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16 Feb 2010

Four Downs: NFC West

by Doug Farrar

Arizona: Can Matt Leinart be the team's quarterback -- and does the team even have a choice?

In his final NFL victory, Kurt Warner put up perhaps the best statistical performance of his career, throwing for more touchdowns (five) than incompletions (four) in a thrilling overtime playoff win over the Green Bay Packers. His retirement after the Cardinals' loss to the New Orleans Saints the next week leaves the Cards on the ledge at the quarterback position, but it isn't just Warner's absence that could prove problematic -- market forces are moving in the wrong direction.

Projected replacement Matt Leinart hasn't started a meaningful NFL game since October 2007, when he broke his collarbone against the St. Louis Rams and Warner took over. In 2008 and 2009, Leinart posted stats that don't exactly inspire; when looking for its next franchise quarterback, a team wants a player who invites better comparisons than Dennis Dixon and Brooks Bollinger. The specter of an uncapped year takes several potential free-agent quarterbacks off the market, which leaves Leinart and Brian St. Pierre as the team's aerial options. And as a member of the final eight teams in an uncapped year, the Cardinals would have to lose an unrestricted free agent of similar salary before they could bring in any quarterback from the pool.

In addition, this year's draft class doesn't feature the same number of obviously NFL-ready quarterbacks we've seen in previous seasons. Even the top guys, like Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen, have serious question marks. Of course, the undrafted Warner is one of history's best examples that one never knows about quarterback prospects until they get a real shot, but it could be a while before you see the dynamic passing attack featured in Arizona's past two seasons. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, who has long espoused the kind of run-heavy game plans he operated as the Steelers' offensive coordinator, should be careful what he wishes for.

Who Could Leave?

The big story is Anquan Boldin's ongoing unhappiness with his contract situation and his repeated trade requests -- if you tie all the rumors together, Boldin's been associated with half the teams in the league at this point. The Cards may be more amenable to trading Boldin if they get more than the offers of third-round picks they've previously seen. The most recent reports have the Dolphins interested. Linebacker Karlos Dansby has made $18 million guaranteed in the last two seasons as the team's franchise player; now he's a free agent looking for big bucks elsewhere. It's doubtful that the Cardinals would spend the $11 million it would take to tag him again. Free safety Antrel Rolle is due a $4 million roster bonus. Add that to the $8.1 million in base salary he's in line to make this season, and his proclaimed unwillingness to renegotiate, and it's pretty easy to connect the dots.

Who Could They Sign?

The pressing need is for a veteran quarterback who can help with Leinart's progress and fill in the gaps should the need arise. Chad Pennington might be an intriguing option there -- and if he looks closely at the numbers from Miami the last couple years, Ken Whisenhunt will even see that Pennington has improved his ability to throw deep. The Cardinals also need depth among their edge rushers -- reports indicate that when the Dolphins reconcile their issues with the salary cap and release Joey Porter, Peezy would like to play near the West Coast. The front seven looked great against the run, especially early in the season, but there isn't that great nose tackle common to all great 3-4 defenses. Beyond a completely stacked draft class at the position, Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton and New England's Vince Wilfork would be great gets were they to be available. With the Colts expected to retain Gary Brackett, there isn't anyone in the free agency pool with Dansby's versatility. Larry Foote would be a cheap, decent depth-level placeholder as a likely high draft pick learns the ropes.

St. Louis: How patient should fans be with the Rams' rebuilding process?

Over the past few years, one of the most notable NFL stories has been the worst-to-first advancement of several teams. No matter how much devastation might visit a team (the 2007 Atlanta Falcons, with their Michael Vick/Bobby Petrino double-dip) or a team's city (the 2005 New Orleans Saints), amazing rebounds are right around the corner for franchises that follow a direct path to success. New quarterbacks can surprise, as they did with the 2001 New England Patriots, and innovative offensive systems can make up for the lack of a marquee quarterback, as with the 2008 Miami Dolphins and their Wildcat variations.

What, then, are we to say about the St. Louis Rams? The former "Greatest Show on Turf" has been reduced to roadkill, winning a grand total of six games in the past three seasons and reducing the number of wins every year -- from three to two to one. New coach Steve Spagnuolo is trying to build a team-first mentality, but it's tougher to do when there are more and more overnight sensations popping up around the NFL.

