour|
|Seattle||Seahawks: Five things | One man vs. One fan | Out of Nowhere Man | Expectations|
|Arizona||Cardinals: Five things | One man vs. One fan | Out of Nowhere Man | Expectations|
|St. Louis||Rams: Five things | One man vs. One fan | Out of Nowhere Man | Expectations|
|San Francisco||49ers: Five things | One man vs. One fan | Out of Nowhere Man | Expectations|