2004 NFL PREVIEW: Team Forecasts & Early Predictions - Part II – NFC West
Monday, August 16, 2004
By Drew Cook
Courtesy of PrimeSportsPicks.com

Part I of our 2004 NFL Preview covered the NFC East & in Part II we will breakdown the NFC West. Upcoming articles will feature the remaining divisions. Again, our team forecasts are designed to provide insight on predicting total teams wins, so that you can take advantage of the value found in wagering on the Total Team Wins futures propositions.

NFC West
-Seattle Seahawks: Prediction Over 9 Wins - In 2004, the Seattle Seahawks may just be the team to beat in the NFC. Coming out of the relatively weak NFC West, Seattle should head into the season as the division favorite with the Rams as their only true competition. The Seahawks were (5-1) in their division last year and a perfect (8-0) at home, but if they are going to go far this year, they must improve on their (2-6) road record. It appears that the schedule makers were paying attention to these numbers because Seattle will not only play their first 2 games of the season on the road, but also six of their first nine games as well. If the Seahawks can keep things together during this early stretch on the road, they will have a great opportunity to finish the season strong playing 5 of their last 7 games at home.

On offense the Seahawks should once again be very solid with all of their skill players returning - (QB) Matt Hasselbeck (26 td's in 2003), (RB) Shaun Alexander (1,435 yards & 14 td's), (WR) Darrell Jackson and (WR) Koren Robinson. This unit ranked #7 in scoring last year, averaging over 25 points per game.

The defense made some serious progress in 2003, but could have trouble due to the departure of several players - (DT) John Randle, (LB) Randall Godfrey, (SS) Reggie Tongue, and (CB) Shawn Springs. However, in their place the Seahawks have brought in (DE) Grant Wistrom from division rival St. Louis and (CB) Bobby Taylor from Philadelphia and drafted Marcus Tubbs from Texas in the first-round. Taylor and second-year CB Marcus Trufant will make up a formidable duo in the secondary, which could should give receivers all they can handle.

With Mike Holmgren & Ray Rhodes having all these tools at their disposal, Seattle should once again be a serious force in the NFC West. Look for the Seahawks to improve on their (2-6) road record and surpass the 9 win mark in 2004.

-St. Louis Rams: Prediction Over 9.5 Wins - Coming off a 12 win season, the Rams have done little in the free-agent market to alter their team. Offensively they were awesome in 2003, racking up 447 points, good for the second most in the league. (QB) Marc Bulger will once again lead this impressive unit with (RB) Marshall Faulk, (WR) Torry Holt and (WR) Isaac Bruce. Holt showed that he is one of the games best receivers leading the league with 117 receptions for nearly 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns. While Faulk and Bruce are getting on in years, they are both still potent weapons that can make big plays, combining for over 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. The Rams did move up in the draft to take (RB) Steven Jackson from Oregon State in the first-round (who was arguably one of the best running backs coming out of college last year).

Defensively the Rams could be considered losers in the off-season due to the departures of (DE) Grant Wistrom to Seattle and defensive coordinator Lovie Smith who moved on to Chicago to coach the Bears. St. Louis had big trouble stopping the run last year allowing 124 yards per game on the ground, which they are going to need to improve. Their linebackers and secondary are full of good young talented players, lead by (LB) Robert Thomas and (SS) All-Pro Adam Archuleta.

Expect another solid season from the Rams in 2004. They should get out of the gate quickly, opening the year playing 3 of their first 4 games against teams that finished under .500 in 2003. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, St. Louis should reach the double-digit win total for the fourth time in the last five seasons.

-San Francisco *****: Prediction Over 5.5 Wins - Unlike the Rams and Seahawks who will have all their offensive personnel returning, San Francisco will start the season with a completely new look and changes at all three skill positions. Gone are (QB) Jeff Garcia, (RB) Garrison Hearst, (WR) Terrell Owens and (WR) Tai Streets. In their places the ***** will be going with (QB) Tim Rattay, (RB) Kevan Barlow and a group of relative unknowns at the receiver position, including second-year (WR) Brandon Lloyd, third-year (WR) Cedric Wilson and rookie (WR) Rashaun Woods drafted in the first-round out of Oklahoma State.

