NFC West: 2010 predictions

710ESPN Seattle radio host Dave Grosby put me on the spot Thursday by asking whether I thought Seattle or Chicago would win in the NFC divisional round Sunday.

I leaned toward the Bears, figuring their defense would play too well and force turnovers.

But in the back of my mind, I allowed for the Bears' nightmare scenario: a loose Seattle team taking the lead at Soldier Field, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz straying from the run and quarterback Jay Cutler blowing the game with interceptions.

We'll get to the prediction part of this weekly item soon. First, though, I wanted to recognize CoasterNiner for calling the New York Jets' victory and 17-16 final score against Indianapolis in the wild-card round. Way to go.

To join CoasterNiner on the Wall of Fame (see chart below), simply use the comments section of this item to predict winners and final scores for the follow divisional-round games:
Good luck to all.

The New Orleans Saints opened the week as 10.5-point road favorites over the Seattle Seahawks.

What say you?

Those familiar with our weekly "You called it" competition -- and there were no winners in Week 17 -- know the drill.

Simply use the comments section of this blog entry to predict outcomes and scores for games involving NFC West teams. As a bonus, and because the Wall of Fame hasn't added fresh talent in a while, I'll expand the contest this week to include all games in the wild-card round:
Fire away.

Futile NFC West projections, take 467

November, 18, 2010
710ESPN Seattle host Dave Grosby asked for updated NFC West projections during our recently completed conversation on the Seahawks Huddle program.

I might have better luck purchasing a lottery ticket.

It's been that kind of year for projections in the NFL overall.

A week ago, the Arizona Cardinals appeared in prime position to finish as well as 8-8 given their road through the NFL's easiest second-half schedule -- provided they defeated Seattle in Week 10. They lost to the Seahawks, and badly, amplifying questions about their overall competency.

I still think 8-8 could win this division.

Right now, Seattle has the simplest road to a .500 season. The team sits atop the NFC West with a 5-4 record. Seattle has a 3-1 division record and two road victories. Getting that victory at Arizona bought some room for error. The Seahawks could lose one of their four remaining home games and still finish 8-8.

The chart sizes up remaining schedules for NFC West teams. First, let's take a stab at paving the road to 8-8 for each team in the division.

Seattle Seahawks

Record: 5-4

Chances for 8-8: 50 percent

Most likely road to 8-8: Win home games against Kansas City, Carolina and St. Louis. The Seahawks probably will be favored in each of those games. They also face Atlanta at home. The Falcons will be coming off two road games when they travel across the country to play Seattle -- with a Monday night home game against division-rival New Orleans waiting for them on the other side. Keeping Matt Hasselbeck in the lineup is key.

St. Louis Rams

Record: 4-5

Chances for 8-8: 25 percent

Most likely road to 8-8: The Rams need to win one of their next two games, then win at Arizona before returning home to beat Kansas City and San Francisco. Losing to the Cardinals at home in Week 1 and against the 49ers in overtime last week makes the Rams' road much tougher. The team has not yet won on the road. Upsetting the Falcons in Week 11 might be a must for the Rams given their schedule.

Arizona Cardinals

Record: 3-6

Chances for 8-8: 25 percent

Most likely road to 8-8: The Cardinals could get to 8-8 by winning their remaining home games and beating Carolina on the road. After visiting Kansas City in Week 11, the Cardinals return home for three games, a critical stretch that will likely determine whether Arizona posts a losing record for the first time under coach Ken Whisenhunt. Losing to the Chiefs would mark five consecutive defeats for the Cardinals. Could they recover?

San Francisco 49ers

Record: 3-6

Chances for 8-8: 25 percent

Most likely road to 8-8: The 49ers could get there by winning their next two games, winning at home against Seattle in Week 14 and then winning their last two games (at St. Louis, home for Arizona). The team has won three of its last four, raising hopes. But the 49ers play four of five games on the road after facing the Bucs at Candlestick Park in Week 11. The 49ers have yet to win in an opponent's home stadium this season. The Rams will be looking for payback in Week 16.

Uncertainty surrounding three of four NFC West teams gave me an uneasy feeling making game-by-game predictions Thursday.

Some of your feedback didn't help, either.

