The most unpredictable division in football is the NFC West. People may think that it is a terrible division, but that isn't necessarily the case. Did you know that the division as a whole had as many wins as the NFC East and more wins than the AFC South? Don't worry, I was surprised too. Picking the winner of the NFC West is near impossible. One team can look great on paper, and win two games. On the other hand, a team can look downright awful on paper, and win thirteen. There is no way you can make a preseason prediction that you feel confident about. That being said, these guys will have to rely on the out-of-nowhere stars more than the other divisions. One man can swing a team from contender to nobody. There are some big name arrivals in the likes of Randy Moss in San Francisco and Matt Flynn in Seattle. This season is going to be one to watch.
The question is, who will make a name for themselves in 2012? Will Pete Carroll excel now that he has his franchise quarterback? Will St Louis make a turnaround season despite their dismal 2011? Will Arizona finally recover from the void left by Kurt Warner? Can the 49ers possibly relive the magic that brought them to an NFC Championship game appearance last year? The truth is, someone needs to come out of the wood work to make any of these things happen. Aldon Smith and John Skelton had great seasons to make the public remember their names. 2012 will have a whole new batch of players who will do the same. Keep your eyes open because this is going to be a slobber knocker.
St Louis Rams- James Laurinaitis
The Rams were absolutely atrocious in 2011. They were predicted by many to win the division, however their season ended with fourteen losses. Sam Bradford was hurt for most of the year, Steve Spagnola looked as if he was in above his head, and Steven Jackson was the only thing they had as far as firepower on offense. Even though Jackson's back is massive, he couldn't carry the entire team on it at once. The Rams have a new coach in Jeff Fisher. Even if they lost their defensive coordinator Greg Williams, Fisher is more than capable of getting the most out of this defensive talent. Laurinaitis will fit right in. He has been the model of consistency after being taken early in the second round of the 2009 draft. He has posted over 100 tackles in every year as a pro and is getting better and better in coverage as the years pass by. Even with the Rams being as bad as they were, Laurinaitis still earned 142 tackles over the year. If he does that in New York, he is a mega star. The Rams cannot possibly be as bad as they were last year. Expect Laurinaitis' star to continue to rise and you might just see him take a shot at Patrick Willis for the role of best MLB in the division, although he does have some work to do.
Seattle Seahawks- Golden Tate
The former Notre Dame product has had a hard time grasping life in the NFL game. For a while, Tate looked lost during the plays and had become too excited over making small plays during PRACTICE. All of that is over now. He no longer looks lost during plays. He no longer celebrates during practice. He now looks like he is ready to breakout. Tate didn't look good until last season when Sidney Rice went down with an injury. He was getting more playing time with the injury to Rice and he seemed to revel in the spotlight. He got more than two thirds of his yards on the season in the last five games of the season. He seems poised to continue the success he started at the end of 2011. He has this quiet confidence and a new quarterback. He no longer has to worry about errant passes from Charlie Whitehurst. He knows the plays like the back of his hand. Pete Carroll must be salivating just thinking about this guy finally putting together his potential and his work ethic. Tate will be another guy who shows what he has with a full offseason to work on his craft. Look back at Tate highlights and you can see that if he has a handle on the behind the scenes part of football, he will indeed become a star.
San Francisco 49ers- Michael Crabtree
This guy may not have panned out as everyone had hoped going tenth overall, but the bright side is he gets better every year. Last year he was double teamed on almost every play. San Fran went out and signed two new weapons to help free him up in Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. Teams cannot afford to put extra guys on Crabtree because they will be threatened by all the other weapons San Fran has to offer. Crabtree will excel by the tutelage of Moss (I know hard to believe, but that year with no football had to teach Moss to be a better teammate) and love the fact that he isn't focused on by every defense. He will finally get his first thousand yard receiving season and he will get to double digit touchdowns. Alex Smith will love his new weapons, and he will make sure to keep Crabtree happy. He has too much talent too see this opportunity and balk at the execution. He saw what it was like to have a good team, and he must have enjoyed it. He didn't look great during the post season, and that will put the necessary chip on this guy's shoulder. He came into camp looking better than he ever has as a pro. He is a beast and he will break out in 2012.
Arizona Cardinals- Ryan Williams
I feel for this kid. He seemed like the bolt the Cards needed to get a thunder and lightning combo mixed with Beanie Wells. Then he tore a patella tendon before the season even started. His rookie campaign was over before taking a regular season snap. Now this should deter me from thinking he will become anything, right? Absolutely not. They may say that this will take two years to come back to normal, but this guy is 22 years old and has not had any miles put on the knee in the NFL. Now he knows that this NFL dream can be taken from him at any time. He will come into this camp with the accelerator going. He wants to show that he was worth the pick that he was taken (38th overall). Williams has break neck speed and in his first year as a starter at Virginia Tech he broke many ACC records including scoring twenty-one touchdowns. If Williams can stay on the field for coach Whisenhunt, a big if, he will make a huge difference for an offense that is still trying to figure out the passing game. Arizona will have the best platoon of running backs in the league. If they can figure out the QB position, the Cards can make another magical run like they did in 2009.