Unfortunately, the Rams don't appear to be on the right track. Aside from all the folderol over a team sale, the roster needs a great deal of work. Running back Steven Jackson is the team's only legitimate playmaker on offense. Rookie Jason Smith, the hope for the future on the offensive line, struggled with the three-point stance and a concussion that ended his season in November. Quarterback is the biggest need, with these unappetizing options:

  • Overpay Marc Bulger (not likely)
  • Settle for (or replace) Kyle Boller
  • Hope that 2009 sixth-round draft choice Keith Null becomes something interesting, just as Bulger -- once a sixth-round pick of the Saints -- eventually did
  • Draft a quarterback (probably Sam Bradford) first overall, even if it means passing up on immensely talented defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy.

The Rams have spent a lot in money and draft picks on their defensive line, but conventional wisdom still sees at least the interior line as a need, as witnessed by all the mock drafts that have the team taking Suh. A year ago, a number of trends pointed to a possible Rams turnaround. After another bad season, those same trends do not. The Rams weren't among the league's most injured teams in 2009, so they can't expect a "rebound of health" in 2010. They weren't particularly poor in the red zone or on third down, usually indicators of possible improvement. There are teams with the ability to turn things around quickly. The Rams do not seem to be one of them.

Who Could Leave?

Bulger is due a $10.5 million base salary in 2010, and the word "retirement" has been thrown around more than once. Kyle Boller is ... well, Kyle Boller. Ends Leonard Little and James Hall are unrestricted free agents, which puts Chris Long in the drivers' seat and one or both veterans back most likely on shorter contracts. Little, who lives in Panther country, might wind up replacing Julius Peppers in the short term. Tight end Randy McMichael has said that he'd llke to return to St. Louis in 2010, but the feeling probably isn't mutual -- the Rams shouldn't have too much trouble replacing a -45 DYAR player. Decisions must be made on restricted free agents Alex Barron and Oshiomogho Atogwe. Barron isn't worth a high tender, but Atogwe was franchised last season and the Rams need every quality defender they can get.

Who Could They Sign?

It wouldn't be a great surprise if Null was the only current quarterback on the roster when the season starts. One rumor has the Rams doing more than their due diligence in the possible acquisition of one Michael Vick. It's an interesting notion if it pans out -- Smith could protect Vick's blind side on the right side, and the lack of a star receiver wouldn't be as much of a liability were the Rams to go with an option-based attack. Donnie Avery led the receivers with -73 DYAR, which had something to do with who was throwing the ball, but upgrades would be useful just about anywhere.

San Francisco: What can stop this team from contending?

The story of the NFC West over the past decade has primarily been one of championship by default. The Rams, Seahawks and Cardinals all have taken their turns beating up on their weaker brothers, and it might be the 49ers' turn. After years of struggling with different offensive systems, quarterback Alex Smith found new efficiency (relatively speaking) in a system he was familiar with; the 49ers operated out of the shotgun formation 44 percent of the time this past season, ninth in the league.

Frank Gore became the first player in team history to gain more than 1,000 rushing yards in four straight seasons, an especially impressive feat given that the 49ers' offensive line ranked last in the NFL in Adjusted Line Yards. ALY assigns credit (or blame) to lines and running backs based on the length of running plays. In 2009, the 49ers averaged 3.5 line yards per play and 4.2 running back yards per play; that discrepancy was fourth-highest in the league. They also ranked fourth in open field yards, which is yardage gained by running backs at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries. That line wasn't much better in pass protection, ranking 26th in adjusted sack rate, based on sacks per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance and opponent. All the numbers point to a line that must improve before this team can take the next step.

The good news is that the rest of the team is starting to round into shape. Tight end Vernon Davis finally had the breakout season expected of him. The defensive line, led by Aubrayo Franklin, ranked eighth in Defensive Adjusted Line Yards and third in defensive Adjusted Sack Rate. Linebacker Patrick Willis is a supreme asset, and the secondary is coming around. But in 2010, the 49ers will go only as far as their offensive line takes them.

Who Could Leave?

Franklin is an unrestricted free agent who will be tagged -- the franchise has invested too much time in putting together a solid defense, and Franklin ranked second among all qualifying tackles in Stop Rate against the run, behind Atlanta's Jonathan Babineaux. There are thoughts of putting UFA Barry Sims in at right tackle, but the 49ers would do just as well to bring a placeholder like the recently released William Thomas. It isn't as if Sims did them any particular favors. Cornerback Dre' Bly alternated with Tarell Brown last season, but the team will probably go younger at the position and it's tough to imagine Bly's showboating, occasionally soft-headed style meshing well with Mike Singletary's point of view.