"I do know this: When the Hawks do beat the Rams this year (in Week 4) I'm going to make Sando eat his words! Count on it!" redzone59 wrote in response to a 5-11 projection for the Seattle Seahawks.

He was not alone.

"Oh, what a surprise, Sando thinks the Hawks will totally suck and San Fran will dominate," bowlingDizzle wrote. "You are the most predictable commentator on here. Every year you say that [stuff]."

Except for 2008, when I had Seattle winning 11 games, two more than they won that season and in 2009 combined.

But, alas, others also felt jilted.

"Sando! You're a DWEEB!" LAXO-85 wrote, contending that my seemingly generous 10-6 projection for the San Francisco 49ers wasn't optimistic enough.

I did find a friend in Joe_Couch: "Sando, I honestly got to admit I thought you weren't going to do predictions for the Cards, because they are still so hard to predict."

Amid the fallout, I went back through the 2009 game-by-game predictions to see just how poorly these types of projections work out. Guess what? The results were far, far better than expected.

My 2009 picks were right 81.3 percent of the time. That included going 14-2 on 49ers predictions, 14-2 on Rams predictions, 13-3 on Seahawks predictions and 11-5 on Cardinals predictions.

That comes out to 52-12 overall.

Darnell Dockett will surely be impressed. Gotta run. Just got picked up for some football in the street.

Projecting the Cardinals' 2010 record

September, 9, 2010
The first three NFC West game-by-game projections produced a few surprises.

The St. Louis Rams started 3-3. The Seattle Seahawks started 0-6. The San Francisco 49ers went 7-1 at home. And now, against probability, the Arizona Cardinals follow a five-game winning streak with a three-game losing streak to finish the season at 9-7, only one game off their pace with Kurt Warner a year ago.

Here's one prediction you can take to the bank: It's not going to play out that way. Unreliable variables influence seasons. Quarterbacks get hurt. Some teams hit stride unexpectedly. It's not who you play so much as when you play them, the saying goes.

What will the Cardinals get from quarterback Derek Anderson? Will Max Hall be starting by October? November? I've said all offseason it's a credit to the Cardinals if they can get to 8-8 or better this season. My game-by-game projection says they've got a chance, thanks to quite a few established veteran players, some proven coaching and some friendly matchups:
Week 1: win at Rams
Week 2: lose at Falcons
Week 3: win vs. Raiders
Week 4: lose at Chargers
Week 5: lose vs. Saints
Week 6: no game
Week 7: win at Seahawks
Week 8: win vs. Bucs
Week 9: lose at Vikings
Week 10: win vs. Seahawks
Week 11: win at Chiefs
Week 12: win vs. 49ers
Week 13: win vs. Rams
Week 14: win vs. Broncos
Week 15: lose at Panthers
Week 16: lose vs. Cowboys
Week 17: lose at 49ers

This projection would see the Cardinals taking a 9-6 record into San Francisco with the NFC West title on the line. What's your take (not that you needed prompting)?

Projecting the 49ers' 2010 record

September, 9, 2010
The first month of the 2010 regular season appears tough for the San Francisco 49ers.

Even their Week 5 game at home against Philadelphia could be problematic.

But in taking a game-by-game look at their schedule, I found 10 victories, even with a split against Arizona. The 49ers would have a 5-1 NFC West record for the second season in a row under these projections, and they would take a 9-6 record into a Week 17 home game against the Cardinals.

Lots can change, of course. The 49ers' road defeat at Seattle last season reminds us that the Week 1 visit to Qwest Field could go against the Seahawks. The 49ers could still lose road games against average teams.

A game-by-game look at how the 49ers' season might -- but will not -- play out this season (projected victories in bold):
Week 1: win at Seahawks

Week 2: lose vs. Saints

Week 3: win at Chiefs

Week 4: lose at Falcons

Week 5: win vs. Eagles

Week 6: win vs. Raiders

Week 7: lose at Panthers

Week 8: win vs. Broncos

Week 9: no game

Week 10: win vs. Rams

Week 11: win vs. Bucs

Week 12: lose at Cardinals

Week 13: lose at Packers

Week 14: win vs. Seahawks

Week 15: lose at Chargers

Week 16: win at Rams

Week 17: win vs. Cardinals

I haven't done the Arizona projections yet, but it's looking like my projections will put the NFC West title in play heading into Week 17. Claiming a couple early road victories -- at Seattle, at Kansas City -- would really help the 49ers take a step forward this season.

