NFC West Expectations
San Francisco 49ers – I personally think the 49ers will be representing the NFC in the Super Bowl this year. The 49ers have a great defense led by Patrick Willis. Their defense will only get better because of the development of outside linebacker Aldon Smith. Aldon should become one of the best defensive players in the next couple of years. On offense the 49ers will be much improved in the passing game because they signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. However, the wild card on their offense is back up quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Jim Harbaugh was recently quoted saying “Colin was nearly perfect today.” This is referring to a minicamp practice. If Colin starts this year at quarterback, the potential is there for a potent quarterback.
Seattle Seahawks – I don’t expect too much out of the Seahawks this year. They signed free agent quarterback Matt Flynn who should be the starter this year. Matt should be a solid starter, but I doubt he will be able to put a team on his back and lead them to the playoffs. Also, the Seahawks have a solid running game this year with Marshawn Lynch. On defense they have a solid secondary led by Earl Thomas. This offseason they drafted Bruce Irvin in the first round to help there much maligned pass rush. Overall I think the Seahawks have some solid players, but for them to make the playoffs they must win the division. Unfortunately, I think San Francisco is one of the best teams in the NFL.
Saint Louis Rams – The Rams are an up and coming team that should be in Super Bowl contention in a couple of years. The Rams are lead by quarterback Sam Bradford who is looking to have a bounce back year after his subpar season. My biggest concern on offense for the Rams is their offensive line. Sam Bradford was beat up and injured last year do to subpar line play. On defense they have added an infusion of young talent. Most of there young players are high risk high reward so if they gambled right and most of these players pan out their defense will be one of the best in the NFL probably led by Robert Quinn, Jenoris Jenkins, and Trumaine Johnson. Another reason I like this team so much is the number of draft pick they have over the next two years. They will have 4 first round picks over the next 2 years. If the Rams draft well these next two years they have the potential to be a force in the NFL.
Arizona Cardinals – This team is by far the worst team in the division. They have Kevin Kolb as there starting quarterback who is a game manager at best. They have a plethora of good running backs in Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams. Also, they have 2 good wide receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. The offense weak link is their offensive line. On defense they some good players, but as a whole they are a subpar unit. At defensive end they have pro bowl defensive end Calais Campbell and at linebacker they have future star Dayrl Washington. Overall the Cardinals will be competitive this year, but won’t be able to win many games
I’ve got to get something off my chest. My last predictions had some flaws in them, and I apologize. Regardless, I still have four of my six predictions alive, and 4/6 equals 2/3 which is two times 1/3 which happens to be the number of predictions Blase got right in last weeks round of playoff games (Boom). Because of this, I strongly advise you to read this over Blase’s predictions. So, for this round of playoff games, I thought I’d bring in my expertise and give you a proven experts opinion on these games.
Patriots vs. Ravens, Sunday 3:00 pm
This game has quite the odd vibe to it. On one hand, you’ve got the Patriots who had an extremely impressive win against the Broncos and on the other, you’ve got the Ravens who struggled to get by the Texans who was quarterbacked by T.J. Yates. Based on conventional wisdom, one should conclude that the Pats should win, but conventional wisdom is often predictable and under thought. So, I compare the thoughts of the average sports fan with my thinking.
Conventional thinking: Wow, this is not going to be a game. God’s nephew vs. T-Sizzle? T-Sizzle, wait a minute, isn’t that Taylor Swift’s rap name? I mean God’s nephew did make the Mile-High Messiah look like Harold Camping (the guy who predicted the world was going to end last May), so Brady will probably make Flacco look like some hillbilly with a hideous Fu Manchu… oh wait. On top of all that, they’re playing in Foxboro, which makes the Ravens chances of succeeding similar to Charles Barkley’s chances of losing weight. The only thing shocking about this matchup is that the Patriots are only 7 point favorites. This will be a blowout.
My thinking: Wow, this is going to be a great game. God’s nephew vs. T-Sizzle… Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Cheeseburger (Ngata’s nickname for Terrence Cody) and, of course, Ray Rice. Brady has put this team on his back for so long that he probably has some form of chronic back pain that I’m sure one of the Ravens’ defensive menaces will bring out by the end of the game. The Pats may be 13-3 this year, but they haven’t beaten anyone with a winning record all year (even the Broncos finished 9-9). They only played two playoff teams (besides the Broncos, but their hardly considered playoff caliber) during the regular season (Giants and Steelers) and lost them both. Also, their defense is awful. People (including Ed Reed) have been giving Flacco beef all week for his inability to score against the Texans last weekend, when really no one has been able to score on the Texans all year. The Texans have given up the 4th fewest points all year only behind the Ravens, Steelers, and 49ers, and only 12 points more then the Ravens. I still don’t think the Ravens will light up the Patriots offensively, but I can easily see them scoring over 30 points which will be more then the Ravens are going to give up to the Pats.