Who Could They Sign?

The need for line help is the proverbial elephant in the living room, but the draft is a more feasible alternative. All in all, this isn't a team expected to make any big free-agent splashes, although cornerback is still an overall need and one wonders what an upgrade FO binky (and imminent unrestricted free agent) Leigh Bodden would be.

Seattle: Do the Seahawks really have three first-round picks in 2010?

Tim Ruskell's five-year stint as the Seahawks' team president was sketchy at best, which is why he doesn't have the job anymore. But before he departed, Ruskell gave the future Seahawks a wonderful gift -- an extra first-round pick in 2010 that he acquired from the Denver Broncos last April. The Seahawks will pick sixth (their own) and 14th (Denver's) in this year's draft, but they also might have another first-rounder ready for a breakout season -- 2009 fourth overall pick Aaron Curry.

The former Wake Forest linebacker started his pro career well -- but when teammate Lofa Tatupu was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle in mid-October, Curry lost his traffic director, and his demon speed turned to recklessness. Seattle's coaches, as justifiably concerned for their jobs as they were, started taking Curry out of the game in more and more defensive packages, essentially wasting his development and leaving even more vulnerable defenses on the field. And if you don't believe the importance of a veteran middle linebacker in the growth of a rookie teammate, ask defensive rookie of the year Brian Cushing of the Houston Texans about his relationship with DeMeco Ryans.

The drastic changes in Seattle's coaching staff should pay enormous dividends for Curry, making him the player Ruskell thought he was getting in 2009. New head coach Pete Carroll and linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. developed several great linebackers at USC, including Tatupu, Cushing, and Cushing's college teammates Rey Maualuga and Clay Matthews. Carroll is a longtime advocate of the zone-based 4-3 schemes under which Curry should be able to thrive, and there are few more potent motivators than Norton. The Seahawks have needs up and down their roster -- and they have Ruskell to thank for that -- but Curry's advancement could leave Seattle with one of the best linebacker corps in the business.

Who Could Leave?

Two of the biggest contracts of the Ruskell era are just about out the door. There have been conflicting reports of Patrick Kerney holding a retirement party, though the Seahawks won't need invitations to make it official. Kerney is 33 years old, he has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons, and he's due $5.16 million in 2010. At least Kerney had one good year, unlike Deion Branch, the receiver that Ruskell gave up a first-round selection in 2006 to acquire. Branch was sub-elite when healthy, and he has been nicked-up far too often. Watching him fail to contend for passes in his wheelhouse should be enough for Seattle's new regime to do the right thing. Safety Deon Grant battled a wrist injury in 2009, but he looked past his prime overall and he's up for a $4 million base salary in 2010. New secondary coach Jerry Gray, one of Seattle's best acquisitions in the offseason, will want faster, more flexible safeties than those currently on the roster. And sadly, it's probably about time for left tackle Walter Jones, the greatest player in franchise history, to hang 'em up and wait five years for Canton.

Who Could They Sign?

Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke has said that the team intends to go younger in a two- to three-year rebuilding phase. It's a smart move, given how bare Ruskell left the cupboard, but those needs won't be filled through the draft alone unless Seattle goes Super-Belichick and trades down for about 20 extra picks. New offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates has made all the right noises about Julius Jones and Justin Forsett in the backfield. Forsett excites as a Pocket Hercules type, but the Seahawks can do better than Jones. For all the focus on the defensive line, there's still a glaring lack of production from a pressure perspective. Adewale Ogunleye could be on the market as one of a few aging options, but Seattle will most likely have to head back to the draft and try again. If the preference is for a veteran end, new GM John Schneider knows Aaron Kampman very well from his days in Green Bay. Kampman, who looks to be a better fit in a 4-3 like Seattle's, would allow the Seahawks to spend their draft picks elsewhere.

Portions of this article were originally published on ESPN.com.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 16 Feb 2010

42 comments, Last at 24 Feb 2010, 10:15pm by Marshall Faulk


by Harris :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 12:46pm

I won't be at all displeased if the Eagles make a play for Rolle and/or Dansby.

