1) Arizona Cardinals – I’m guilty of often thinking this team will turn around, so it’s no shocker when I state that I believe this year, they will turn it around. By naming Warner the starter, they are taking a chance, but less of the chance they’d be taking with “dude, watch how many beer bongs I can do”. Fitzgerald, Boldin, Pope, and James will be a force this year. (They also might get some good production from Tim Hightower, a guy who looked great in the preseason, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet – did Doucet’s parents have three names picked out when they were expecting: Early, Late and On-Time?). Their defense also has a couple of quality players too (Adrian Wilson and Karlos Dansby both underappreciated). 10-6.
2) St. Louis Rams – Perhaps another crack-like pick here. But Steven Jackson, unlike other players who get new contracts, will be running like a wild man. He is incredibly strong, can will yardage and will be playing with a chip on his shoulder as will other Rams due to being embarrassed last year. Bulger will reclaim some of his past glory and the team will be energized by the addition of Chris Long to the D-Line. And remember, they have that Otogwe guy back there at safety who can flat out play. This could be a surprising team that will play hard for a coach who will be fighting to keep his job this year. 9-7.
3) San Francisco 49ers – This team will play hard for Mike Nolan and his fate by the end of the year will be tough to call. Even though they are starting JT O’Sullivan, a guy many other teams believed shouldn’t be on their roster, they do have Mike Martz directing O’Sullivan and the offense, so O’Sullivan may not end up being terrible. Frank Gore is a solid runner and the addition of a savvy vet like Isaac Bruce might be helpful. Bryant Johnson isn’t a bad WR and of course, Vernon Davis could explode into the elite category of tight-ending, if you will, any minute. Josh Morgan, the rookie wide-out has opened eyes all preseason so he may have an immediate impact. But it is the defense this year that will be the most significantly improved area of the team. Pat Willis may be one of the best linebackers in football this year, Nate Clements we know has the talent to be great, and Justin Smith was a nice off-season acquisition on the line. I am a bit hesitant making this pick, but this is a team that could end up being quite good and a team that may end up beating teams they “shouldn’t” beat. However, they still may be a year and a true QB away from playoff talk 8-8.
4) Seattle Seahawks – This is a hard one again due to the Holmgren factor. Holmgren has taken several teams I thought would be weak to the playoffs. He is a great coach with a great football mind. He manages to squeeze quite a bit out of some players who wouldn’t be special elsewhere. That said, I think his final season may not go as planned. The lack of depth (due presently to injury) at WR could be costly. Julius Jones and Maurice Morris may be fine this year, but not great. TJ Duckett will emerge as the goal line guy and rack up a bunch of TDs. One player to keep an eye on this year will be TE John Carlson. He has impressed in camp and there is a growing belief he could become Hasselbeck’s favorite receiving target. Still, over the last few years, I have wondered about Matt Hasselbeck’s overall abilities. Not sure he’s even an upper tier QB anymore. Can you believe he’s been in the league 10 years now – doesn’t that make you feel old? 7-9.