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Nfc Divisional Preview

September 01, 2006|Sam Farmer

2006 predicted order of finish ...

West

* 1. Seattle: The Seahawks got oh-so-close last season, outplaying the Steelers throughout the first half of the Super Bowl before letting the game slip away from them in the second half. Seattle has a smart and effective quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck, and the defending league most valuable player in running back Shaun Alexander. Losing guard Steve Hutchinson hurts, but the offensive line is still one of football's best and is anchored by dominating left tackle Walter Jones. The defense is very good too, led by linebacker Lofa Tatupu.

* 2. St. Louis: With quarterback Marc Bulger, receiver Torry Holt and running back Stephen Jackson, the Rams shouldn't have problems putting points on the board. It's keeping points off the board that's the challenge. The St. Louis defense finished 30th in yards given up last season, and 28th in takeaway/giveaway differential. The addition of defenders La'Roi Glover and Will Witherspoon should help, but losing safety Adam Archuleta to Washington is another problem. That said, his replacement, Corey Chavous, is a capable player who studies film like crazy and knows personnel as well as any general manager in the league.

* 3. Arizona: The Cardinals are putting the pieces in place. They have an outstanding running back in Edgerrin James, a top receiving tandem in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, and a defense that seems to be on the rise. Kurt Warner can be good, as his two MVP trophies suggest, and backup Matt Leinart has promise. Then again, we've seen the Cardinals do a face-plant before. The schedule sets up nicely, however, with first-half road games at Green Bay and Oakland, who were a combined 8-24 last season.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 06, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Pro football: In Friday's football preview section, an article about the NFC South Division said the Atlanta Falcons had acquired defensive end Simeon Rice. Rice remains with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

* 4. San Francisco: Judging by his track record, Norv Turner is better suited to be an offensive coordinator than a head coach. In his latest assignment, he's charged with bringing along second-year quarterback Alex Smith, who looks far more comfortable in Turner's system than he was in Mike McCarthy's. Now, Smith also has an outstanding safety-valve receiver in rookie tight end Vernon Davis. Still, expectations aren't too high. After all, the 49ers failed to score an offensive touchdown in eight games last season.

*

North

2006 predicted order of finish ...

* 1. Chicago: The Bears have all 22 starters back from a team that was 11-5 last season and won the division. There's no reason to believe they will slip, especially now that they have a safety net in backup quarterback Brian Griese. Chicago's division rivals are in rebuilding mode with new coaches. That's very good news for a Bears team looking to make a deep push into the playoffs. On defense, Brian Urlacher gets most of the attention, but don't overlook weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs, who had 107 tackles to Urlacher's 121.

* 2. Minnesota: Say this about new Coach Brad Childress: He knows what he wants. Shortly after getting the job, he sent Daunte Culpepper to Miami and named Brad Johnson the starting quarterback. In the months that followed, the Vikings added 10 veteran free agents, among them Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson, one of the best in the business. The team recently dumped troubled receiver Koren Robinson, who made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner last season. The Vikings added former Green Bay kicker Ryan Longwell, who shouldn't have trouble making field goals in cold road games.

* 3. Green Bay: Does Brett Favre have one more good year in him? How about Ahman Green? The answers to those questions will go a long way toward determining how well the Packers fare. Green Bay should do better than last season's 4-12 finish, but that depends on Favre, who's coming off the worst season of his career. His 29 interceptions were a dozen more than any other NFL quarterback. Of course, he didn't get much help from a depleted offensive line.

* 4. Detroit: The Lions should be more disciplined under new Coach Rod Marinelli than they were under Steve Mariucci. But will that translate into victories? Probably not. Detroit has a new offensive coordinator in Mike Martz, although it's unlikely he'll be able to replicate the "greatest show on turf" pyrotechnics he brought to St. Louis. After all, he's dealing with quarterback Jon Kitna, who's a great backup but leaves something to be desired as a starter. Could this be the year the Lions get value out of their three first-round receivers: Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams? Don't bet on it.

*

South

2006 predicted order of finish ...

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