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NFC West Betting Preview
The San Francisco 49ers could not have played much better during the regular season in 2011 at 13-3 and were a few bad special teams plays away from making it to the Super Bowl for the first time since they won it in 1995. The good news is San Francisco is still stacked in terms of talent and has probably gotten even better on paper offensively with the addition of wide receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. 49ers quarterback Alex Smith showed vast improvement last year, completing a career-best 61 percent of his passes for a career-high 3,144 yards with 17 touchdowns. However, perhaps the most impressive stat working in Smith's favor was his NFL-low five interceptions for QBs playing in more than nine games. With an improved offense and one of the league's best defenses, San Francisco is an overwhelming favorite to repeats as NFC West champions at -250 in addition to being 11/2 to win the NFC Championship and 10/1 to win Super Bowl XLVII.
The Seattle Seahawks have made some minor improvements this offseason and hope to challenge the 49ers for the NFC West title this year. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll is in his third season with the team, won the division two years ago and yet has still not finished over the .500 mark there with two 7-9 campaigns. The first thing Carroll will need to do in order to reach that goal is figure out who will be under center to start the season. The Seahawks brought in former Green Bay Packers QB Matt Flynn during the offseason, signing him as a free agent to compete with incumbent starter Tavaris Jackson. They also drafted Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin, a move that most NFL experts questioned after shelling out $26 million for Flynn over three years. Seattle locked up defensive end Chris Clemons and running back Marshawn Lynch, signing them to contract extensions as well, but Lynch may be facing a suspension following his recent DUI arrest. The Seahawks are +400 to win the division, 30/1 to win the NFC and 50/1 to win the Super Bowl.
The Arizona Cardinals were expected to be much better than 8-8 last year, especially following the trade for former Philadelphia Eagles QB Kevin Kolb. Many NFL handicappers thought the Cardinals were the team to beat in the NFC West in the preseason but underestimated the impact of 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt went to the Super Bowl in his second season with the team but has not come close since then after QB Kurt Warner retired. Kolb's arrival did not improve the fortunes of the Cardinals, although second-year cornerback Patrick Peterson was outstanding as a rookie and made the Pro Bowl. Whisenhunt will need to find a way to keep Kolb on the field after he missed seven games last season, or else John Skelton could take his starting job away from him for good. Skelton may even end up winning the job in training camp, and whoever starts will have a couple great targets in All-Pro WR Larry Fitzgerald and rookie Michael Floyd out of Notre Dame. The Cards are +700 to win the division, 28/1 to win the NFC and 50/1 to win the Super Bowl.
The St. Louis Rams may have been the most disappointing team in the division last season at 2-14 after nearly winning the NFC West when QB Sam Bradford was a rookie. The third-year player out of Oklahoma took a step back and missed six games due to injury last season, and he obviously needs to stay on the field for his team to be successful. St. Louis head coach Steve Spagnuolo ultimately paid the price, as he was fired and ended up with the New Orleans Saints as their new defensive coordinator. Former Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher takes over for Spagnuolo and had hired former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to lead his defense, but Bountygate killed that move since he was banned from the NFL for a year. Fisher and the Rams did a good job of stockpiling draft picks to build for the future, so it will probably take a little time until they start to see the fruits of their labor. St. Louis is +900 to win the NFC South, 40/1 to win the NFC Championship and 75/1 to win the Super Bowl.