Mike Singletary and the 49ers won five of six NFC West games in ’09.
It seems the NFC West will come down to which of two teams — the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals — can best make the switch to ground control. The 49ers have the better defense; the Cardinals have the better offensive weapons
While the rest of the division has made a sea change this offseason, the buzzword around San Francisco headquarters has been continuity. For the first time in eight seasons, the team will have the same offensive coordinator and head coach two years running, and that relative stability make the 49ers the NFL betting favorites to win the division for the first time since 2002.
A brief look at arguably the weakest overall division in the NFL, the NFL odds and some trends and angles that could prove profitable in 2010 appears below. Our parlay calculator could make your choice easier.
SAN FRANCISCO ODDS (8-8 SU, 9-4-3 ATS in 2009)
If San Francisco is going to make any postseason noise, the likelihood is that it’ll do so with a defense-first philosophy and an unusual extension of good fortune with personnel and turnovers.
The fundamentals coach Mike Singletary wants to focus on (field position, ball security, toughness, drive efficiency) are present on defense and almost entirely absent on offense.
The pressure is on for quarterback Alex Smith and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Smith took over in the middle of a Week 7 loss to Houston and put up numbers that looked more like his promising second season than his putrid third season.
Smith benefited from the presence of receiver Michael Crabtree, who ended his contract holdout for the Week 7 game, but his primary advantage was the fact Raye tripled his use of shotgun compared to the year before. Finally, the scheme and Smith’s abilities found a meeting point.
However, after another front-office overhaul, a myopic return to “fundamentals” could bring disappointing results. If they take too much away from Smith, they will go against recent NFL trends that favor wide-open attacks favorable to spread quarterbacks.
San Francisco dominated the division last season, winning and cashing five of six. The ‘Niners have ‘covered’ at a 6-3-2 clip as home favorites the past two seasons, but dropped six of seven as road chalk. They are 6-1 as non-conference dogs of more than four points.
ARIZONA ODDS (11-7, 9-8-1)
It’s finally time for Matt Leinart to stand and deliver. Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt knows many pundits are predicting disaster after Kurt Warner’s retirement.
But with a veteran offensive line, an elite receiver in Larry Fitzgerald and an improving run game led by Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower, Leinart has help.
While Whisenhunt isn’t afraid of the pass, this club should feature a power running attack, a huge offensive line and big play-action schemes.
Defensively, the Cardinals are going to miss Karlos Dansby, who was lured away by the Miami Dolphins for big bucks, and he will be difficult to replace. However, there is a decent mix of young and established defensive talent in place, with some interesting individual players. Darnell Dockett, in particular, is at the peak of a very good career.
Arizona will need it defense to be as Steeler-ish as possible because of how Warner’s retirement will affect its offensive strategy. The unit collapsed at the end of 2009, mostly because of lack of depth and an elite pass rusher.
The Cardinals have passed 10 of their last dozen division tests (8-4 ATS). They have been rock solid as underdogs, getting the green at a 9-3 clip at home and cashing at a 15-11-1 rate on the road.
Arizona has failed to ‘cover’ seven of its last eight against NFC South citizens and it is 2-8 ATS on the highway against NFC-East enemies.
SEATTLE ODDS (5-11, 6-10)
Coach Pete Carroll seems to understand the formidable challenge ahead of him in a way he didn’t a decade ago, and will not preside over a situation like the one in New England. Yet despite much-improvement on paper, Seattle is facing a hard slog back to respectability.
Carroll and new general manager John Schneider erased many roster deficits with what most experts agree was among the league’s best 2010 drafts.
Going forward, the elephant in the living room is the question of when and how to replace Matt Hasselbeck as the starting quarterback. The new regime tried to address this by acquiring Charlie Whitehurst from San Diego. If Whitehurst isn’t the answer, there’s a much deeper quarterback draft class in 2011 than there was in 2010.
Guru Alex Gibbs will no doubt improve the offensive line, and Carroll’s defensive concepts will ostensibly camouflage the team’s lack of a true pass rusher.
Blowing this team up and starting from scratch looks to be a good thing. Seattle let a once-potent offense age, atrophy and erode to the point that the team finished with just 280 points in 2009—the franchise’s fewest since 1993.
The Seahawks were 0-7 as road short-enders in 2009. They have grabbed the cheese in 12 of their last 14 at home versus AFC opponents.
ST, LOUIS ODDS (1-15, 7-9)
All eyes are on Sam Bradford as the St. Louis Rams begin their youth movement.
The Rams are banking on Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick out of Oklahoma to lead this franchise back to respectability.
St. Louis says its won’t rush Bradford into action, but for the kind of money they are paying him, why not have him in there from the get-go?
The Rams tried to win by giving Steven Jackson a steady diet a year ago, but it didn’t work. More variety and more viable options on offense are a must, and it’s debatable if St. Louis got enough help for Jackson unless Bradford and rookie wideout Mardy Gilyard have instant impacts.
The good news is Bradford will be facing the second easiest strength of schedule in the league in 2010. The bad news is the Rams are 0-12 SU and 1-11 ATS in the season’s first four games over the last three years.
St. Louis has lost 12 straight games versus division competition (2-10 ATS). The Rams are 1-11 as division home dogs of more than four points.