For the majority of this century the NFC West has been the weakest division in football, and yet they are the only division to send every team to a Superbowl since 2000 which is mightily impressive despite their 0-4 record in those Superbowls.
In recent seasons the NFC West has gone from having a 7-9 winner to something of a powerhouse as the Seahawks joined the 49ers as serious contenders in 2012. So what do they have to do to take that next step and win the divisions first Superbowl of the 21st century?
San Francisco 49ers
Notable Free Agents: Delanie Walker (TE), Ted Ginn (WR), Issac Sopoaga (DT), Ricky Jean-Francois (DE), Dashon Goldson (S)
Holes: Defensive Line, Defensive Back
After sending a 6th round pick to Baltimore for a year of Anquan Boldin the 49ers offense looks set for 2013, where they need work is the defense. Justin Smith's injury at the end of the season shed light on just how little production and pressure they get from the rest of their defensive line. Smith will turn 34 just a month into the 2013 season and is entering the last year of his contract. His successor needs to be found if the 49ers want to continue with their recent success on defense.
The 49ers could also stand to improve a secondary that struggled throughout the playoffs. Detroit and Tampa are thought to be the leaders for Dashon Goldson's signature, which would leave a big hole at safety. Thankfully the 49ers cashed in on Alex Smith to get the 34th overall pick this season from the Chiefs. That and the 31st overall pick could be packaged to move up should someone take their fancy, but they could also sit and take a Margus Hunt at defensive end and Jonathan Cyprien who is widely considered to be the 2nd best safety prospect of this draft class.
Notable Free Agents: Alan Branch (DT), Jason Jones (DT), LeRoy Hill (LB), Marcus Trufant (CB)
Holes: Offensive Line, Defensive Line
The Seahawks are a young team, and after hitting on key positions like left tackle, quarterback and safety in recent drafts should be set to compete for a long time. But they still need a bit of help along an offensive line that was inconsistent last year, particularly at right tackle. Their trade for Percy Harvin gives them the extra weapon they needed on offense, even if it cost them this seasons 1st round pick and more.
With the best secondary in football and a young set of fast linebackers the Seahawks back 7 is deadly, but up front they can be lacking. Chris Clemons' ACL injury forced rookie Bruce Irvin into an every-down role that he was totally unequipped for. Despite his skill as a situational pass rusher, and Red Bryant's ridiculous athleticism (no man that size should move that quickly) the Seahawks are in need of another every-down player at defensive end, especially with Branch and Jones potentially leaving town which might force Bryant back into the middle of the line. The Seahawks have already bought John Abraham in for a visit, and while he would provide some help for 2013 he's no long term answer as he nears his 35th birthday.
St. Louis Rams
Notable Free Agents: Steven Jackson (RB), Danny Amendola (WR), Jason Brown (C), Craig Dahl (S)
Holes: Offensive Tackle, Wide Receiver, Defensive Tackle, Outside Linebacker, Safety
The St. Louis Rams were a tough out for most teams last year. They went 1-0-1 against the 49ers, pushed Green Bay and Detroit close and nearly beat Seattle at the peak of their powers in week 17. But if they want to go form "nearly won" to victory and break that .500 mark for the first time since 2006 they're going to have to bring in some more talent.
2012 saw yet another terrible season from the Rams offensive tackles. Sam Bradford has taken 71 sacks in his last 26 games, and all those hits can add up to David Carr syndrome if the Rams aren't careful. As a result they are very interested in bringing Jake Long to town. While injuries have hampered Long recently, he got a clean bill of health from none other than Dr. James Andrews. Still, those injury worries, which have resulted in poorer play than we're used to from him recently, could keep his price down for St. Louis. There are also plenty of options for them in Sebastian Vollmer, Andre Smith or Max Starks.
The Rams also have 2 first round picks this season (16 and 22) which should see them pick up some offensive line help should they miss out on their free agent targets. Their other 1st round pick could well be used on finally getting Sam Bradford a big target to work outside the numbers, especially since the Rams aren't looking likely to agree with Danny Amendola on an extension.
Notable Free Agents: La'Rod Stephens-Howling (RB), Todd Heap (TE), Adrian Wilson (S)
Holes: Offensive Line, Tight End, Quarterback, Outside Linebacker, Safety
Yes, the Cardinals offensive line did improve late in the season. But that's not hard after just how badly they played at the start of the year. Bobby Massie looked out of his depth at right tackle while D'Anthony Batiste might have been the worst player at any position in the NFL last year. The Cardinals should be in the market for any offensive linemen this offseason, as well as hoping Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher fall to them at 7th overall.
Behind that offensive line it was nearly impossible for any passing game to get going. But on the brief occasions there was protection, all the QB's who came through Arizona struggled. Putting a rookie behind that same O-Line in 2013 could be disastrous, but should they find fresh talent for it in free agency than Geno Smith could definitely be an option for them in the first round.
On defense the Cardinals need some more production from their outside linebackers if they're to make the most of what is a very talented unit. The release of Adrian Wilson also leaves a big hole at safety. Replacing someone like Wilson is a very tough job, there's no one on the market who can play up in the box and cover like he can.
- Toby Durant (@TDonSport)
- The Pulling Linemen