This is a year of change in the division. The Seahawks brought in a new coach (
Arizona won the past two division titles, but changes in its personnel and an unsettled quarterback situation makes San Francisco the trendy pick to earn its first playoff berth in eight years. Interestingly, the 49ers and Cardinals don't play each other until November, which means divisional fans could have a lot to look forward to the second half of the season.
The 49ers finished 8-8 last year in
Singletary stresses the need to be tough, physical and smart, and the expectation this year is that his team will be all those. San Francisco is a trendy pick to win the division, not only because of its talent, but also because the rest of the division is rebuilding or retooling.
"I don't really care about the publications," Singletary says. "Publications picked us in the past three years to stink up the place. ... If you read that you'd be all out of whack."
It's not a stretch to say that the 49ers will go as far as
"He's understanding everything that we're trying to do from a protection standpoint and a route standpoint, and it's allowing him to play faster," QB coach
The 49ers sought to upgrade their offensive line by using their two first-round draft picks on in-the-trenches guys. Davis, a 6-foot-5, 323-pound right tackle from Rutgers who was selected 11th overall, could have a tougher time than Idaho left guard
The 49ers gave him an early test in the preseason, allowing him to play against Colts veteran end
San Francisco plays good defense and can run the ball. That's a recipe for being in every game. With Smith having a second year in the same system and wideout
It used to be throwing the football, but Kurt Warner, whose 56 touchdown passes the past two seasons tied for fifth-most in the league, retired in the offseason. Coach
Now, the Cardinals are searching for an offensive identity. It was believed they would lean more heavily on the run, but that wasn't the case in the preseason. The line was supposed to be a strength, but it was porous at times in the preseason. At this point there's no way to know what the Cardinals do well, even defensively. They lost linebacker
After allowing more than 24 points only twice in their first 15 games, the Cardinals allowed an average of 41 in their last three, including the playoffs. Green Bay gashed them for 33 and 45 in back-to-back weeks, and New Orleans put up 45 in the second round of the playoffs.
The unit is going to have to be more consistent for Arizona to defend the division title it won the past two years. A lot of eyes will be on Porter and safety
The former Browns QB appears to be the front-runner to start in Week 1. He did not have a strong offseason and was average at best in the preseason, but Whisenhunt apparently believes he's a better fit than Leinart, the former first-round pick who failed to seize the job after Warner retired.
Anderson has a strong arm and throws a pretty deep ball, but he struggles with accuracy. In four seasons, he has never completed more than 56 percent of his passes, and outside of 2007 he has never thrown for more than nine TDs. Complicating matters is that Warner was insanely accurate and a touchdown machine. His shadow, even in retirement, will linger over the Cardinals in 2010.
The Cardinals' failure to develop a young quarterback will haunt them all year. They spent the offseason talking up Leinart, then gave up on him after two exhibition games. You also have to wonder about the psychological scars of yielding 123 points in their final three games.
The Seahawks have yet to establish an identity under first-year coach Pete Carroll, who joins them after an incredible nine-year run at USC, where he won seven consecutive Pac-10 titles (2002-08), two national championships (2003-04) and led the Trojans to a 97-19 record. One of his favorite mantras is, "Always Compete." That might have to do in his first season, because it likely will take a couple of years for him to reshape the roster.
In the meantime, he must shore up the offensive line (rookie left tackle
Since going to the Super Bowl in the 2005 season, the Seahawks' running game has been in steady decline. It ranked third in the league in 2005 with an average of 153.6 yards a game, but plummeted to 26th last year with an average of 97.9.
Carroll likely will look to the waiver wire and roster cuts for a big back, but in the meantime he'll make due with a group of runners who have similar characteristics: more small and quick than big and strong.
"I've always liked complementary backs, different style guys," says Carroll. "We love the physical nature of the running game, so it's nice to have that type of big back. [
The fourth pick of last year's draft, Curry appears to be the team's best edge rush option. Seattle needs him to step up because it had only two sacks over its final five games last season and its top three ends from last season are gone.
Curry has the physical tools to rush the passer, but does he have the mindset? The 6-2, 244-pounder prefers playing over the tight end, but most successful pass rushers come from the weak side of the formation, where there is less traffic. Beyond Curry, the Seahawks don't have much in the way of pass rushers.
Carroll did not inherit a team that's built to win now. The Seahawks have the talent to compete, but need more playmakers to make a run at the division title. The good thing for Carroll is the players appear to have bought into his high-energy, open-competition philosophy.
"There's a lot of truth to the talk that he's going to have to carry us," says center
It's tough to win when you don't put points on the board, and in each of the past three seasons the Rams have ranked in the bottom four in scoring. They were last in 2009 (10.9 points a game), tied for 30th in 2008 (14.5) and 28th in 2007 (16.4).
Perhaps No. 1 pick
The rookie left tackle is being asked to protect the blind side of Bradford, who received $50 million in guarantees as part of his landmark $78 million contract. At 6-5, 323 pounds, Saffold has the size, athleticism and experience (41 starts in 42 games at Indiana) to get the job done. He also realizes the enormous responsibility of his job.
"I don't want to be the guy that lets somebody get through where [Bradford] could get injured or something like that," Saffold told reporters. "That would stay with me the rest of my career. That's one of the reasons I'm working so hard."
The Rams have just six victories over the past three seasons, but there is optimism they're on the road to respectability with the arrival of Bradford. The former Heisman winner won't be able to do it alone, and the season-ending loss of Avery was a major blow, but this season won't be measured by wins and losses as much as it will be measured by the development of Bradford.