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Friday, September 5, 2008

NFC West Week 1 Preview and Predictions

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Seattle Seahawks @ Buffalo Bills
The key to this game is the Seattle injury situation. Wide receiver Bobby Engram is out, with Deion Branch listed as doubtful, although he has said he will play. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has a back injury, which limited him to just two series of plays in the pre-season. The Hawks have a bevy of talented, albeit inexperienced receivers in Jordan Kent, Courtney Taylor and Logan Payne, each of whom should see significant reps playing opposite veteran Nate Burleson. The lack of playing time for Hasselbeck prevented him from working with the youngsters, which will have an effect on the Hawks passing game. The Bills, with quarterback Trent Edwards listed as 100% despite missing the final two preseason games with a bruised thigh, will have to work hard behind a patchwork offensive line which struggled during the preseason, a fact emphasized by the continued holdout of weakside tackle Jason Peters. Look for RB Marshawn Lynch to carry the ball at least 30 times. The first month or so should be the test for Seattle. If they can reach their Week 4 bye week no worse than 2-1, then they should control the division throughout. If the injuries prove too much to handle, then their season likely could be over before the break.
Prediction: Behind the offensive scheme enacted by new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, the Bills control the clock with short passes and a 33 carry, 130 yard performance from Marshawn Lynch and squeak out a 16-13 win.
St. Louis Rams @ Philadelphia Eagles
The Rams start the season behind the eight ball, as RB Steven Jackson missed the entire pre-season due to an ill-advised holdout. Tackle Orlando Pace returns after missing all but two series in 2007 due to injury, quarterback Marc Bulger will feel less pressure, but how much will he miss Isaac Bruce? The Rams defense allowed more than 115 yards per game on the ground, a point not lost on RB Brian Westbrook. Joined in the backfield by short yardage specialist FB Tony Hunt, the Eagles should have little trouble controlling the line of scrimmage. With WR Kevin Curtis out, QB Donovan McNabb will rely on shorter passes in an attempt to keep the defense honest against Westbrook.
Prediction: Behind the running of Westbrook and Hunt, and with the Eagles linebackers blitzing the Rams inexperienced offensive line at will, Philadelphia dominates from the opening kickoff and wins convincingly, 36-20.
Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers
Save their inability to beat San Francisco, the Cardinals would have reached the postseason the past two years. This is the third consecutive season the Cardinals have opened in San Francisco and are looking for their first win. Not surprisingly, Kurt Warner won the QB battle with Matt Leinart in the pre-season, and despite not playing well in San Francisco throughout his career, looks to get the Cards off to a 1-0 start. Warner isn't as mobile as Leinart, and has had a career long battle with fumbles, so the offensive line will need to hold onto their blocks a fraction longer to give Warner the time he needs. Fifth round pick Tim Hightower had a great camp and should see quite a bit of playing time spelling Edgerrin James and as another pass option out of the backfield. No report on the Cardinals would be complete without mentioning arguably the top WR duo in the league in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. San Francisco shocked the world when he named journeyman J.T. O'Sullivan his starting quarterback. New offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the offensive genius behind the Warner led offensive machine in St. Louis, has put in place a benign game plan for O'Sullivan, one designed to control the clock and avoid turnovers. The key to its success is the durability of RB Frank Gore, who not only is the focal point of the running game, but a factor in the passing game as well. WR Isaac Bruce followed Martz to the 49ers and brings with him his 942 career receptions, it remains to be seen how much he impacts a short, ball control offense.
Prediction: It isn't often you hear a Week 1 matchup being a "must win", but that's exactly the case for the Cardinals. With division rival Seattle struggling with injuries, it's imperative the Cardinals start strong and get themselves a cushion heading into the middle, and most difficult, part of their schedule. With a relaxed Warner leading the way, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald both reach the 100 mark in receiving yards, with Edgerrin James doing so on the ground. Cards win surprisingly easy, 34-10.

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