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Article Teaser: It will be a tight division race, coming down to St. Louis or Arizona. The value play is on St. Louis, at 6.50 to 1 odds, to win the division (the pre-season number on Arizona is 3.25 to 1 odds to win the division). The better play here is St. Louis to win OVER 6.5 games. Our scorecasting models have the 2008 Rams winning 9 games; a deviation of 2.5 games from the Vegas total - which correlates to a strong betting line play.

Keep reading below...

The Wild Wild NFC West

Copyright (c) 2008-2017

Schedule wise the NFC west draws the very tough NFC East, and somewhat less challenging AFC East as common division foes. We see the non-common foes as having a significant impact in what looks to be a wide open division race.

The Vegas pre-season favorite, Seattle, simply has too many questions on offense to pencil them in as the outright division winner. They'll be in the hunt because they have the division's best defense, and surprisingly (at #20 overall in the NFL) the Seahawks had the best rushing offense in the NFC West last season. But the Hawks were able to take the division crown on the strength of their pass attack; and they simply are not going to be as strong over the top this year. Couple that with having to play the hardest schedule in the division and we see them as ripe candidates to take a step back. Arizona and St. Louis have made significant strides this off-season, the Rams in particular look to have several key players returning from injury, while Arizona has steadily improved by rock solid drafting. San Francisco is a mess - the ownership group just doesn't know football; and we don't see them at the top of the division so long as the York's control the football decisions. Outside of the Bay team this division should be a dog fight, up for grabs right up to the last few weeks of the season. However, in the end our bet is the Rams come out on top. Our 2008 NFC west division forecast looks like this:

St. Louis 9-7
Arizona 8-8
Seattle7-9
San Francisco 6-9


St Louis

Vegas has installed a pre-season win total for the Rams to win only 7 games. Our win/loss scorecasting models have St. Louis winning 9 games, and the division in the 2008 regular season.

Last year this offensive line had 4 starters miss games due to injury, including mainstay LT Orlando Pace, who was out for the entire season. The upside is several back-ups on the line gained valuable experience. They have several highly rated free agent linemen coming in who should improve the production of this unit immensely. Pace looks to be fully healed from his season ending shoulder injury - this unit should be one of the teams strengths, if not one of the better units in the NFL. The offense is led by All-Pro caliber QB Mark Bulger, surrounded by future hall of fame WR Torry Holt, and stud RB Steven Jackson. The Rams appear to have the strongest offense in the division, and could be one of the top 10 units in the entire league.

The defense gave up a respectable average of 341 ypg last year, but a whopping 27 ppg. Make no mistake this anomaly was primarily due to the difficulties of the offense moving the ball, and leaving the defense with poor field position. This year the defensive line returns healthy, and will be bolstered by first round DE Chris Long. Long will have an immediate impact on the St Louis pass rush making the entire defense better; he has a lot of moves as a pass rusher which is very unusual in a rookie. A player to keep an eye on is all-pro caliber free safety O.J. Atogwe - this guy can flat out play - in a pass happy division he is one of the better DB's in the division.

What puts the Rams over the top in what will be a tight division race is their strength of schedule - they have the easiest draw of non-common opponents in the league. They play a last place schedule and will host CHICAGO and travel to ATLANTA in the season finale - both are games they should be favored to win. If St. Louis can win those two games, then at least split their division games, and play .500 ball with the division's common conference opponents (including MIAMI and the NY JETS) - they'll have a realistic shot at winning 9 games.

Arizona

Arizona is going to be right there, and we won't be surprised if they pull out 9 (or more) wins and take the division. On offense they have what should be an improved offensive line, with potential all-pro bookend tackles. The Arizona line did get better last season and will probably improve this season, but James will be 30 at the start of the season and is approaching 3,000 carries, very significant landmarks in the career of most running backs. If QB Leinart improves on his decision making in his 3rd NFL season this could be a solid offense. There is a major question mark at RB, where Edgerrin James just doesn't have the break away speed anymore to make defenses fear him.