As for the Rams, is there any real point in sticking a rookie QB behind that tattered bedsheet of a line and making him throw to the vortex of suck they have at WR?

Hail Hydra!

by Dean :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 2:24pm

I think we both know that Dansby in Philly is a pipe dream.

It won't stop all sorts of hot air being blown about it, and it won't stop outrage when it doesn't happen. But it's not gonna happen.

As for Rolle, well, he's better then Sean Jones. But there are better options available, and possibly a legitimate long-term solution in the draft. My thought if they were to sign Rolle would be that they can do better.

by Harris :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 2:38pm

Maybe. The Eagles will open up the wallet if properly motivated and McDermott acknowledged the LB situation was less than ideal this year. Even if Bradley comes back at full strength, they can't go into the season with Gocong or Fokou as the only options at SAM.

As for the draft, I'm hoping the target Earl Thomas or Myron Rolle. It'll cost too much to get Berry and Mays' all-hitting, no-coverage style is a liability in a pass-happy league where Goodell is trying to outlaw hitting.

Hail Hydra!

by masoch (not verified) :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 2:52am

You think? You don't think they'd consider a Dansby for McNabb swap?

by dk240t :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 1:37pm

So, when Randy McMichael gets -45 DYAR, he is easily replaceable. When Donnie Avery leads receivers with -73 DYAR, 28 less than McMichael (meaning McMichael was the better pass receiver this season), it is the fault of the QBs. That makes sense.

by Anonymous (not verified) (not verified) :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 5:27pm

Realize though, they were pointing out that Avery is the best of a bad bunch, and that it points to the need for better receivers and a better quarterback.

Looking at the stats, though, when your TE has -45 DYAR, and your WRs have -73, -92, and -98...the problem isn't JUST with the receivers/tight end. But yes, the TE was 43rd out of 49...that would be replaceable.

by Spielman :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 2:11pm

"Matt Leinart hasn't started a meaningful NFL game since October 2007, when he broke his collarbone against the St. Louis Rams and Warner took over."

This is not really true. His start this season against the Titans came in week 12 with the Cardinals still alive for a bye. Had they won that game, and the rest of the season played out the same way, they'd have gone into the final regular season game against the Packers with a shot at 12-4 and the #2 seed.

No Cardinal fan considered the Titans game meaningless.

by loneweasel (not verified) :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 2:31pm

Ah, the desert of quarterback talent that is the NFC West, where they hold broken down past their prime or neverwillbe toys close to their hearts.

8 or 9 wins will probably be the ceiling of any teams that runs the shotgun spread with Alex Smith. That might be enough.

by Brendan Scolari :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 5:14pm

They won 8 games this year, there's no way that's their ceiling. If Rex Grossman and Kerry Collins can "win" 13 games, surely Alex Smith can too.

by loneweasel (not verified) :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 6:14pm

This year was their ceiling, as long as Alex Smith is their quarterback.

Grossman and Collins both had persistent power-running games that reasonably carried their offenses. A spread, especially a spread with a crappy QB like Smith, kills power run games. It's a scheme that can make a replacement level QB look presentable on a stat sheet like the Chan Gailey Pistol did in Kansas City. But it would be dreaming to expect elite level play out of him.

There is not going to be any upside to that offense? Other than the division getting even worse than last year, where's the obvious improvement coming from?

by Brendan Scolari :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 8:15pm

I'm sorry, but I just completely disagree with you. If I may go through point-by-point to try to show you where I'm coming from:

"This year was their ceiling, as long as Alex Smith is their quarterback."

The Niners had a 1.1% DVOA, while the Bengals had a 0.4% DVOA while winning 10 games. Unless the Niners are a DVOA exception, I don't see how you can't see that they can win AT LEAST 10 games. After all, a team that wasn't even as good as them this year according to DVOA (and it's very unlikely that a team would perform to their absolute ceiling in any given season) did just that.

Furthermore, the Niners were only 12.3% DVOA behind the Chargers, who were 13-3. If the Niners offense was just average (perfectly 0 DVOA) and all else held the same, they would have been only 1.7% DVOA behind the Chargers, meaning they could have gone 13-3 with a team like that. Are you really saying there's ZERO chance the Niners offense is even average next year? I simply can't agree with that. And if there is a chance, I think you have to admit there's a chance they pull off a 12-4 or 13-3 season, even if it's not very likely.