49ers vs. Giants, Sunday 6:30 pm
What’s not to like about this matchup. Two premier franchises, each led by two back-to-back #1 overall draft picks, going head to head in one of the most historic stadiums around today with stellar defenses on both squads. Just thinking about it gives me a quarter-chub, and if you think that’s weird, you’re right. As you may know from reading my previous article, I have been on the Giants bandwagon for quite some time now, and when I should be saying, “Told you so,” I’m saying “Get me off this bus.”
Last weekend, I sat down to watch the Packers-Giants game in my basement and something felt really out-of-place. It was a similar feeling to watching Two and a Half Men with Ashton Kutcher instead of Charlie Sheen. I knew something was up and then when the Packers kicked that onside kick in the second quarter, it all clicked. The 15-1 Packers, and #1 seed in the NFC, were playing like they were underdogs. Onside kicks in the second quarter are only acceptable in two situations: a) you’re trying to surprise a team that has been called better then you by everyone all week(i.e. the Saints vs. Colts in the 2010 Super Bowl) or b) you’re clinically insane (there are still no examples of this occurring in the NFL). After doing some research, I figured out that Mike McCarthy isn’t insane and that the Packers were the favorites in the game, so it wasn’t any of those situations. But I thought some more and can now say that the Packers kicked an onside kick because Mike McCarthy is kind of insane and people were kind of saying the Packers might lose. As a result, the Giants were able to beat the former world champions without much of an effort. To most, this was a very convincing win, but to me it just didn’t seem right.
The 49ers, on the other hand, had a very impressive win last weekend. Alex Smith finally looked like the Steve Young that everyone expected him to be as the #1 draft pick back in 2005. On top of that, they beat the Saints, the team that I predicted to win the Super Bowl. Going in to the playoffs, we all knew that the 49ers could play defense. All they needed to become Super Bowl contenders was solid play from Alex Smith, and I saw more than that last week.
In the end, I think the 49ers win this game because of the other Smiths, Justin Smith and Aldon Smith on the defensive line. These two feed of the success of the secondary and likewise for the secondary. If the secondary, lead by sudden stud in Carlos Rogers, is blanketing the Giants receivers, you know one of the Smiths will get to Eli, whereas if the Smiths apply pressure on Eli, their secondary is more then capable then picking off a hurried throw. Because of this, I give the edge to the 49ers.
For this weeek’s segment of Chatting with…we have a gem. With the 49ers soon to face off against the high-scoring New Orleans Saints in the playoffs, we thought who better to interview than a 49ers player. Yes, that’s right, this week’s interview is with Derek Hall, a Rockhurst High School graduate, former Stanford player, and currently a 49ers practice squad player. The 6’5, 307 pound tackle has been working hard to make the active roster and was apart of the Stanford football team that beat Virginia Tech in the 2011 Orange Bowl.
kcyoungguns: How difficult was the transition from Rockhurst to the Division 1 powerhouse Stanford University?
Derek Hall: It was a pretty difficult transition just because whenever you go up a level in competition the guys get bigger, stronger, and faster. You know it takes a while to get used to it to find your role. It took me a while; I didn’t end up starting until senior season because that’s when I finally figured out that offensive tackle was the best position for me. It’s just really challenging because you’re in a new environment and you’re at the bottom of the food chain and you just have to work your way up.
KC: How did you climb through the ranks to eventually become a starter at Stanford? What did it take?
DH: I actually ended up having to change positions because it just took me a while to figure out that I was better served playing offensive line then defensive line just because of my natural abilities. Therefore, I had kind of a slow start and eventually as I got better and guys ahead of me graduated I was presented with my opportunity and I found tremendous motivation to fight my up to getting the starting job. It actually all started after I lost my mom; I made a vow to myself that I would not graduate without her getting to see me play again. It just all fueled me to play harder than I ever had done before. Eventually when I was presented with the opportunity to start at tackle I just did everything I could to take the position. I was then able to have a really good senior year, and it all turned out well.
