NFC West Outlook
September 3, 2012
By Marc Lawrence
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As the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, would say, the glory days of the NFC West are long gone and in the rear view mirror.
Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jerry Rice have been replaced by the likes of Sam Bradford, Alex Smith and Larry Fitzgerald in today's NFC West.
To illustrate exactly how much of a drop-off this division has suffered, while using results from Las Vegas as a barometer, consider this: In the 1980's the NFC West was recognized as a road monster, with teams from this loop going 176-127-6 ATS away from home, including 114-80-4 in non division games and 20-4-1 in road frays when the Over/Under total was 47 or higher points.
In the same, identical roles, the 2000's contingent have gone 169-229-13 ATS on the highway, including 93-148-9 ATS outside the division and 11-27 SU and ATS when the Over/Under total was 47 or more points.
What a remarkable weakening.
And despite San Francisco's resurrection under Jim Harbaugh last season, it's easy to understand why this once proud division gone from the penthouse to the outhouse. Next to the AFC South's 28, the NFC West contingent features the 2nd lowest projected total of wins in 2012 with 30 by the Vegas oddsmakers.
One might look to its battles against the AFC East this season for a ray of hope, knowing this division has gone 88-86 SU and 94-74-3 ATS in these games since 1980. But then again, they are just 19-34 SU and 24-28-1 ATS the same since 2000.
It all sort of reminds me of the words the Boss used to close out his classic song…
"Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture a little of the glory of, well time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of, glory days."
Note: Designated 'Play On' and 'Play Against' Best Bets follow each team's preview.
Team Theme: NO BONES ABOUT IT
How can an 8-8 record, and being home for the playoffs, be a good thing you ask? When you started the season 1-6, and closed like a freight train, it can we answer. As impressive as the 7-2 finish was, four overtime wins was more so. When the final dust settled the Cardinals found a quarterback they could finally wrap their feathers around. John Skeleton actually completed more passes and won more games (5) last season than did Kevin Kolb, the Cardinals expensive upgrade. If Kolb eventually responds to the challenge Arizona will only benefit, especially with the addition of Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd. Along with all-world WR Larry Fitzgerald, the passing game suddenly has the potential to become something special. So does the ground game with last year's No.1 pick Ryan Williams, who missed his rookie season with a knee injury, set to join Beanie Wells. With every starter back from a defense that improved 68 YPG during the 2nd half of the season, things appear to be heating back up in the desert these days.
PLAY ON: as a dog vs. San Francisco (10/29)
Stat You Will Like: The Cardinals rallied from six 4th quarter deficits in 2011, one shy of the NFL record.
IN THE STATS: Cards have failed to gain 400 yards in any game the last two seasons.
Team Theme: GONE FISHING
New head coach Jeff Fisher faces the daunting task of taking over a team that has won 15 games the last five years - while knowing his hand-picked defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, has been banned from the league until further notice by commissioner Roger Goodell for his role in New Orleans' 'bountygate'. After sitting out one year, and then spurning an offer from the Dolphins, Fisher said yes to the Rams. He was enamored at the prospect of working with QB Sam Bradford and was especially up to the challenge of upgrading a storied franchise. The loss of Williams aside, Fisher first went to work by improving the team via free agency. He then wheeled and dealed, turning six picks into ten in the NFL draft - a half-dozen who look to be core players - while adding first-round selections in 2013 and 2014 from Washington in the Redskins' quest to acquire RG3. With stud RB Steven Jackson drooling at the prospects of new OC Brian Schottenheimer's playbook, look for a spark offensively from a team that scored a league-low 193 points in 2011. Defensively… that's another subject for another time.
Stat You Will Like: The Rams are 0-29 SU and 5-24 ATS as division home dogs of 3 or more points.
PLAY ON: vs. Arizona (10/4)
IN THE STATS: The Rams' defense improved by almost 80 YPG in last season's final 10 games.
Team Theme: HE DID IT HIS WAY
When the Niners hired Jim Harbaugh to be their coach last year, they knew the landscape in San Francisco was about to change. And it did, in a big way, when Harbaugh led his team from a 6-10 also-ran into a 14-4 powerhouse. Harbaugh went against the NFL grain, utilizing a strong running game and an elite defense in bringing the Niners back to prominence. Who would have ever imagined, in this day and age, that a team with the 29th-ranked passing offense would make it into the championship game of its conference? (Okay, we'll give Rex Ryan a pass). Heck, QB Alex Smith was 19-31 SU in his NFL career as a starter before he ran into Harbaugh. And speaking of which, after going 0-for-13 on 3rd-down conversions in the NFC title game, Harbaugh added WR Mario Manningham to aid the cause. A solid draft that yielded three offensive talents with its first three selections - including a 2nd-round steal in RB LaMichael James - should further bolster the attack. Its no wonder Harbaugh was named NFL Coach of the Year. Like Sinatra, he did it his way. Nonetheless, expect a step backward as the eight-victory improvement season last year proves to bite them in 2012.
PLAY ON: vs. NY Giants (10/14)
Stat You Will Like: Until last season, the Niners owned a 3-game win streak only once since 2002.
IN THE STATS: San Fran's 10 turnovers during the regular season were the fewest in the league.
Team Theme: THE USUAL SUSPECTS
When your top free agent signing is a quarterback who has two career NFL starts loses the starting job to a 5' 10" rookie 3rd-round pick, your front office might have some issues. When you head into the draft with a shaky offensive line and you fail to select an offensive lineman, your staff might have some issues. And when your top selection in the draft, the No. 15 overall pick, is a designated pass rush 'specialist,' it might be time to start wondering who is steering the ship. We know Pete Carroll is making the sideline decisions and we know he is just 15-19 overall since taking over the franchise two years ago. Who would have ever guessed Carroll would ignore a marshmallow offense while choosing eight defensive players in this year's draft? Not us. Not after watching the Seahawks gain an average of 303 and 304 yards in Carroll's first two seasons with Seattle. Were we surprised to see Russell Wilson win the starting quarterback job? Hardly. After all, this certainly team has issues.
PLAY ON: as a dog vs. San Francisco (12/23)
Stat You Will Like: Carroll is 4-13 SU and 3-13-1 ATS in his NFL career in games off a spread win of more than 14 points, including 1-8 SU and 0-8-1 ATS in non division games.
IN THE STATS: The Seahawks allowed only two players to rush for more than 100 yards last season.