"Grossman and Collins both had persistent power-running games that reasonably carried their offenses."

The Titans running game was very good, yes, but the Bears wasn't. Their 2006 rush DVOA was only 5.0%, compared to the Niners rushing DVOA last year of 1.4%. It's better, yes, but not so much where the Niners have no hope of reaching that level. The Niners have a better running back (Gore) than the Bears did at the time (Jones or Benson), it's simply a matter of offensive line play.

Now obviously that's a big deal, but the thing is the Niners offensive line has been so bad that there's clearly a decent chance for some regression to the mean, particularly because the Niners have 2 first round picks. FIrst round offensive lineman generally improve a line right away, and considering the Niners weakest player by far is right tackle Adam Snyder (who was hideously bad last year), I think you'll probably see them draft one of the top tackles in the first round. That combined with Joe Staley not missing half the season (or even Tony Pashos staying healthy) and the continued development of Chilo Rachal (who was actually decent in the second half of the season) could easily give them an average line, perhaps better. It's certainly possible that they finish with a 5% rushing DVOA in my opinion.

"A spread, especially a spread with a crappy QB like Smith, kills power run games. A spread, especially a spread with a crappy QB like Smith, kills power run games."

First, the idea that the Niners run a "spread" is overblown. As Doug said, they were 9th in the league in shotgun snaps, that's not particularly noteworthy, that still means a quarter of the league was in the gun more often than the Niners. I'd bet that total was partially deflated by Shaun Hill starting the first 5.5 games, and I'd be interested to see their run DVOA splits, but the Niners overall offensive DVOA improved once Smith took over, and just from watching the games myself I didn't notice much of a dropoff in the running game.

Also, perhaps a "power" running game can't be effective out of the shotgun, but a running game certainly can, just look at the Patriots' rushing DVOA the last three years. (I'm aware that it's inflated by their passing game, but you'd still be hard pressed to argue they can't run the ball.

"It's a scheme that can make a replacement level QB look presentable on a stat sheet like the Chan Gailey Pistol did in Kansas City. "

And I won't argue that, I've been a big advocate of looking at drafting a QB high in the draft this year (while most Niner fans aren't). However, all Smith would need to be is not terrible, his numbers weren't much worse than Grossman's in 2006 (-9.3 to -14.4 DVOA), and it was Smith's first year in a new system and he also was put in midseason. Smith is still one of the younger starting QB's in the league, he will finally get a chance to have a second year with the same coordinator, be the guy and take all the reps from the beginning of training camp, and he's surrounded with young, developing weapons. I see know reason to think he can't possibly make marginal improvements, and I don't think average performance is out of the question.

"There is not going to be any upside to that offense? Other than the division getting even worse than last year, where's the obvious improvement coming from?"

I'm not sure where you got this idea, but I completely disagree. They just took an incredibly hyped wide receiver with the #10 pick last year in Crabtree who still has tons of room to grow, they've got other young and talented (if somewhat erratic) receivers in Josh Morgan and Jason Hill, both of whom can still be expected to develop quite a bit (particularly Morgan), and a 26 year old tight end who if he would stop making bonehead mistakes (he got a lot better this year) would probably be the best tight end in the league. Gore is still only 26 and should have a couple more years of high level production left, and the line has two recent high draftees (Staley and Rachal), the better of whom missed half the year last year, and is likely to add another mid-first rounder to bookend at tackle in the draft this year. On top of that Smith is still only 25 and as previously discussed could still get better himself. From where I'm standing this is an offense with plenty of upside, it will probably have more talented guys who are no older than 27 than most of the NFL next season.

Will the Niners go 13-3? It's very unlikely, and I'd probably project them for 8.5 wins next year if you held a gun to my head. But is 8 or 9 wins their ceiling? Absolutely not in my opinion, and I don't think it's completely absurd to think they could go 13-3 if most things break right and they have some luck on their side.

by loneweasel (not verified) :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 11:43pm

There are some fairly bad arguments here, probably out of homerism.

