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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

2014 NFL SEASON: NFC WEST PREVIEW



1. Seahawks
2. 49ers
3. Cardinals
4. Rams



The two best teams in the league are in the NFC West. Because the Super Bowl was so lopsided, the NFC Championship Game was pretty much the NFL's de facto title game for the 2013 season.


Despite the usual roster depletion that happens to a Super Bowl champion, much of Seattle's core remains in place. They still have Russell Wilson at quarterback, Marshawn Lynch is still at running back, and their secondary is still led by Richard Sherman. Seattle comes into the 2014 NFL season with the number one ranked defensive unit in terms of fewest points allowed and fewest yards allowed.

I think that Seattle could be the first team since the 2003-04 New England Patriots and the first NFC team since the 1992-93 Dallas Cowboys to repeat as Super Bowl champions, but it will be a much more difficult path. Seattle opens the season at home this Thursday night against the Packers. Green Bay is one of three 2013 playoff teams that Seattle faces in the first month of the season. The other two is a road date in San Diego in Week 2 and Super Bowl XLVIII rematch against Denver in Seattle in Week 3.

The schedule makers were not very kind to Seattle in another aspect. Seattle will be featured in primetime four times this season: one at home (the previously mentioned home opener against Green Bay) and three on the road. The three road games: at Washington in Week 5, Thanksgiving night in San Francisco, and Week 16 in Phoenix against the Cardinals. In Week 1 last season, their win at Carolina went a long way in determining home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. This season Seattle returns to Carolina in Week 8. Seattle's defense will be put to the test against Chip Kelly's offense in Philadelphia in Week 14.

The team looking to dethrone the Seahawks in the NFC is the San Francisco 49ers. Since taking over as head coach, Jim Harbaugh has guided the 49ers to three straight NFC championship games and a Super Bowl appearance.

Much like Seattle, San Francisco is built around defense. Last season, San Francisco finished fifth in yards allowed and third in point allowed in the NFL.

The 49ers open this season in a new stadium, Levi's Stadium located 45 miles south of San Francisco in Santa Clara. It is scheduled to host Super Bowl L 50 in February 2016.

The 49ers open the season at Dallas with the regular season debut of their new stadium coming on Sunday Night Football in Week 2 against the Bears. In Week 5, the Chiefs visit the Bay Area with former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.

A former 49er quarterback playing for the Chiefs taking on the 49ers… boy that sounds VERY familiar…

Week 6 and 7 have the 49ers in back-to-back primetime games, Monday Night in St. Louis followed by Sunday Night in Denver against the Broncos.

Week 10 is a regular season rematch of last season's 23-20 loss to the Saints in New Orleans. The Saints escaped the 49ers due to a couple of field goals, one them was aided by a roughing the passer penalty with 3 minutes left in the game.  The 49ers get their first shot at the Seahawks on Thanksgiving Night in Week 13 at home and then again in Seattle in Week 15. The 49ers close out the season at home against the Chargers and Cardinals.

While the 49ers focus might be their schedule and their new stadium, off the field matters are being spotlighted. Linebacker Aldon Smith is suspended for the first nine games of the season for violating the NFL's personal conduct and substance abuse polices. Just recently defensive tackle Ray McDonald was arrested for domestic violence and will likely be subjected to the NFL's new policy concerning domestic violence.

Jeff Fisher is known for turning the Oilers/Titans franchise into a playoff contender, but this might be his most daunting task yet. Quarterback Sam Bradford injured his ACL during the pre-season and is lost for the season. Bradford has only played two full seasons and posted a 18-30-1 record as the Rams starting quarterback. Starting at quarterback is journeyman Shaun Hill who has played for the Vikings, 49ers, and Lions and posted a .500 record in his 26 NFL starts.

While the Rams finished last season 7-9, they finished 1-5 in the division. If they are to make some noise in the wild card, the Rams need wins against the Seahawks and 49ers. I just don't see that. Those teams are just too talented.

The Rams are slated to start the season with some success against the Vikings and Buccaneers, but after their Week 4 off week their schedule does not get any easier. Seven of their next eight opponents post-bye week made the playoffs. The one that did not, the Cardinals, won 10 games.

Arizona finished 2013 ranked 6th in fewest yard and 7th in fewest points given up. Quarterback Carson Palmer threw for a career high 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns, but also 22 interceptions. Last season might have been an anomaly for the Cardinals. Yes, they went 10-6 and were the only team to beat the Seahawks in Seattle last season, but they missed the playoffs due to inconsistent play.

The Cardinals home stadium is also the site of Super Bowl XLIX. The Phoenix metro area has hosted two prior Super Bowls (XXX, XLII) and in each of those seasons the Cardinals failed to qualify for the playoffs. The last team to make the playoffs the same season their home stadium was hosting the Super Bowl was the 2000 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since then, no team playing their home games in the Super Bowl stadium has qualified for the playoffs.

SEASON
SUPER BOWL
TEAM
TEAM RECORD
2000
XXXV Tampa
Buccaneers
11-5
2001
XXXVI New Orleans
Saints
7-9
2002
XXXVII San Diego
Chargers
8-8
2003
XXXVIII Houston
Texans
5-11
2004
XXXIX Jacksonville
Jaguars
9-7
2005
XL Detroit
Lions
5-11
2006
XLI Miami
Dolphins
6-10
2007
XLII Phoenix
Cardinals
8-8
2008
XLIII Tampa
Buccaneers
9-7
2009
XLIV Miami
Dolphins
7-9
2010
XLV DFW
Cowboys
6-10
2011
XLVI Indianapolis
Colts
2-14
2012
XLVII New Orleans
Saints
7-9
2013
XLVIII New York City
Giants/Jets
7-9/8-8
2014
XLIX Phoenix
Cardinals
???


The Super Bowl may be played in Phoenix this coming February, but the path to the game will be going through the NFC West.


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