Defensively this unit has major question marks up front on the defensive line - where is the pressure on the QB going to come from? DE Calvin Pace left in free agency, and wasn't replaced. The linebackers and secondary are solid, but without pressure up front no defense can dominate in this league. It's a shame, because if the Cardinals had a pass rushing threat we think they make some noise this year. The defense will be bringing in a number of new players that will take some adjustment, and they still lack depth.

Arizona unfortunately draws MINNESOTA and @CAROLINA as non-common opponents - both are games where they'll have match-up problems, and it looks like they'll do well to earn a split.

Seattle

Vegas has the over/under on the 2008 Seahawks at 9 games. Take the under and run. Seattle's time has passed, have no doubt about it their window of opportunity has closed. We're not Seattle bashers, when many last year were predicting their demise, we went against the flow and correctly picked them to hold on and win the division in 2007. This year things have changed. They no longer have a respected rush attack, No. 1 receiver Deion Branch is coming back from major ACL surgery (an injury he received in the playoffs last year and which typically takes 12-18 months to fully recover from), and they lost their most promising young WR to free agency (DJ Hackett). What was once one of the best run-blocking offensive line units in the league has degenerated into a shadow of its former self. The O-line has declined due to the loss of key players in free agency, and key prospects not fulfilling potential. Rumors from Seattle suggest that they are installing a zone blocking scheme, not that it is hard to learn but changes always require adjustment and Jones didn't see much of that in Dallas, how well he reads the line will be tested. QB Matt Hasselbeck is a star player, but outside of Engram he's not going to have anyone to throw to, and he's not going to last the season lining up to throw behind this unit.

The defense is one of the better on paper in the league. It's a well disciplined and fast unit. However, the defense is not so good that it can carry a weak offense. When the offense struggles, and we believe that it will, the defense will struggle much the same way the Rams defense of 2007 struggled - they're not big and will simply wear down from being on the field too long - when that happens they're going to give up points late in games.

Seattle has never been a good road team, and this year they have several non-division road contests where they'll likely be installed as dogs (NY Giants, Tampa, and Dallas). We also see them struggling on the road at what should be a much improved Buffalo team in the season opener. The non-common opponent draw is Green Bay and Tampa - Green Bay has always given Holmgren fits and they'll do very well to earn a split between those two. Combine the obstacles of the tough road schedule, 1st place non-division schedule, improved division teams, with an anemic offense and a lame duck coach and you have the real prospect of a disappointing season.

San Francisco

What is there to like about the Niners? This team is the new version of the penny pinching Bidwell owned Cardinals. They're a well coached and scrappy team, and we even like to play them in the right spot. But they're not in contention to win the division. The worst thing that ever happened to the Niner's was Denise DeBartolo. They could reach 7 wins Vegas has them penciled in for, but it's probably more likely they’ll falter. The defense is solid, but the offense has the potential to really struggle. Consider that this is a long drop Martz offense, they don't have the offensive line talent nor receivers to pull it off and you have the recipe for a long season on the Bay. San Francisco is replacing most of their offensive line. Martz requires receivers that run precise routes and have superb timing, a description that applies only to Issac Bruce. (Neither Lelie nor Bryant Johnson make a lot of sense in this offense.) To make things worse Martz minimizes most running backs not named Marshall. The other part of this offense requires that the quarterback makes quick decisions and stand in the pocket and take the hit.

Summary

It will be a tight division race, coming down to St. Louis or Arizona. The value play is on St. Louis, at 6.50 to 1 odds, to win the division (the pre-season number on Arizona is 3.25 to 1 odds to win the division). The better play here is St. Louis to win OVER 6.5 games. Our scorecasting models have the 2008 Rams winning 9 games; a deviation of 2.5 games from the Vegas total - which correlates to a strong betting line play.


About The Author: Shop Amazon - Top Gift Ideas
Kurt Schumacher is an Editor at Football Forecasters, where he provides football commentary, and College and NFL Picks, leading up to and during each football season. Football Forecasters has been providing NFL team reports and football picks since 1999, through its public and membership websites. When you live for gridiron action, Football Forecasters should be on your browser's homepage. Get started now at: http://www.footballforecasters.com

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Internal ID: #6177
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