But there's also a lot of solid info packed in there. So, thanks for a good writeup.

by David :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 2:12pm

You're an idiot

See, other people can make unjustified statements, too

It's utter drivel to suggest that 8 wins is the ceiling for *any* team with a given QB - no player, not even a QB, is sufficiently meaningful to lose 8 games all by himself

by loneweasel (not verified) :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 3:33pm


Well, enjoy Alex Smith. It's no skin off my back.

by Brendan Scolari :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 4:31pm

You're acting like we think Alex Smith is a great player. No one thinks this, not even the most homerific Niner fan. But you can have a good team, even very good, without a very good QB.

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 2:20pm

Ok...which ones are bad?

Which of your arguments weren't defeated?

by saintsmartyr (not verified) :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 5:52pm

Please name one Bears quaterback who has had more than two good seasons. I can't think of one in the last 30 years.

by Brendan Scolari :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 9:17pm

What the heck does that have to do with anything? Has the Bears' "team ceiling" been 8 or 9 wins over that timespan? Of course not, and that's the whole point. YOu can win more than 8 or 9 games without a very good QB.

by Brendan Scolari :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 4:33pm

Can you please enlighten me then on which ones are bad? I don't see any evidence to support your point.

by greybeard :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 3:42am

They lost four games with a total of 12 points deficit with a below average OL. Another with 4 and another with 6 points deficits. How could 8-9 be their ceiling?

by loneweasel (not verified) :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 11:33am

EVERY team loses closes games. That's what the NFL is.

It's laughable to harp on four close losses. Lose half of your schedule by close margins like the 2007 Dolphins then it's reasonable to expect some regression. Four?

Looks like we have a pack of Niners homers here. At least one guy is realistic enough to set the overunder at 8 and a half. To use their prevailing method for upside, 15 teams would have 13-3 upside next season, plus 10 elite teams with 16-0. Of course if all your young players develop, nobody gets hurt, your Orton/Garrard/Smith level mediocrity catches lightning in a bottle, there would be rainbows and unicorns and everybody gets icecream and a pony.

Just be content to have a mediocre team in a crappy division. Get your playoff one and done. The rest of the NFL is more than happy to ignore the crater that is the NFC West. Thank you.

by Eddo :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 12:02pm

You'r contradicting yourself quite a bit. You say a "realistic" over-under is 8.5 wins, but you also say that 8-9 wins is their absolute ceiling.

If 8.5 were a good over-under (which you admit it is), then their absolute ceiling (everything bouncing the right way, Alex Smith getting Vince Young-esque help to "just win games", etc.) would have to be 12-13 wins, with their absolute floor at 4-5 wins; that's the way over-unders work.

And I haven't seen a single 49ers fan (or anyone else in this thread) write that 13 wins is likely or even reasonable, just that it's the absolute ceiling.

I'm also not sure the rest of the NFL should be "happy to ignore" the NFC West. The division has four playoff wins in the last two years, and eight in the last five.

Playoff Wins, following 2008-2009 seasons:
AFC North: 6
NFC West : 4
NFC South: 3
NFC East : 3
AFC South: 2
AFC East : 2
NFC North: 1
AFC West : 1

Playoff wins, following 2005-2009 seasons:
AFC North: 10
NFC East : 9
NFC West : 8
AFC South: 7
AFC East : 7
NFC South: 6
NFC North: 4
AFC West : 4

That's at least some evidence to indicate that, despite coming from a mediocre-at-best division, the NFC West champions the last five years have actually been fairly strong teams.

by loneweasel (not verified) :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 12:30pm

Kurt Warner and Hasselbeck (pre-shellshock) were legitimate quarterbacks. The 49ers next year won't have one.

As I said, by your definition, 20 teams in the league will have "absolute upsides" at 13-3 or higher. Have at it then. I don't care.

by Jeff Fogle :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 9:08pm

SF went 8-8 vs. a very weak schedule (30th according to DVOA, 31st according to Sagarin). If you pencil in improvement on both sides of the ball, you have to pencil in a tougher schedule as a decent probability (though, you never know with Arizona possibly set to downgrade at QB).

Smith as a starter vs. .500 or better teams:
42.3 passer rating at Philly
59.7 passer rating vs. Arizona
69.3 passer rating vs. Tennessee
74.7 passer rating at Indy
88.8 passer rating at GB

Median of 69.3 isn't a disaster vs. tough foes...but might make a run at 10 wins tough. Third down conversions a very poor 28% in these games. I use that as a partial QB measure though others don't.