Thanks in advance for embracing every aspect of this projection without complaint. Or, more likely, see you in the comments section.

Projecting the Seahawks' 2010 record

September, 9, 2010
Giving the St. Louis Rams that victory in Week 4 seemed like a decent idea at the time.

The Rams haven't won a division game since 2007. The that should end at some point soon, I think, and when better than against the retooling Seattle Seahawks?

The problem, in retrospect, is that Seattle needs more victories than I could readily find on the Seahawks' schedule. Take away a previously routine victory at St. Louis and it's reasonable to think Seattle could take, say, an 0-6 record into Oakland.

Please do state your case if I'm terribly off-base here. I've been thinking of Seattle as a six- or seven-win team, but can you find that many likely victories on the schedule without projecting better-than-realistic results for the offensive line and beyond?

Let's take a run through Seattle's schedule:
Week 1: lose vs. 49ers
Week 2: lose at Broncos
Week 3: lose vs. Chargers
Week 4: lose at Rams
Week 5: no game
Week 6: lose at Chicago
Week 7: lose vs. Arizona
Week 8: win at Raiders
Week 9: lose vs. Giants
Week 10: lose at Cardinals
Week 11: lose at Saints
Week 12: win vs. Chiefs
Week 13: win vs. Panthers

Week 14: lose at 49ers
Week 15: lose vs. Falcons
Week 16: win at Bucs
Week 17: win vs. Rams

I've tried to avoid bold predictions. None of the projected outcomes would qualify as a big surprise under the circumstances. But it's also tougher to predict results for Seattle given how many changes the team has made. The Seahawks have fewer players back from last season than any team in the NFL.

The uncertainty surrounding Seattle dissuaded me from singling out potential "swing" games, as I normally would when projecting a schedule. A home victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the opener would certainly change perceptions. It's not a long shot; Seattle beat the 49ers at home last season. But I have a hard time predicting that outcome with Seattle searching for answers in so many areas.

Under this projection, the Seahawks would win four of the final six games, a reversal from last season. But their record would remain the same: 5-11.

Projecting the Rams' 2010 record

September, 9, 2010
The annual game-by-game predictions for NFC West teams will be rolling out on the blog throughout Thursday, beginning with a 5-11 projection on the St. Louis Rams based on these projected outcomes:
Week 1: lose vs. Cardinals

Week 2: lose at Raiders

Week 3: win vs. Redskins

Week 4: win vs. Seahawks

Week 5: win at Lions

Week 6: lose vs. Chargers

Week 7: lose at Bucs

Week 8: win vs. Panthers

Week 9: no game

Week 10: lose at 49ers

Week 11: lose vs. Falcons

Week 12: lose at Broncos

Week 13: lose at Cardinals

Week 14: lose at Saints

Week 15: win vs. Chiefs

Week 16: lose vs. 49ers

Week 17: lose at Seahawks

I've used red type to identify projected defeats that could qualify as "swing" games for hopeful fans. The opener against Arizona isn't in red type because I didn't want Ken Whisenhunt printing out this blog entry as more evidence of disrespect toward his two-time defending NFC West champs.

Last season, I couldn't find a victory on the Rams schedule until their eighth game, and that's how the first half of the season played out. This season, there might be some reaching going on with my projected Rams victory over Carolina in Week 8, but otherwise I had the Rams losing eight in a row, and I think they'll do better than that this season. They nearly beat New Orleans and Houston at home last season.

The Rams do draw a more favorable home schedule this season in terms of opposing quarterbacks. They faced Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Kurt Warner and Matt Schaub at the Edward Jones Dome last season. That's a brutal home schedule for a team that wasn't going to fare well on the road. The Rams need some more manageable home games this season. They still face some good quarterbacks, but the list isn't nearly as formidable as the one from 2009.

I gave the Rams a 4-4 home record as a result. That could be generous, but not if the Rams have better luck with injuries this season.