The NFL offseason has finally calmed after waves of free agency and the draft. Teams are now in the midst of their offseason workout programs, and fans are getting antsy to the see all those offseason moves translated to the playing field. Few teams have had a busier offseason than the St. Louis Rams, especially in the NFC West. How soon will the Rams' moves pay off in the form a division title, something the team hasn't earned since 2003?
It's probably a little optimistic to think that this is the year that happens. The 49ers, as much as it pains me to admit it, are the odds on favorites to repeat as NFC West champs.
Can the Rams at least climb out of the division cellar? It's possible. Here's what I said about that possibility in the Rams offseason report for SBNation.com this week:
As bad as the Rams were last year, they still musted six sacks in two games against the Cardinals. Levi Brown is still a starter on their offensive line. Kevin Kolb and/or John Skelton is still their quarterback. Backed by a healthy, improved Rams secondary and a fearsome pass rush, they should roll over the Cardinals offense this season.
Seattle is a much better team, admittedly, but they still have a mix of WTFs at quarterback. Keep Sidney Rice in check - no problem for Finnegan - and the Rams defense should give Seattle's offense fits.
Of course, the other team bloggers were equally optimistic about their teams' fortunes this season when asked to compare how they stacked up to the division rivals.
The gang over at Field Gulls says to be wary of the Seahawks' pass rush.
With Clemons, and now Jones and Irvin rushing the passer on 3rd downs, Alex Smith, Kevin Kolb, and Sam Bradford will have to get rid of the ball much more expeditiously than they're used to when facing the Seahawks. It should be a huge boost.
Revenge of the Birds, the Cardinals blog, thinks they can challenge San Francisco with a more potent offense. Someone must have neglected to tell him that Kevin Kolb is their QB and Levi Brown is protecting his blind side.
The Arizona Cardinals are better prepared to face the hated San Francisco 49ers. After years of season sweeps from either team, 2011 brought a season split. Now, with the offseason, the Cards are in even better shape. They added Michael Floyd in the draft. This alone will add a dimension to the Cardinals offense they haven't had since Anquan Boldin left. And we remember the days of Boldin mowing through Niner defenders.
Over at Niners Nation, they're less concerned with the NFC West than they are with a higher profile rival:
Arguably the 49ers biggest rival at this point would be the New York Giants. The 49ers edged out the Giants during the 2011 regular season and then lost in overtime in the NFC Championship Game. They will meet again this season and the 49ers added enough offense to get over the hump against a tough Giants defense.
I think the biggest threat for San Fran is falling back to the mean when it comes to injuries. They avoided costly injuries last season, and that's a rare feat to accomplish two years in a row. You also have to wonder about Alex Smith; was 2011 real or an illusion?