Smith popped some good numbers vs. losing teams.
63.3 passer rating vs. Chicago
95.6 passer rating vs. Seattle
96.8 passer rating vs. Jax
97.5 passer rating vs. Detroit
97.6 passer rating at St. Louis

Four games at 95 or better, though third downs were a poor 32% even vs. soft opposition.

TD/INT ratio was 6/1 in the 5 starts vs. losers, 9/10 in the five starts vs. .500 or better.

Interested to see how the schedule lays out. Vegas posted 7 or 7.5 last year as a regular season win projection depending on the store and time. FO projected 5.5 wins last year. Might be a year where the team gets better, but the record doesn't because the schedule strength regresses to the mean...

by jimbohead :: Sat, 02/20/2010 - 12:25pm

Is their schedule really that much harder next year? Its still the NFCW, and the argument is being made that the division is weaker in 2010 than 2009. The NFC games are NFCS instead of NFCN, plus philly and GB, both of whom the niners played in 2009. And in the AFC it's the AFCW instead of the AFCS.

That looks to me like an even easier schedule, or at least comparably easy schedule, to 2009. I don't want to get into the game of individual game predictions, because that's an exercise in silliness, but the NFCS is pretty comparable to the NFCN, and the AFCW is definitely weaker than the AFCW, and the flex games are pretty much a wash.

by Brendan Scolari :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 1:59am

"As I said, by your definition, 20 teams in the league will have "absolute upsides" at 13-3 or higher."

Absolutely. There's certainly not only 5 or 6 teams with the upside to be 13-3. Have you ever read PFP? When they give odds for different teams most teams have at least some chance of winning 11 or more games. I didn't buy the book last year, but in 2007 teams that were projected for around 8-8.5 wins were given a 15-20% chance of winning 11 games or more.

"Kurt Warner and Hasselbeck (pre-shellshock) were legitimate quarterbacks. The 49ers next year won't have one."

Yeah, and the Bears went 13-3 without one. The idea that you can't win more than 8 or 9 games without one is absurd, there's these things called running the ball and defense that matter too.

by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 02/23/2010 - 2:28pm

1. Matt Hasselbeck was never a particularly legitimate quarterback. His best years were... about the same as the best years from Aaron Brooks or Jon Kitna. That said, Seattle's offensive line was truly dominant for a while; the only dominant offensive line in the NFC West since the Greatest Show on Turf.

2. With Warner gone, the 49ers should get two more wins right there. Warner has -owned- the 49ers during his career. Seattle, even with a coaching change, is a rebuilding team and St. Louis is showing no signs of recovery. Frisco should get 4-5 wins just in its own division. To reach ten wins it just needs to go .500 in the rest of the schedule, which can't be impossible.

3. Alex Smith wasn't awful last year, and he's still a talented football player even if it's clear he's no Peyton Manning. He can still be a young Marc Bulger or a Chad Pennington. And either one would be instantly the best quarterback in the NFC West next year. He may not be that good; but we don't know that he won't.

4. If the offensive line is healthy, it should be league average, which should be enough for 9-7 or 10-6 and a division championship if Clements, Willis, and Co. stay healthy.

by Marshall Faulk (not verified) :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 7:51am

"2. With Warner gone, the 49ers should get two more wins right there. Warner has -owned- the 49ers during his career. "

Niners swept the Cards last year.

by Marshall Faulk (not verified) :: Wed, 02/24/2010 - 10:15pm

Niners are 4-6 against the Cards since Warner arrived.

by greybeard :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 12:48am

Of their 8 losses 7 of them were within a touchdown. 4 of them were within a field goal difference. So how may close losses they need to have out of 8 loses, 9?
You are not smart enough to understand that the argument is not about 49ers or Alex Smith but your stupid assertion that a team that has won 8 games the year before has a ceiling of 9 games. That is not true for 49ers, not true for any team. Ravens won a super bowl with Trent Dilfer.

by Brendan Scolari :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 1:49am

Absolutely, it has nothing to do with Alex Smith being a good player.

by SoulardX (not verified) :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 3:49pm

"A year ago, a number of trends pointed to a possible Rams turnaround. After another bad season, those same trends do not."

So, why should I fork over some money to pay for the PFP this year? I mean you were so wrong last year--EIGHT mean wins!!!!--why should I expect you to be right this year?

Yes, I am bitter. Going 6-42 over three years will do that.

by SoulardX (not verified) :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 4:16pm

BTW, Farrar, why no mention of the Ram's other QB Mike Reilly?

