A pretty easy argument could be made that the NFC
Worst West is going to be the pits of NFL this season - so the question we have is who has done the best job covering up their prior mistakes from a GM position to help their team shine from the depths of darkness?
Arizona Cardinals: Considering how bad their franchise has been over its history in Phoenix, the past few seasons have to be considered the peak of their fanbase's joy. Fresh off moving into a brand new stadium, they brought in veteran QB Kurt Warner and he lead the Cards to that near miss in the Super Bowl against the Steelers two years ago and then again won the division last season. Unfortunately Father Time eventually catches up with everyone and Warner has decided to lay down the pads for good, ushering in the Matt Leinart era - again. Leinart came into the NFL with as much college notoriety and prestige as anyone in recent memory, but his slowness on the field and fast life off of it has been widely to blame for his inability to take over the franchise reins. To make matters worse, his second best receiving option, Anquan Boldin, has jetted for the Ravens meaning superstar Larry Fitzgerald may see some legitimate triple-teams this season. Although the Cards defense looked sharp towards the end of last season, they lost starting safety and ball-hawk Antrell Rolle to the Giants and will likely be spending a lot more time on the field in 2010. They have recently signed a couple of veterans in Alan Faneca and Bryan Robinson, who should provide some leadership on both the offensive and defensive lines, but we're not convinced that more old age is what this team needs to get back to the promised land. They had a good run, and may have one more year atop the conference left in them, but it looks like the Cards will be back to "rebuilding" in the very near future.
San Francisco 49ers: The Niners are definitely the biggest enigma in the conference and possibly all of the NFL. On paper they have a great team, loaded with talent, but their inability to make big strides the last few seasons has left San Francisco fans scratching their heads. The teams use of its First overall pick in 2005 on QB Alex Smith has turned out to be like the Bill Parcells adage that a blown 1st Rd QB pick can set a team back 5 years. Well its almost 5 years later and Smith is still the go-to guy in San Fran. It hasn't all been his fault, as he has had to change coordinators and offensive schemes three times and had limited protection from the O-Line and few solid receiving targets. That has all changed - the hardnosed Mike Singletary era is about to start its second full season and Smith has a litany of offensive weapons at his disposal, including a beast in the backfield in Frank Gore, an apparent star WR in the making in second year man Michael Crabtree, and TE Vernon Davis who appears to embrace Singletary's strategy and had a breakout pro-bowl season in 2009. The Niners went out in the off-season and picked up Ted Ginn from the Dolphins, which gives them a game-breaking return man and added depth at the WR position. San Francisco also had two first rounders this year and used them both to sure up the OL, which should help to provide the QB all the protection he needs - there are no more excuses for Alex Smith and 2010 is the season he either puts it all together or officially joins the ranks of major NFL flops. On the defensive side the Niners are stacked, with lock-down (although overpaid) cover corner Nate Clements, possibly the best young LB in football in Patrick Willis and stud LB/DE Manny Lawson. They did also improve their D with the addition of USC's Taylor Mays, which appears to be just another piece in what was an overall great draft for the Niners. The team has seen a ton of success in their recent draft picks and with their work in Free Agency, but it seems like the looming cloud over San Francisco is their most important pick and most important position - so this is the season we will find out if that #1 selection of Alex Smith can turn into something great.
*Seahawks & Rams - after the Jump!*
Seattle Seahawks: A new regime change in Seattle has brought up Pete Carrol from the sunny skies of Southern Cal, to see if his third stint as an NFL head coach can go better than the previous forays. He mysteriously passed over the aforementioned Mays in last weeks draft, but by all accounts had a pretty successful weekend bringing in new talent to refresh the teams old legs. Post-draft the Seahawks signed a pair of young NFL vet RB's including shifty Jet's RB Leon Washington and Carrol's old SC bruiser LenDale White - who should both be able to come in as impact players in 2010. There is still a big hole at QB and none of these guys are going to lead the team to the Super Bowl next season, but they should be able to lay a solid foundation for the revamped offense to build on. While Carrol's SC teams were usually associated with high scoring offenses, he is actually a defensive coach first and is lucky to be inheriting a Seattle defense that isn't actually that bad. He's got pro-bowler (and former Trojan) Lofa Tatupu holding down the middle of the field, alongside their 2009 first round pick Aaron Curry. In his first draft as the bossman, Carrol added serious depth at Safety and CB, and helped to sure up the D-Line. His team is still a bit scattered, as many of the pieces (coach included) haven't spent much time together, but their road to rebuilding doesn't look very long and in the weak NFC West, they may be able to win their fair share of games in 2010.
St Louis Rams: When you have the first overall pick in the draft, you know your team sucks. The Rams haven't been the "Greatest Show" on anything in recent times, as their games rarely even get love during national Sunday evening highlights. They used their first pick this year to select Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford, who spent most of last season on the sidelines, banged up with shoulder injuries. Given his medical issues, it was a ballsy choice - but one that they had to make. There was no better QB prospect in the draft and the Rams couldn't pass up their opportunity to upgrade at the position and potentially start rebuilding for the future with a well-polished "Face of the Franchise". Bradford isn't alone in the backfield, as he has at least one offensive weapon in monster RB Steven Jackson who should be healthy and back to top form in 2010. Hopefully Jackson can continue to carry the load, because beyond him the Rams are very weak at the skill position. DE Chris Long, son of Howie and the Ram's #2 overall pick in '08, has begun to progress nicely - but like the offense, he doesn't have much around him to help. The Rams are likely to improve in 2010 - when you're at the bottom you can only go up - but not enough to make any difference in the conference race.