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Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Around the NFC West: Super Bowl pick

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Good morning, and welcome back following Memorial Day Weekend.

We're now less than two months away from the opening of training camps across the NFL.

These will be the slowest two months of the league calendar, at least for football junkies. But with polls and faux commercials to entertain and/or aggravate us, we're making it through. Mandatory minicamps scheduled for June 12-14 offer near-term sustenance.

Let's kick off this week with a Super Bowl prediction. Not mine, but one from a veteran 49ers beat reporter.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com is predicting a 49ers victory in Super Bowl XLVII, scheduled for New Orleans. Maiocco: "They will not finish the regular season with a 13-3 record because of a difficult schedule. ... But they should be a better all-around team. The front office kept the defense intact ... and they've added multiple big-play threats to assist an inconsistent offense. But this prediction is less about the newcomers pushing the 49ers over the top than the players already on board getting better." Noted: Maiocco lays out a logical case. I can think of three primary concerns. Quarterback health is one. The 49ers exceeded expectations in that area a year ago. Turnovers could even out some. Also, the 49ers benefited from playing postseason games at home last season. That is one key variable that could flip against San Francisco, particularly if that tough schedule leads to a lesser record. Alex Smith was generally much better at home last season. The 49ers played two close playoff games at home. Those games would be tougher to win on the road.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune sees a fitter Leroy Hill at Seahawks camp. Hill has never had one of those insanely cut NFL physiques, but with his body fat at 12 percent, he's looking leaner as his 30th birthday approaches in September. Hill: "I feel amazing. A little more muscle and leaner … I committed to the offseason program and I've been going hard and feeling great. I feel … youthful."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com notes the connection between former Seahawks defensive line coach Dan Quinn and new draft choice Jaye Howard. Farnsworth: "The Seahawks initially were attracted by Howard’s speed. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.82 seconds at the NFL scouting combine, but clocked a 4.72 in a later workout. They also liked the coaching he got at Florida -- where former Seahawks D-line coach Dan Quinn is the Gators’ coordinator and Bryant Young, a four-time Pro Bowl D-tackle during his career with the 49ers, was his position coach."

Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals defensive lineman Nick Eason has dropped 40 pounds since last season, a one-time correction after slowly adding weight throughout his career. Eason: "I like the sport of boxing and I saw how well-conditioned those guys are in. If you don't believe it, try to box three minutes. That's a long time when you're fighting." Noted: It's easy to discount these types of offseason stories about players rededicating themselves. However, lost weight is lost weight, and if Eason is down 40 pounds, that will play a significant role in shaping his season.

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Sam Bradford and the Rams' rookie receivers. One of the rookies, Brian Quick, took a red-eye back from rookie orientation in California after missing a flight when his headphones prevented him from hearing about a gate change. Quick: "I was waiting for three hours, so I had to listen to something. But I don't want to make excuses. They made an announcement, but my headphones were loud. It's a big airport. There were five of us that missed the flight. I've learned from my mistakes and moved forward." Noted: That type of mistake is easy to make, especially for athletes accustomed to team-organized travel in groups.