Kevan Barlow, who took over the starting running back job at the end of last season, should be the bright spot on offense. Barlow looked great at times in 2003, rushing for over 1,000 yards in just 201 carries for a 5.1 average. Besides Barlow, the rest of the offense is a big question mark with little experience. Tim Rattay did complete 61% of his passes last year, but he has just 3 career NFL starts, so who knows how long he can hold up, especially coming back from off-season groin surgery. If Rattay can’t go the ***** will look to second-year (QB) Ken Dorsey who has never taken a snap in the NFL. Cedrick Wilson will be the leading receiver returning with only 35 catches last year, so to add experience, San Francisco went out and signed veteran (WR) Curtis Conway. The ***** will get (TE) Eric Johnson back after missing the entire 2003 season with injury. Johnson had 76 receptions in his first 2 years, so his presence should make a difference.

While the offense is up in the air, the defense should once again be sound and will truly determine how the team finishes. (LB) Julian Peterson, the heart of the defense, led this unit in sacks and finished second in tackles last season. Currently, Peterson is holding out, but it’s likely that he will return to the team in time for their first game of the year. With a solid front seven, the ***** should play tough enough to keep themselves in many games. Expect 2004 to be a rebuilding year, as the team should take a step backwards. However, if the offense can put things together, and they continue to play well at home, the ***** could post a 6 win season.

-Arizona Cardinals: Prediction Under 5 Wins - Do you remember that last second comeback victory in the final week of the season against Minnesota, which eliminated the Vikings from the playoffs? Well, that one play along with rookie sensation Anquan Boldin were perhaps the only two highlights in the desert last year. New head coach Dennis Green will certainly have his work cut out for him to turn around a franchise that has compiled just 25 wins over the last 5 years.

The Cardinals finished last season as the worst offensive unit in points scored - averaging just 14.4 per game. Arizona will head into 2004 with third-year (QB) Josh McCowan leading an offense with a ton of potential, but little experience. McCowan (having just 3 NFL starts) will again lineup along side offensive rookie of the year (WR) Anquan Boldin, second-year (WR) Bryant Johnson, first-round pick (WR) Larry Fitzgerald, & (RB) Marcel Shipp. However, serious pre-season injuries to Boldin and Shipp have cost the Cardinals big time. Shipp, the team’s rushing leader went down with a broken leg & will be out of action for at least the 8 weeks, while arthroscopy knee surgery will keep Boldin off the field until at least October. The Cardinals will be forced to look to former All-Pro Emmitt Smith to pick up the slack and replace Shipp at the start of the season, but the absence of Boldin, the team’s offensive leader, will certain hurt a roster already light on depth at the skill positions.

If defense wins games, then the Cardinals are going to be in for another long and disappointing season. This team finished near the bottom of the league in almost every defensive category last year, and not surprisingly, allowed the most points against -28.3 per game. The Cardinals brought in free-agent (DE) Bertrand Berry in an attempt to bolster their pass rush, which was ranked 30th in the league in 2003. Last season Berry had 11.5 sacks for Denver, which were 8.5 more than any other Cardinal player. Arizona also tried to improve their defense through the draft by selecting (LB) Karlos Dansby from Auburn in the second-round & (DT) Darnell Dockett from Florida State in the third-round. Even with (LB) Ray Thompson (tied for team lead in sacks), (LB) Ronald McKinnon (leader in tackles), & (FS) Dexter Jackson (leader in interceptions), the Cardinals should continue to struggle keeping opponents out of the end zone.

The deck seems to be stacked against Arizona already in 2004. Besides suffering injuries to key players and having a lack of leadership and experience, the Cardinals are also the proud owners of the league’s second most difficult schedule. Having to face the Rams and Patriots in the first two weeks of the season, without their top players in the lineup, could spell trouble for an Arizona club trying to climb its way out of the proverbial basement. If not for that last second victory in the final week of the season, the Cardinals would have managed only 3 wins last year. It’s hard to expect much more in 2004 from a team that is already starting behind the 8-ball.

Best of luck,
- Drew Cook
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