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NFL

NFC team outlooks

Sam Farmer breaks down the NFC and picks division winners.

September 04, 2013|By Sam Farmer
  • Second-year quarterbacks Russell Wilson, left, and Robert Griffin III, right, will look to take their respective teams to the playoffs.
Second-year quarterbacks Russell Wilson, left, and Robert Griffin III,… (Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images…)

Sam Farmer’s team outlooks are listed in predicted order of finish.

WEST

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
2012 | 11-5, 2nd in West
Last year in playoffs | 2012

They’re going all the way: This team won seven of its final eight regular-season games — including a 42-13 pounding of San Francisco — before beating Washington in a road playoff game, then nearly winning at Atlanta. The Russell Wilson-led Seahawks are loaded.

They’re doomed: Losing receiver Percy Harvin to injury hurts. A lot hinges on the recovery of defensive end Chris Clemons (ACL surgery). He had at least 11 sacks in each of the last three seasons. What’s more, the team will be without linebacker Bruce Irvin for the first four games after his banned-substance suspension.

Now hear this: “I had no idea how fast he was. I had no idea. By the time I got after the bull rush, I’m looking for this guy. He’s like 5-3, 5-4, whatever he is, and I can’t find him. By the time I find him I was like, ‘Oh, here goes a sack.’ Next thing you know, ‘Oh, no’ and I’m chasing him.” —Dwight Freeney, former Colt and current Charger, to XTRA Sports on Wilson

SAN FRANCISCO
2012 | 11-4-1, 1st in West
Last year in playoffs | 2012

They’re going all the way: What’s not to like? They have a phenomenal coach, a stifling defense, a sturdy running game, and a revolutionary young quarterback who plays behind one of the best offensive lines. They’ve steadily improved under Jim Harbaugh, and last season came within five yards of winning the Super Bowl.

They’re doomed: History has not been kind to teams coming off Super Bowl losses. Only two teams have won the Super Bowl a year after losing it, Dallas and Miami, and that was back in the 1971 and ’72 seasons. Getting out of their division will be tough enough for the 49ers, with powerhouse Seattle looming. And remember, St. Louis was 1-0-1 against the 49ers last season. Losing top receiver Michael Crabtree hurts too.

Now hear this: “I’m going on the record saying the 49ers win two Super Bowls in the next eight years. They’ll be the winningest team in the next decade.” — Roger Craig, former 49ers back, to ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS RAMS
2012 | 7-8-1, 3rd in West
Last year in playoffs | 2004

They’re going all the way: The Rams were 2-1-1 against San Francisco and Seattle last season, and Jeff Fisher is one of the NFL’s premier coaches. Their top pick, West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin, could wind up as the offensive rookie of the year. Sam Bradford is in the same offense in consecutive seasons for the first time and the defense, which had a league-best 52 sacks in 2012, has the makings of a top-10 unit.

They’re doomed: Steven Jackson is gone after nine seasons, the last eight of which he rushed for at least 1,000 yards. That leaves a void on the field and in the locker room. Bradford has yet to have a winning record in his three seasons, and even if the Rams are improved, they face an uphill battle in the NFL’s toughest division.

Now hear this: “Defenses are going to have to choose who they pay attention to. There’s just a sense of speed now, where in the past we might have had speed at one position but no true burners.” — Bradford, to USA Today

ARIZONA CARDINALS
2012 | 5-11, 4th in West
Last year in playoffs | 2009

They’re going all the way: Bruce Arians finally gets his chance to be a head coach after winning coach-of-the-year honors last season as an interim in Indianapolis. Maybe he can wring the best out of Carson Palmer, the way he got so much out of Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and others. The Cardinals have a top-shelf receiver in Larry Fitzgerald and one of the premier athletes in cornerback Patrick Peterson.

They’re doomed: Did the Cardinals even field an offensive line in 2012? It was hard to tell, as Arizona could neither run the ball nor protect the quarterback. The line will be improved this season, but by how much? That’s an ominous question in a division dominated by outstanding defenses, and for a team with a mobility-challenged, drop-back quarterback.

Now hear this: “I don’t see the dominance that everybody else talks about. One of those teams may be [dominant]. It still has to be played on Sunday.” — Arians, to AZCardinals.com, on the NFC West

SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS
2012 | 13-3, 1st South
Last year in playoffs | 2012

They’re going all the way: The Falcons broke through last season and reached the NFC championship game. They have one of the highest-powered offenses, with Matt Ryan throwing to Julio Jones, Roddy White and, for one last year, Tony Gonzalez. And now they’ve added running back Steven Jackson.

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