- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim from Tucson writes: Your predictions have the Cardinals with 9 wins, the 49ers with 8, the Seahawks with 7, and the Rams with 6. We all know last year the NFC West was not exactly a closely contested division. If your predictions ring true, 2009 will be a radical change in that regard. Does this mean you expect these four teams to be that closely matched in the coming season?
Mike Sando: This mostly means we don't have enough information to make sweeping declarations about these teams. The projections reflected schedules as much as they reflected perceived team strengths.
The Cardinals' schedule seemed to set up favorably for a quick start and a much better finish than last season. Kurt Warner won't face many cold-weather games, which helps. Arizona will have to work its way through Todd Haley's departure, but most key players return.
The 49ers are tougher to figure because they haven't named a starting quarterback. A year ago, Alex Smith was supposedly the favorite to start. No one was focusing on J.T. O'Sullivan. We all know what happened there. The coaching changes should help San Francisco become a more efficient team. We saw that happen late last season as Mike Singletary benched O'Sullivan for Shaun Hill while reining in the offense.
I thought the schedule makers were less kind to the Seahawks and Rams. Seattle's season also hinges on three older players getting healthy and staying that way. Based on 2008, what are the odds Patrick Kerney, Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones will make it through the season? Seattle's record could spike if they do.
The Rams got no breaks with the schedule. I could see them winning fewer than six games, but I also think the 2008 team went in the tank to a large degree. The coaching change and expected improvements on the offensive line -- some of which are pending in the draft -- could help the Rams become more respectable.
We have plenty of time to adjust the projections as we learn more about these teams. I thought it was fun to make projections based on an early look at the schedule.
Nick from Augusta, Ga., writes: Hey Sando, a Cards fan here. This is my first posting to you. I actually have a question about Seattle and San Fransisco. I know everyone wants them to draft Mark Sanchez but what's that say about Seneca Wallace and Shaun Hill/Alex Smith?
Seneca Wallace played awesome last year and was really careful with the football in his first time really as a starting QB. He threw 3 picks (2 @ ARI) and 11 TDs in 8 starts. I know he's 28, but why is he being overlooked? It seems to me as if the Athletic QB has a bad rep in this league. I also feel as if San Fran should address other needs.
Shaun Hill is an accurate, Smart QB kind of in the mold of Marc Bulger was after Kurt Warner was shipped out. I also feel Alex Smith wasn't given a fair shake either. The kid never had a chance under Mike Nolan. Constant change and on continuity will kill a rookie.
Mike Sando: Wallace has never thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in a season. He strikes me as the perfect backup because he moves so well and has a good arm. He also had spent enough time in Mike Holmgren's offense to become proficient in it.
One problem, longer term, is that Wallace stands 5-foot-11. Teams generally want their quarterbacks to stand at least 6-2. The thinking is that smaller quarterbacks have a harder time seeing the field. I know Doug Flutie was a very exciting example of a shorter quarterback beating the odds, but he was also a 54.7 percent passer with a 76.3 rating and only one truly strong season -- 1998 -- on his NFL resume.
Your point on Alex Smith seems valid to me, but that doesn't mean the 49ers should stand pat at the position. If Smith finally blossoms, great. Counting on him to do so? Risky.
The case for Hill is an easier one to make. However, it's telling to me that the 49ers aren't really making that case very strongly. They are keeping open their options. They also felt compelled to tell Smith he could compete for the starting job, a promise that helped them retain Smith at a reduced salary. That could be tempering what the 49ers are saying about Hill.
J.T. from California writes: What's your thoughts on Marvel Smith as a possible starting Right Tackle for the 49ers this season?
Mike Sando: Great while it lasts. This team has already played the injury game at right tackle with Jonas Jennings. The difference now is that Smith isn't costing the 49ers huge money by NFL standards. The move made sense for what it was -- a low-risk attempt to fill a need in free agency -- but it's tough to bank on a player with that kind of recent injury baggage. Expect the 49ers to address the position in the draft.
Kap from Florida writes: hey mike do you think it would be a bad idea for the rams to pass up Jason Smith and take Aaron Curry with the second pick? I mean, there are other good takles they can get in the second round, but no good linebackers on the level that Curry is on, and they do need a linebacker. What do you think?
Mike Sando: The need at tackle appears greater, so the question becomes whether finding a starting tackle after the first round is a sure thing. Some of the coaches and personnel people I know have said they don't see elite tackles at the top of this draft. Andre Smith might be most appealing from a physical standpoint, but he has also had a shaky offseason. It's tough investing the second overall choice in a seemingly flighty player.
I wouldn't have a problem with the Rams drafting Curry as long as they found ways to address the situations at tackle and receiver later in the draft. It can be done.
Nate from Mesa writes: Hey Sando. With all this Anquan Boldin trade talk circling the Cardinals, let's start to look down the road. If the Cardinals pull the trigger, who will be our #3 WR? Do we look at Jerheme Urban? The second-year man Early Doucet? Do we address this with one of our newly acquired draft picks?
Mike Sando: Drafting a receiver wouldn't seem to be a priority even if the Cardin
als traded Boldin. Doucet was a leading candidate for that No. 3 job a year ago until he suffered a hamstring injury that took him out of the running. Steve Breaston also outperformed expectations.
Minus Boldin, the Cardinals would give Doucet every chance to emerge. We can also expect Urban to compete well enough to still get playing time.
Potential changes in the offense could make the Cardinals less dependent on secondary receivers. Arizona will presumably attempt to replicate the more balanced approach that helped them during the playoffs. Warner needs the play-action game to keep defenses off-balance and make it easier for his line to pick up the pass rush.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando Jim from Tucson writes: Your predictions have the Cardinals with 9 wins, the 49ers with 8, the Seahawks with 7, and the Rams with 6.