With the 2011 NFL season is a couple weeks from kicking off, the anticipation is growing. Especially after being away from football for so long due to the lockout, I’m sure fans around the league can’t wait to get things rolling again.

In preparation of that, I’ve decided to start a season preview series discussing different aspects of each team in relation to their respective divisions.

So without further ado, let’s get started.

The NFC West made their mark in NFL history last season, but not in a good way. For the first time ever, a division winner had a losing record as the Seattle Seahawks got in at 7-9. Both the Cardinals and 49ers were amongst the worst teams in football, while the Rams collapsed in the final stretch losing three of their last four matches. But will things be different this time around?

4. San Francisco 49ers

Not only are they undergoing a coaching change which will be a tough adjustment not only because college coaches rarely have success but because the lockout prevented Jim Harbaugh from spending time with his team.

And to be honest, as long as Alex Smith’s their starting quarterback, it’ll be tough to be in playoff contention. He’s simply not the answer, and neither is Collin Kaepernick in my opinion.

Defensively, they’ve been on the rise but after losing Aubrayo Franklin, Takeo Spikes, Dashon Goldson, and Nate Clements without replacing them adequately, it will be a long year.

But hey, on the bright side, perhaps this gives them a shot to reunite Harbaugh with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

3. Seattle Seahawks

Yes, they upset the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs last year. But when I look at this team, I see holes all over the roster and a lack of an identity.

Even though Marshawn Lynch led a potent rushing attack in that game, don’t let that overshadow the fact that they ranked 31st in rushing yards during the regular season.

To make matters even worse, regardless of their flawed assessment, they will suffer a major drop off from Matt Hasselbeck to Travaris Jackson under center. Even with the signing of Sidney Rice, who’s one of the most overrated receivers in the game, I don’t see Jackson doing much.

2. Arizona Cardinals

The trade for Kevin Kolb will determine this team’s outcome for the next few seasons. Not only did they give away a 2nd round pick and a Pro Bowl cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but they also invested $63 million into him over the next five years. I personally feel that Kolb was severely overvalued, but I guess the Cards were desperate after failed experiments with Matt Leinart, Max Hall, John Skelton, and Derek Anderson.

Do realize that Kolb won’t have the luxury of throwing to one of the same dynamic receiving corp that helped fuel their Super Bowl run in 2008 as Larry Fitzgerald is the only proven receiver remaining on their roster. And don’t expect too much out of the running game either because I felt that Ryan Williams was a reach considering his major dip in production during his senior campaign and the organization has apparently lost faith in Beanie Wells.

Defensively, they’ll be solid especially with the addition of Patrick Peterson whom I felt was the top overall prospect in this year’s draft class.

All in all, they’re an improved ball club, but don’t expect a complete turnaround.

1. St. Louis Rams

The Rams are the one team in this division whom I actually feel confident about heading into this season.

Even though they didn’t make the big headlines, additions like running back Cadillac Williams, wide receiver Mike-Sims Walker, and safety Quintin Mikell are going to be a major help.

Sam Bradford should improve in his sophomore season as well, especially if their wide receivers can stay healthy. In addition, don’t overlook the impact that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will have. Things didn’t work out as a head coach, but he’s a brilliant offensive coordinator and will really spark their aerial attack.

This is the Rams division to lose, and even though it’ll be tough to make a serious playoff run in the daunting NFC, this is another leap in the right direction for a franchise that won just six games from 2007-2009.


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