Reason for pessimism: It's kind of difficult to find much to be pessimistic about in Seattle in 2013. They were the second youngest team in football, so with all the success how will they react this season? Russell Wilson is no longer new to the NFL and teams have significant game film on him. He will have to elevate a new skill set to keep teams off balance. Percy Harvin's absence is a concern as he would have been a game changer and a defence dictator. Still, there is very little pessimism with this team.
Reason for optimism: The Seattle Seahawks won 11 games last year and in the six losses were by point totals of four, six, seven, four, and three. Seattle was within one converted touchdown of every game last year. Wilson is for real and Marshawn Lynch is the most physical runner in football; as much as Adrian Peterson. They won five regular season games in a row to end the season and in Week 16 beat San Francisco 42-13. The pass rush has improved in free as well. They are 59-29 at home since 2002, second only to Green Bay, and their defence leads the NFL in the most important statistic of all: fewest points allowed with (15.3 per game.) Not much to be pessimistic about; everything to be optimistic about.
Prediction: First in NFC West.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Reason for pessimism: It is going to be tough to get back. In 2011, San Francisco won 13 games and made it to the NFC Championship game only to lose to the eventual Super Bowl-winning New York Giants in overtime. Then last season, they won an impressive 11 games, made it all the way to the Super Bowl in Louisiana, had the ball for four plays on the seven yard line with time left but lost 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens. Now Jim Harbaugh is 24-7-1 as a two-year coach. He know the business. But, can the players regenerate the energy necessary to grind out another season, play their best in the regular season and handle the pressure of a New York Super Bowl? Seattle will be better, St. Louis will be better, will the 49ers be better? They did lose eight players in free agency (to be expected) including significant losses Dashon Goldson and Delanie Walker. It really is Super Bowl or bust for the 49ers this season.
Reason for optimism: Colin Kaepernick is just going to get better and better. He had an amazing year last year, or to be more accurate, half year. He has a very strong arm and now has Anquan Boldin to work with. Both Patrick Willis and Frank Gore could go down as the greatest 49ers ever at their positions before they retire and Navarro Boman would be the top linebacker on any team except with the 49ers. The individual talent may be better than any other NFL team. Greg Roman and Vic Fangio are excellent coordinators and if the 49ers win the Super Bowl, probably new head coaches. 2013 is all about unfinished business for San Francisco and just about every piece of the puzzle fits.
Reality: I can see the 49ers keeping the Rams at a distance but don't know about Seattle. Week 2 at Seattle and Week 14 at home against Seattle are critical games.
Prediction: Second in NFC West.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
Reason for pessimism: The last five years of Rams football have been pretty tough. With two, one, seven, two, and another seven; that totals 19 wins in the last 80 games. And this year they don't have Steven Jackson at running back. Jackson reminds me of the great Curtis Martin: durable, explosive, and able to get the job done year after year. The Rams will miss Jackson's consistency. We will know a lot about the Rams by Week 4: after opening at Arizona, they are at Atlanta, at Dallas and San Francisco on Monday night. To progress and be a playoff team, the Rams still have to improve in the kicking game: 31st and 26th in punt and kick return is not playoff efficient. They also have to improve their takeaway/giveaway ratio as they finished - 1 by the end of the season. The Rams are on the rise and everyone in the NFL knows it; especially San Francisco and Seattle.
Reason for optimism: They could finish in first place in NFC West. For the first time in his NFL career Sam Bradford will have the same offence to run. He will improve just because of that fact. Tavon Austin will not only help the offence but the return game as well. And the Rams have an excellent kicker in Greg Zuerlein who made seven 50-yard plus field goals last season, including a 60-yarder. Still, the biggest reason is Jeff Fisher as head coach. His overall record is 149 wins, 128 losses and one tie. You add all those games up you have 278 games of coaching experience. If any coach can correctly evaluate, adjust, improve and capitalize based on experience, it's Fisher.
Reality: It's not that the Rams aren't good, it is that the other teams are good too. If the Rams can stay healthy going into December and progressively improve then yes, they can knock either San Francisco or Seattle into third place. In December they play at San Francisco and in Seattle. This is a good team on the verge of great, but not quite yet.
Prediction: Third in NFC West.
Reason for pessimism: Basically the Arizona Cardinals are starting all over again. There five-year win totals are nine, 10, five, eight, and five. It really showed how good Kurt Warner was. Nobody felt Warner's departure more that Larry Fitzgerald as a wide receiver. Each team in their division is on the way up and in some ways so are the Cardinals. They certainly are not unwilling to make tough moves, with an example being not re-sighing Adrian Wilson who will eventually be in the Cardinals Ring of Honour. Another was drafting Tyrann Mattheiu out of LSU, who has baggage. No risk, no reward . Last year the Cardinals won four in a row and then lost 11 of 12. The all-time low was Week 14 when they lost to Seattle in Seattle 58-0. Many said the Cardinals players just quit trying; pretty heavy criticism.
Reason for optimism: Bruce Arians did a remarkable job with Andrew Luck and the entire situation with the Colts. He now has a more experienced quarterback in Carson Palmer and control overall as the top influence over football in Arizona. The question is do they have enough good players? Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson are two of the best at wide receiver and cornerback. The unknown is running back and the right side of the offensive line. Some teams can absorb injuries because they have winning seasons and have been able to draft and sign players to enhance depth and special teams. Not Arizona, as they are still looking for 22 quality starters for both sides of the ball. With Arians, they have a chance to reach that goal, given time.
Reality: They open at St. Louis , they end at San Francisco, and are at Seattle about mid-season. They also travel to New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Houston, and Indianapolis. Their schedule is real tough.
Prediction: Fourth in the NFC West.