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2012 NFC West Preview

AFC: East | North | South | West         NFC: East | North | South | West

2011 Common Opponents: NFC East, AFC North
2012 Common Opponents: NFC North, AFC East
The NFC West will face a similar level of competition from common opponents in 2012. The most likely result for the division in 2012 would be the 49ers repeating as division winners with the rest of the division missing the playoffs yet again. But based on our ratings, the NFC West is likely to be a much more tightly contested race in 2012. The 49ers were very lucky to win so many games in 2011, and are not actually all that much better than the competition. The Seahawks and Cardinals should very much be in the hunt to win the division, especially if Seattle QB Matt Flynn proves to be a solid quarterback. The other somewhat unknown quantity at QB to monitor here is Sam Bradford of the Rams. If Bradford improves, all four teams could be in the mix in this weak division. If not, St. Louis may be forced to give up on him altogether.

Arizona Cardinals
2011 Record: 8-8
2011 Rating: -2.0 (24th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 7.2
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 6.7
The Cardinals played 8 games primarily with each of their quarterbacks at the helm in 2011. They went 2-6 with season starter Kevin Kolb and went 6-2 with John Skelton total during 2 separate spans of Kolb injuries. So their 2012 QB decision should be easy right? Wrong. If we delve a little deeper, it is clear that other factors contributed to the lopsided win totals. A quick look at the schedule shows that Skelton faced much easier opponents, and the wins he had were often close or even overtime games. In fact, the parallels between Skelton and Tim Tebow in 2011 are almost endless. But for some reason, Skelton doesn't seem to be mentioned every hour on ESPN. Like Tebow, our ratings reveal that Skelton wasn't the most effective quarterback on his team last season. The Cardinals were a bit less efficient on pass plays during the games Skelton played. But the difference was not huge, which is why the other factors like schedule and luck were able to overcome the inferior play at the most important position. The Cardinals would be wise to start Kolb again in 2012, but regardless, they do not bring a whole lot of hope into the season. Arizona should have a similarly underwhelming season in 2012. The good news for the Cardinals is their division is still weak, and the 49ers really are not nearly as good as their 2011 record.

San Francisco 49ers
2011 Record: 13-3
2011 Rating: 1.2 (13th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 9.2
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 8.5
The 49ers experienced immense success in 2011 and media expectations are unreasonably high. They were a couple special teams fumbles away from the Super Bowl. However, a couple of special teams fumbles by the Saints were the only thing that kept them from losing their first playoff game. In fact, the 49ers were the luckiest team in the league according to our ratings, managing a whole 4 more wins than they deserved even accounting for their easy division schedule. San Francisco did have our 3rd rated defense in 2011. But the fact that only 1 of the other 4 top 5 defenses even made the playoffs shows that defense alone is not enough to expect consistant success. To avoid a big letdown in 2012, the 49ers' very average offense will have to improve. They have taken some steps to improve the passing game, acquiring free agent WRs Mario Manningham and Randy Moss while drafting WR A.J. Jenkins in the 1st round, but none are sure bets to have a big impact unless QB Alex Smith turns things around himself. The 49ers remain our favorite to repeat as division champions, but not by nearly as much as most would expect. A bit of luck or Matt Flynn proving worthy could result in the Seahawks or Cardinals stealing the division title.

Seattle Seahawks
2011 Record: 7-9
2011 Rating: -0.8 (18th of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 7.9
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 7.5
The 2011 Seahawks again finished 7-9, but despite not making the playoffs were a much improved team. The improvement came entirely on defense, as Seattle went from our 4th worst rated defense to 4th best, a difference of about 3 points per game. The Seahawks will hope that the signing of free agent QB Matt Flynn will likewise improve the offense in 2012, making them a complete team. It's hard to have faith in a quarterback who really only has 2 games of experience, but Flynn's passing performance against the Lions in Week 17 last season not only racked up yards but was one of our highest rated performances all season. Because such extraordinary performances are exponentially less likely from worse players, the rest of the great single game performances came from a laundry list of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. This is the reason why it is not unreasonable to think that Flynn could be a quality quarterback. We won't place quite such high expectations for Flynn in 2012 due to the still small sample size, but the Seahawks certainly have a lot of potential upside. If Flynn is annointed starter and things go well, the Seahawks will absolutely compete in the weak NFC West and playoffs. If not, it would make for more mediocrity in Seattle.

St. Louis Rams
2011 Record: 2-14
2011 Rating: -6.9 (32nd of 32)
2011 Deserved Wins: 3.9
2012 Wins by 2011 Rating: 4.2
The Rams were our very worst rated team in 2011. It may not be completely fair to bash a young quarterback who was constantly fighting injuries, but Sam Bradford needs to improve, and quickly. The Rams were not noticeably better when he was playing in 2011, and despite high praise for almost making the playoffs a season ago, the Rams passing game was well below average in 2010. Sometimes young quarterbacks do take a while to develop into successful starters, but Bradford has joined Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert on the bust watch list, and his pre-CBA contract is a lot more expensive. If Bradford improves in a hurry, anything is possible for the Rams in a still weak division. Until we see that happen, expectations for St. Louis must be rather low.

AFC: East | North | South | West         NFC: East | North | South | West

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