2013 NFC West: Four Questions, Four Analysts
There’s not long to go now before the meaningful action begins with the start of the 2013 NFL season. To give you an idea of what our team is thinking heading into the season we’re asking four of them four questions, for every division.
It’s our Four Analysts, Four Questions season preview.
The analysts are Khaled Elsayed, Sam Monson, Steve Palazzolo and Ben Stockwell, so let’s see what they’re looking forward to seeing heading into the year.
1. Which player from the division do you see having a breakout year?
Khaled: I’m a big fan of Golden Tate. I figured with Percy Harvin in town he might have to take a backseat, but that injury and more emphasis on passing means that I think he’ll get more opportunities. Really that’s the only thing holding him back right now. I don’t know if the stats are going to wow people, but I think what he does after the catch will.
Sam: For the first half of 2012 he was a disaster, then reading the PFF rankings and seeing his name rooted to the bottom of the tackle list made Bobby Massie turn a corner, knuckle down and become a different player. Over the last half of the season he didn’t allow a sack (having coughed up 13 in the first half), and he surrendered just 11 total pressures. That form looks to have continued into the 2013 preseason where he has surrendered just three pressures. He’s set for a backup role now but I can see him working his way into the lineup at some point, whether at tackle or guard.
Steve: I’m expecting to see more consistency out of Rams DT Michael Brockers who flashed his immense potential last year on his way to finishing with a +4.1 grade. The problem with Brockers, he graded at +15.0 in his three best games and only -10.9 in his other 10. Again, that’s the trap scouts can often fall into as Brockers either looked like a Pro Bowler or a bust. Those top-notch games, however, show what Brockers brings to the table and I think he’ll minimize the negative games and put himself among the best defensive tackles in the league.
Ben: I still think the Rams overpaid for Jared Cook, but he clearly has athletic talent and they clearly have plans for him. He’s shown some tantalizing glimpses during the preseason and it’s hard to think that the Rams would have spent so much on him if they didn’t have big plans for him this season. I’m not sure whether Chris Givens is ever going to develop into anything more than an occasional deep threat, but with question marks over their options in the ground game there’s sure to be plenty of passes to go around. I’m expecting a lot of those to go to Cook and rookie slot receiver Tavon Austin. The Titans appeared at a loss of how to make best use of Cook’s athleticism, I think the Rams will have a clearer plan this year.
2. The Over/Unders are Arizona 5.5, San Francisco 11, Seattle 10.5 and St Louis 7.5. Which team would you put your theoretical $100 on?
Khaled: I’m all in on the Seattle team. They hit their stride and but for a sloppy first half against Atlanta I’m convinced they would have won it all. That’s how good they were then and I figure they’ll be even better this year. I like them as a 12-win team.
Sam: With the Seahawks and 49ers looking like dominant teams, it’s going to be very hard for another NFC West side to put up a respectable record, even if they’re a pretty good team — that’s four games right there that will be among the toughest they’ll be faced with. Therefore, I think the Rams will struggle to match the 7.5 wins Vegas has them pegged with, even if they are a better side than a year ago. Sorry St Louis, it’s just too much to ask in this division.
Steve: Like most, I’m on board the 49ers’ and Seahawks’ respective bandwagons and certainly think they’ll be among the NFC’s best. Even though they’ll beat up on each other a bit and the other division games won’t be a cakewalk, I like the 49ers to best the 11-win mark.
Ben: In very much a two-tier division the Over/Under lines here are tough to call. I think the Cardinals are going to struggle again but they showed last season that even the worst teams in the league can get their act together for a month and get past a low win target. This division is a tossup between the 49ers and the Seahawks and I’ll take Seattle to top their 10.5-win target as a better bet than asking the 49ers to win a dozen games.
3. Which rookie are you most looking forward to seeing in regular season action?
Khaled: I’ve seen glimpses of Christine Michael and while I don’t know if he gets the touches, I do think that if he does he’s going to create some memorable moments. A different type of back to Marshawn Lynch he’s going to make some highlight reels.
Sam: How can the answer to this be anything other than the Honey Badger? Tyrann Mathieu seemingly has all the talent in the world but also with a long list of red flag problems. The Cardinals not only took a chance with him, but were uniquely placed to aid him in his pursuit of the straight and narrow with ex-LSU teammate and mentor Patrick Peterson on the roster. He has made some splash plays already in preseason but has also been picked on (against Dallas, where he gave up a catch every time he was thrown at — 6-for-6). He’s the ultimate roller coaster-ride of a player and I’m looking forward to watching.
Steve: It’s all about Tavon Austin. Not only is he a dynamic playmaker, but his draft position represents a philosophical change around the league as a slot receiver going in the Top 10 is nearly unheard of. He’s no ordinary slot receiver, however, and part of the intrigue is seeing the creative ways the Rams put the ball in his hands. I think he’ll be become a Sam Bradford favorite from the get-go.
Ben: The 49ers have plenty of candidates to fill their second wide receiver role but I’m more interested to see their new No. 2 tight end Vance McDonald this season. Having lost Michael Crabtree there’s every chance the 49ers continue to run a large amount of two-tight end sets and I was impressed with what I saw from McDonald against the Vikings in preseason. He looks like a really good athlete and that could translate into an entertaining season.
4. Who will make the playoffs and can they win it all?
Khaled: All of my answers seem to have a Seattle vibe to them and I’m not changing that here. I’m on their bandwagon right now and I think they win this division, and as you’ll see in our predictions piece, think they go all the way. That might take beating the 49ers in the playoffs with both teams making it through.
Sam: This division is going to be a clash of titans between the 49ers and Seahawks and I can see that battle going all the way to the wire. Whichever team doesn’t take the division is likely a frontrunner for the Wild Card spots in the NFC and either one of these sides has the talent and more importantly the quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
Steve: The 49ers and Seahawks both possess an impressive mix of young and veteran talent across the roster led by franchise quarterbacks and that formula will put them at the top of the division. The Rams have continued to improve and their trading of the Robert Griffin III pick in 2012 may have been the best thing the franchise could do to load up on talent. They should prove to be a tough matchup every week, but their division rivals will be too much to overcome. The Cardinals need a few pieces to bounce back on defense and adding Carson Palmer should at least make them more competitive, but they still have some work to do to compete in this division.
Ben: The status quo remains in this division in my opinion. The Cardinals will be the weakest team; the Rams will compete but fall comfortably short of the Seahawks and 49ers who will make the playoffs. The Seahawks’ early-season shortage in terms of edge rushing (Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons) I think could lead to a slow start. They will still finish the season like a train and get very close to overturning the 49ers, whom I just can’t see falling foul of the Super Bowl-losers hex. Both teams will be a threat in the playoffs and as a year older and wiser — I think the Seahawks could be a bigger threat than the 49ers.