While growing up, all my life, near Pittsburgh, PA, this division shouldn’t mean that much to me; but it does. For some reason, still unknown to me, I am a huge, die-hard 49’ers fan. They’ve been my team since I was a child in the 80’s. I do still root for the Steelers, week in and week out, just as long as they don’t play San Francisco. So each year, the NFC West Division has special importance to me. Does that mean that I am picking the 49’ers to win it? No, I do not let my personal opinions get in the way of raw talent. The Niners are still in a rebuilding process. They will be better than last year, though. How could they be worse? (I am still mad at them for winning the final “Reggie Bowl” game that cost them the overall #1 pick in the draft and thus Reggie Bush. They couldn’t even lose when they needed to.) So now, here is my prediction for the way the division will fall in line come January.
WINNER – Seattle Seahawks. Big surprise here, huh? Honestly, who isn’t picking the Seahawks to win this division? Even Alex Smith and Matt Leinart have to be picking the Seahawks. If they don’t win it, it will probably be the biggest upset in the league. I just can’t imagine any of the other teams here putting up that much competition. With QB Matt Hasselbeck and RB Shaun Alexander finally getting mainstream recognition as two of the elite players at their position (thanks in part to Super Bowl XL), it will be tough to dethrone the defending NFC champs. This is one all-around great team. Record: 11-5
SECOND – Arizona Cardinals. Who? The St. Louis / Phoenix / Whatever Cardinals? Yes, I pick them to finish second. But don’t get too up-in-arms, it will be a d.i.s.t.a.n.t. second place; like maybe 7-9. No Wildcard pick here but definite signs of improvement. With the addition of Edgerrin James from the Colts at running back, the team will be better. They just have to. Edge can single-handedly give any team in the league at least 1 more win, all by himself. Then there is Golden Boy QB Matt Leinart. I believe he is the ‘steal’ of the draft. How he fell to #10 is beyond me. If he gets to start early, and he probably will, he will ignite and excite the crowd. His presence will get the ball rolling and the momentum could lead to the Cardinals to a surprising finish, just not that surprising. They are, after all the glitz and glam and hype and sun, the Cardinals. Record: 7-9
THIRD – San Francisco 49’ers. My team. My how the mighty have fallen since the mid-nineties. I had gotten so used to them winning through the 80s and 90s, that when they started doing poorly about 8 years ago, I actually enjoyed it. It was different. Now, I believe that they are finally on the way up again. Are they headed all the way to the top? No, not yet. No dynasty or Super Bowl or even Wildcard mentions in SF any time soon. Year two for QB Alex Smith should be interesting. After his less than stellar rookie performance of only 1 touchdown, anything will be an improvement. He is too good a player to falter like that. Plus, with first round pick out of Maryland – Vernon Davis at Tight End, the team shows signs of a brighter tomorrow. That ‘tomorrow’ may not be until 2008, but a brighter tomorrow is on the horizon. Record 6-10
LAST – St. Louis Rams. Why am I picking the Rams to finish last in the division? Simple, there aren’t any other teams left to pick. It’s not that the Rams are a bad team; it’s just that I am tired of seeing my 49’ers finish last. To be perfectly honest, the Cardinals, 49’ers, and Rams are interchangeable. Any of them could finish anywhere in the NFC West; except first place. Record: 5-11