Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
Key Additions: RB Chris Wells, CB Bryant McFadden
Key Subtractions: RB Edgerrin James, RB J.J. Arrington, CB Rod Hood, DE Antonio Smith
The Cardinals boasted one of the strongest offenses in the league last year, particularly with regards to their passing game. Swapping Beanie Wells in for Edge should improve their rushing attack, but it's unclear as to how the carries will actually be split up between Wells and Tim Hightower. Anquan Boldin is still in Arizona for now, but he's been unhappy for a while. Someone needs to hook up the Panthers and Cardinals so they can swap Peppers and Muhammad for Boldin and Calais Campbell. Oh well.
Speaking of the Cardinals defense, not great. They gave up the fifth most points in football last season, and allowed a 44% third down conversion rate. That's how you end up 9-7, even if you do make it to the Super Bowl. McFadden is good, but he wasn't the reason the Steelers had such a great defense, and his addition will have a limited positive impact. Unless the aforementioned Campbell progresses considerably, I have a tough time thinking the Cardinals will roll over the NFC West again.
Projected 2009 record: 7-9
San Francisco 49ers (7-9)
Key Additions: WR Michael Crabtree, RB Glen Coffee, CB Dre' Bly
Key Subtractions: RB DeShaun Foster, WR Bryant Johnson
I used to have some faith in the 49ers. I used to think they were a year of maturity away from competing for the NFC West title. Used to. When I really look at this team, they just don't have a lot to get excited about. Shaun Hill, a popular sleeper pick in fantasy football, had at least two turnovers in three of his eight starts. Crabtree isn't even signed yet. Frank Gore and Coffee could be a nice one-two punch, but if we've learned anything from watching football, it's that one-dimensional teams without excellent defenses tend to lose a lot of games (see Rams, circa the past two years).
Bly has probably still got something in the tank, but don't expect him to be the difference here. The defense would be adequate on a strong offensive team, but for San Francisco, you're just looking at another dismal season. I don't see a way for them to take any steps forward this year, no matter how many times Coach Mike Singletary shows his wang.
Projected 2009 record: 5-11
Seattle Seahawks (4-12)
Key Additions: WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, LB Aaron Curry, WR Deon Butler, DT Colin Cole
Key Subtractions: RB Maurice Morris, WR Bobby Engram, WR Koren Robinson, LB Julian Peterson, DT Rocky Bernard
Matt Hasselbeck was clipped by the injury bug and was generally ineffective when he did play. But he's got a legitimately dangerous receiver for perhaps the first time in his career, so there are reasons to be optimistic. Engram and Robinson were the beneficiaries of opportunity and still combined for less than 80 catches and 1,000 yards receiving, both of which Houshmandzadeh should surpass on his own. I only mentioned Deon Butler as a key addition because he went to Penn State. It's the very least I can do for a guy who was always good for a 40-yard catch...literally, the very least I can do.
Aaron Curry has #1 overall talent, but fell to the Seahawks at #4 in the draft because he plays linebacker, and linebackers and running backs just don't go as high as other positions. He should step in and immediately make a positive impact for this defense, which is good, because they were awful last year. They gave up the 3rd-most total yards per game, and the most passing yards per game. They ranked 25th in both points scored and points allowed. Still, part of that comes from an inept offense that should be better this season. I expect improvement all around.
Projected 2009 record: 10-6
St. Louis Rams (2-14)
Key Additions: OT Jason Smith, LB James Laurinaitis, WR Laurent Robinson
Key Subtractions: WR Torry Holt, LB Pisa Tinoisamoa
The Rams lost their top tackler in Tinoisamoa, but with a defense was 31st in points allowed, it's debatable as to whether or not a loss from that group is actually a detriment. More important will be the development of second-year player Chris Long, and whether Laurinaitis can conjure images of his father, Road Warrior Animal. I generally don't root for former Buckeyes, but there's an exception clause for the progeny of former professional wrestlers.
Steven Jackson is, and has always been, a wrecking ball, but without some support from the passing game, he'll see way too many 8- and 9-man boxes. Torry Holt may only be a shadow of his former self, but this receiving corps could ill afford to lose any talent. Then again, maybe the 2004 Randy McMichael will show up, and everything will be alright.
Probably not, though.
Projected 2009 record: 4-12
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