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West Division

In order of predicted finish (2008 record)

September 03, 2009|Sam Farmer

San Francisco 49ers (7-9)

Big questions: The new-attitude 49ers won five of their last seven games under Coach Mike Singletary. Can they sustain that momentum? They're on their seventh offensive coordinator in seven seasons, and Jimmy Raye will be looking to run Frank Gore between the tackles early and often. The tight end will be a big part of the game plan too. The defense improved vastly, as well, when Singletary replaced Mike Nolan but could get a lot better at pressuring the passer.

Big moves: Shaun Hill has earned the nod over Alex Smith for the starting quarterback job. Hill is 7-3 as a starter and 5-0 at Candlestick Park. The biggest free-agent pickup was cornerback Dre Bly, who's slated to start on the right side.

Bottom line: The charismatic Singletary is slowly but surely changing the culture of this once-proud franchise. Hitting and competition was a huge part of training camp. Now, we'll see if that translates into victories.

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Arizona Cardinals (9-7)

Big questions: Will the team change significantly with new coordinators on offense and defense? Can Kurt Warner again prove skeptics wrong and turn in another phenomenal season? How, if at all, will Anquan Boldin's unhappiness with his contract affect his play? Is Larry Fitzgerald the best receiver in the game?

Big moves: Bill Davis replaces the fired Clancy Pendergast at defensive coordinator, and two coaches -- Russ Grimm and Mike Miller -- will step in for former offensive coordinator Todd Haley, now coaching the Kansas City Chiefs. Edgerrin James is gone, so first-round pick Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower will power the ground game.

Bottom line: History does not favor the Cardinals, who are looking to become only the second team this decade to make the playoffs the year after losing the Super Bowl. The last time Arizona reached the postseason, in 1998, the team followed that with a 6-10 finish.

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Seattle Seahawks (4-12)

Big questions: How will Coach Jim Mora fare in place of Mike Holmgren? Did the Seahawks make the right move in passing up Mark Sanchez in the draft and instead using the fourth pick on outside linebacker Aaron Curry? Can Matt Hasselbeck bounce back from his most frustrating and injury-riddled season?

Big moves: T.J. Houshmandzadeh comes in to replace Bobby Engram and energize a receiving corps that has dropped far too many passes. Cornerback Ken Lucas should help, but the indefinite loss of two standouts -- cornerback Marcus Trufant and tackle Walter Jones -- really hurts. The addition of running back Edgerrin James could help take some of the workload off Julius Jones.

Bottom line: Hobbled in a big way last season, things don't look so rosy after training camp either. But if offensive coordinator Greg Knapp can get the running game going, it will take some pressure off Hasselbeck, who's still a very good quarterback.

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St. Louis Rams (2-14)

Big questions: Can the Rams find the end zone? The one-time touchdown factory scored only 20 last season and was held to fewer than 20 points in all but three games. Can Steven Jackson stay healthy? The running back has sat out four games in each of the last two seasons. Will the West Coast offense suit quarterback Marc Bulger? Can Coach Steve Spagnuolo bring with him some of the winning ways he helped foster as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants?

Big moves: The Rams have made a major investment in their offensive line, signing free-agent center Jason Brown (Baltimore) and using the No. 2 overall pick on Baylor tackle Jason Smith. Gone are two longtime stalwarts -- tackle Orlando Pace and receiver Torry Holt.

Bottom line: Winners of only five games in the last two years, the Rams are determined to turn things around. Spagnuolo has a tough task before him. He had great success in New York, but had better players.

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