Heck last year, pre-draft, you penned 2,000+ words on the dude.


by Mike19531 (not verified) :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 3:21am

Walter Jones was a terrific player and undoubtedly will be a Hall of Famer, but he is not the best player in Seahawks history. Steve Largent is.

by Johnny (not verified) :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 5:07pm

Umm, no. Jones is better and more important than Largent. I'd take a franchise tackle over a WR any day of the year.

by BigCheese :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 11:47pm

Except that Important and Bst player are not the same.

Jerry Rice is the best 49er ever, while Joe Montana is probably the most important.

Also, I would like to add Cortez Kennedy to the conversation.

- Alvaro

by Mike19531 (not verified) :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 5:02am

I can see your point about a franchise tackle being more important than a WR, but Largent was no ordinary WR. Despite playing with no real credible wideout opposite him most of his career and catching passes (or trying to catch passes) from less than immortal qbs like Jim Zorn and Dave Krieg, Largent set records for career receptions, career receiving tds and the longest consecutive games with a reception.

I guess the biggest reason I believe (and always will) that Largent is the greatest Seahawk ever is that Largent is the first player that I think of whenever I think of the Seahawks. It's like that with the Ravens and Ray Lewis. Many fans would agree with Johnny about a LT being more important than a MLB, but I, and many other fans, sophisticated or not, would say that Lewis, and not slam dunk HOFer Johnathan Ogden, is the best player in Ravens history.

I hope that Doug Farrar or any of the Outsider guys can give this little thread a quick once over. I'd like to read their comments on this matter.

by Doug Farrar :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 6:26pm

Well, I think the Lewis/Ogden-Largent/Jones debate is apples to hand grenades. The Seahawks have never had a linebacker with anywhere near Lewis' functional ability and leadership skills (especially at his peak in about 2000, when he would do things on the field I had difficulty believing). The reason I put Jones above Largent is that in my mind, Jones' position is far more valuable, and to trump that value, Largent would have had to play at a level Jones never did. I don't see how anyone who watched the Seahawks from, say, 1999 through about 2006 wouldn't agree that Jones wasn't either the best at his position or on a very, very short list. In 2005, the Seahawks' greatest season, he was their greatest player (I will brook no argument on that!) and he probably should have been league MVP. At the risk of pissing off everyone who's ever worn the blue-and-green bird, I don't think that Jones over Largent is all that close. I'd probably have it Jones/Largent/'Tez/Hutchinson/Alexander as my all-time Seahawks Top Five.

by masoch (not verified) :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 3:06am

I can think of half a dozen Seahawks I'd pick before Shaun Alexander... he simply benefitted from a great line and decent QB threat.

by masoch (not verified) :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 3:19am

In order, Kenny Easley/Jacob Green, Dave Brown, Joe Nash, Curt Warner, Dave Krieg (yeah, I said it!) and ummm.... errr.... John L. Williams. Maybe a stretch there, but I loved him. Oh, and Mack Strong. ALL better than Shaun Alexander, I say (though I may be tainted by memories of the repeated flopping, a 3rd and 6 Holmgren draw failures).

Captcha: lying realtors


by Mike19531 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 4:52am

I think that you misinterpreted my comparisons Doug. I know that the 'hawks have never had a LB like Ray Lewis. My point was that while most savvy fans would place more importance on a HOF left tackle like Johnathan Ogden over a MLB, most fans, savvy or not, would identify Ray Lewis as the greatest Ravens player.

In my mind anyway, Steve Largent is to Seattle what Lewis is to Baltimore. Maybe I'm showing my age a little bit, but I got to follow largent's entire career and he was putting together 70 catch/1250 receiving yard seasons back when seasons like that were considered extraordinary.

I hear what Johnny and Doug are saying. Walter Jones was an extraordinary player. But was he THAT much better than Willie Roaf or the aforementioned Ogden?

I guess that what I'm saying is that for me, Largent was to the Seahawks what Ray Lewis is to the Ravens or John Elway to the Broncos. I'm just having trouble defining and quantifying what Largent means.

by Mike19531 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 4:57am

I would place Kenny Easley, the 1984 Defensive Player of The Year and a member of the the NFL's All 1980s team, somewhere in the top 5 of all-time Seahawks.

Probably 3rd.