KC: Last year, you guys beat Virginia Tech in the Orange bowl in your first bowl appearance since the Sun Bowl in 2009. What was that feeling like?
DH: It was incredible. It was one of the biggest senses of accomplishment I’ve ever had in my life. It was just a super euphoric moment when you just feel the ultimate joy of everything you’ve worked so hard for culminating in an eruption of a really happy moment. You’re just really happy; you just want to hug everyone especially your teammates and celebrate in the moment together. It was just an amazing moment, one of the best moments of my whole life.
KC: Now we understand you declared for the draft last year and didn’t get drafted. What was the next step? How did you handle the adversity?
DH: You know I didn’t get drafted and it really hurt me. It just hurts your pride when you see guys getting drafted ahead of you that you feel like you could have played better then. But eventually I just shook it off and told myself that I couldn’t let anything break me. Now I kind of have an extra chip on my shoulder because I feel like I should have been drafted, I feel like I was good enough too. I just use that motivation that whatever team picked me up and signed me I was going to prove them wrong and prove to them that they should have drafted me. So I just kept working really hard and training with other guys and once the lockout ended two teams called including the 49ers and they really wanted me. It was good situation because I already knew the coaches there and I loved the Bay Area and it just felt like the right fit for me; especially since I already knew the offense so it would be a much smoother transition playing for the 49ers.
KC: Could you briefly talk about your relationship with old Stanford coach and now head coach of the 49ers Jim Harbaugh? How did that play into your decision?
DH: It had a lot of say in my decision. As an undrafted free agent I enter into the league in a much tougher role. No one is going to give you anything. Therefore if I go to a team where no one knows me I have to work with that team just to try to get them to like me to get them to want to keep me around. Whereas coach Harbaugh and the staff already know me, they know what they’re getting in me. They like me and they care, and therefore they’re willing to coach me up and get me ready. Whenever you have a personal relationship with somebody, you’re going to want to invest more in him or her, so I just knew that it was going to be a better fit.
KC: Currently what is your status on the team and what does that entail?
DH: I’m currently on practice squad trying to get better every week. Practice squad is where you’re apart of the team but you’re not on the active roster list so you’re not technically under a big, binding contract. Therefore, they can replace and let people go as they please throughout the season. Pretty much I practice with the team. I’m there to help give a really good scout look for the defense and get better because the ultimate goal is to train us and get us playing at a high enough level to get on the active roster and eventually play for them. They’re not going to keep practice squad guys around who they don’t think can eventually contribute to the team.
KC: How has the transition from Stanford to the NFL been? How is the competition and intensity different?
DH: The change is incredible. It’s the absolute highest level of football you can get too. The guys are way bigger, stronger, and faster; especially the defensive linemen. It’s absolutely incredible the kinds of athletes these guys are and that was my biggest transition: just playing against guys that are so much better than what I was used to playing with in college. It’s hard at first especially because you’re just so stressed as a rookie because of the environment. They can cut you whenever they want if you underperform so it’s a high intensity environment. But eventually I was able to get my mind right and get used to the conditions and not think about if I were going to get cut today. I just work my hardest and I know that in the end I gave it my all in camp and I just keep telling myself that and it has helped me transition much easier into the NFL; and I’m just working my way up.
KC: Who is your biggest inspiration?
DH: I’d have to say my dad. He’s such a great example of strength and responsibility and taking care of business. I’m so proud of him and all I want to do is emulate the strength and responsibility that he demonstrates everyday, like still raising my family without my mom. He’s just so supportive of everyone, especially me, when I’m handling all of the stress of the NFL right now. Yea, I’d definitely have to say my dad.
KC: When football is over, what’s the next step?
DH: I guess I have to go find a job! I want to work at a technology company because I studied communications and specifically how people interact with media and virtual reality at Stanford. I’m a technology guru so I see myself pursuing some kind of technology job eventually!
We would like to thank Zac Hardwick, who conducted the interview, and Derek Hall for completing it. If you missed them, check out our interviews with the Nebraska commit Mike Rose and the Kansas City Star’s Girls Golfer of the Year Baile Winslow. And remember, if you know someone who should be recognized for the week in our Chatting with… segment, email Blase Capelli at firstname.lastname@example.org or Spencer Montgomery at email@example.com.