We've already broken down the AFC and have the Patriots, Chargers, Texans, and Steelers winning their respective divisions. Let's take a look at the NFC, starting out west and see where the teams stack up for 2011.
4. San Francisco 49ers - Growing up through the 80's, it's still tough to see the 49ers in the position that they're in. This team hasn't made the playoffs in over a decade, and this year doesn't seem to be any more promising. They did very little in free agency to make the team better. As a matter of fact, they let most of their players go on to different teams that were free agents. Jim Harbaugh has proved to be an exceptional college football coach, but the NFL is a totally different game so we'll see how he does in his first year with the Niners. The quarterback situation is a mess. Alex Smith has shown flashes that he can play, but a different offensive coordinator every year has slowed his development down and he looks like a rookie going through the motions every year. It doesn't matter who they put under center, if they can't keep some stability in the offense and the system their going to run, it's going to be a long season. Frank Gore is disgruntled over his contract, and came into camp late. Gore has put up good numbers, but he has been prone to injury and coming off a broken hip, it's going to be tough for him to negotiate top running back money. Braylon Edwards came over from the Jets, so he should add a big target to go along with Vernon Davis. Defensively, the only thing to brag about is Patrick Willis at LB. They gave up Nate Clemens and Takeo Spikes in free agency. I don't see this team stopping too many teams outside of the division. Lucky for them, they will be playing the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Rams each twice. It's still not going to matter much. I have the 49ers finishing the season at 4-12.
3. Seattle Seahawks - Pete Carroll's journey back into the NFL started off with a division title and an upset playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints. Look for his success to end there. He's put the team on the shoulders of Travaris Jackson, and released Matt Hasselback, who was signed by the Tennessee Titans. This move alone is going to keep them from winning another division title. They are worse than they were last year, and let's not forget they won the division with seven wins. I don't see that happening this year. The Rams and Cardinals are both better so it's going to be harder to get wins than it was a year ago. The Hawks did bring in Sydney Rice, but we aren't sure what he can do without Brett Favre throwing him the ball. They also have Leon Washington back from injury, so he will add some excitement to the offense and special teams. Beyond that there really isn't much to get excited about. Defensively, there's really nothing that sticks out to make other teams fear them. They have average players at every position, and they will produce average results. We don't really expect to see Marshawn Lynch running people over like he did last year against the Saints in the playoffs. It was a good story, but now they are back to reality. It looks to be a 6 win season for the Seahawks this year.
2. Arizona Cardinals - The Cardinals will definitely be better than they were last year. They were a mess at quarterback with a three headed monster, none of which were able to move the ball. Kevin Kolb should add some stability at that position this year. They had some key losses on offensive with Tim Hightower going to Washington, and Steve Breaston to the Chiefs. Beanie Wells has looked good in the preseason and appears to be running hard. If he can stay healthy, they expect good things out of him. Larry Fitzgerald was just awarded with the largest contract for a wide receiver in NFL history, so he will be the go-to-guy for Kolb. Max Komar will be a guy to keep an eye on as the year progresses, and Todd Heap will be a nice target over the middle.
Losing D.R.C. to the Eagles in a trade will have a negative impact on the secondary, but they are still strong with Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes. Overall, the defense looks to be sturdy, a little older at the LB position, so they will need to begin addressing that next off season. This team's success will be determined by how quickly Kevin Kolb can adjust to the system and if he can succeed as a starting quarterback. He will not be the next Kurt Warner, but I do expect him to play at a high level. I have the Cardinals finishing at .500 this year with an 8-8 record.
1. St. Louis Rams - This is a team that is still building, but have the luxury of playing in the NFC West, so they should still be able to get into the playoffs. Sam Bradford was sensational in his rookie year, so we expect him to repeat that this year with better weapons around him. Steven Jackson is still the backbone of this offense. He's 28 years old and has carried the ball more times than any other running back over the last three seasons, so the tread is wearing thin on this work horse. They did bring in Jerious Norwood and Cadillac Williams to spell Jackson this season. I expect Norwood to have more of an impact than the injury prone Williams. A healthy Donnie Avery and the addition of Mike Sims-Walker should add some nice targets on the outside for Bradford. I see Bradford throwing for over 3,000 yards and 25 TD's this year. Defensively, they have some great players led by James Laurinaitis and Chris Long. Winning the division will get them into the playoffs, but I don't see them making any noise once they get in. It will be a slow start with their schedule, but it gets a little easier down the stretch. They will end up winning 9 games and edging out Arizona for the division title.