If you’re a real and old school NFL football fan (you know, the kind that doesn’t need fantasy stats and money on the line to do things like…oh, completely ignore the little woman’s spontaneous stop-what-you-are-doing-and-listen-to-me sessions), then you just have to love the potential of the NFL’s NFC West this season. Yes, I know it’s a “perfect world” scenario but if every team here manages to be good if not great, WOW, and week 1 figures to start things off with a boom…possibly a BIG BADDA BOOM! Sorry Bruce, I couldn’t resist.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS vs. ST. LOUIS RAMS
First thing that springs to mind, Mr. Betting Mann, is that the Rams have won two of their last three square-offs, and that was with a pro-team deficient offense. It may have looked like the same ol’ Rams offensively for most of the preseason, but I assure you it’s not….Oops! Now I’m on record. Still, annual Super Bowl-level teams don’t remain there by accident.
Key Breakdown Points:
The Seahawks will be without O-lineman Max Unger against a Rams’ front line that is looking to collectively lead the league in sacks in 2015. Russell Wilson bought new running shoes, I hope. Point: Rams
Marshawn Lynch vs. Benny Cunningham or Isaiah Pead (or Trey Watts, game-time decision). Enough said. SCORE: Seahawks 1, Rams 1
Surprise package factor? Remember, the Rams won one of the two match-ups last season via tricky special teams tactics. Yeah, Pete Carroll remembers, too, and has a weapon of his own this year in Tyler Lockett, the latest human Swiss Army knife. A draw. SCORE: Rams 2, Seahawks 2
Russell Wilson vs. Nick Foles, an interesting dynamic. The newest starting Rams QB is not playing in familiar enough surroundings, yet the potential for major offensive improvement can be seen in the distance, while Russell is not in a new system and has new WR weapons at his disposal. SCORE: Seahawks 3, Rams 2
Jimmy Graham vs. anybody but Gronk! SCORE: Wait, hold your horses there, big guy! The Rams have done a number on the talented TE in the past when he was a Saint…What’s that? This isn’t the past and he’s no Saint? You have a valid point. SCORE: Seahawks 4, Rams 2.5
Home field advantage, St. Louis. FINAL SCORE: Seahawks 4, Rams 3.5
Well, you’ll have to click on “Week 1: Spreads & Predictions” to get an actually guesstimate, but I can promise you one thing you can bank on; there will be considerably more defense showing up here than in Thursday Night Football’s Patriots/Steelers game.
ARIZONA CARDINALS vs. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
One NFL Media analyst at the well-respected gold shield network’s web site predicts this game’s over/under at…wait for it…twenty-six! That’s one point less than he predicts the Seahawks-Rams game total (and nearly half of the Vegas over/under, 44-46). Really? Well, I believe we here at Fanosis can do better than that. In fact, I’m sure my grandmother can guess and come closer if I were to dig her up to ask.
Key Breakdown Points:
Drew Brees vs. Carson Palmer. Very interesting here because although Drew is and has been on that top-tier level where they not only give you the penthouse but the entire floor, Carson may take his toys and run to the same elevator by season’s end. The Saints have receiver Brandin Cooks set to explode in 2015 while the Cardinals have two or three Brandin Cooks, and they all cook with the same gas. To me, it’s a draw. 1 point each
Running is essential here. Drew is without TE Jimmy Graham now and Marques Colston (on those legs) will not be able to run from the talented and instinctive secondary of Arizona. I’m sure this means RB Mark Ingram will get his carries, and that’s a good thing for them. The Cardinals say that CJ2K is looking sharp so far and can still move, but I have yet to see anyone in their backfield that can produce like Ingram was doing before his injury last season. SCORE: Saints 2, Cardinals 1
Once you get past Colston and Cooks, only one other receiver figures to be potentially dangerous at wideout, a 6’6″, 225-pound Brandon Coleman. Quite the target on short routes. However, Arizona’s secondary is starting veteran CB Jerraud Powers (twenty-seven passes defended the last two years), and Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson opposite him and unless you’re new to football, you know what Peterson’s capable of. A healthy and ready to go Tyrann Mathieu on the back side screams INT-hungry defense. Meanwhile, The Saints will likely be without safeties Jairius Byrd (same knee from last year) and Kenny Vaccaro. Another three linebackers didn’t practice Wednesday, nor did yet another D-back and two running backs, C.J. Spiller and Tim Hightower, both with knee issues. This section is worth multiple points. SCORE: Saints 2, Cardinals 3.5
Center Max Unger landed in New Orleans and has the task of protecting Drew, as well as helping to anchor a solid running game….Did I mention that H.O.F.-worthy QB Drew Brees is over the oblique issues that bothered him a year ago and has looked extremely sharp (physically and mentally) this preseason? FINAL SCORE: Saints 3.5, Cardinals 3.5
San Francisco 49ers vs. Minnesota Vikings
The various what-to-watch polls indicate that this is not a game most NFL fans are interested in seeing with a great deal of urgency, but time permitting, I hope to squeeze it into my weekend schedule. This is weird to say, put down in print, or even think, but the 49ers have been pushing to topple the Cleveland Browns at the Grease Fire of the Year Awards show. Admit it, roadside fatalities have you smashing on those breaks, don’t they? However, a funny thing may happen on the way to your expectations: a fairly decent game may break out.
Key Breakdown Points:
At running back, Adrian Peterson vs. Colin Kaepernick & Co.? Let’s face it, there’s a good chance Kaep will have the most yards per carry despite Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush being in the backfield due to the almost-completely reconstructed offensively line unit. Honestly, A.P.’s return will be the main reason I’ll try to watch this game. The great ones are always worth the price of admission (or NFL Sunday Ticket, in this case). Unlike some, I’m not concerned with his year-long absence because you ask any pro-level running back and they will tell you it’s great to have fresh legs. I’m more concerned with the the Vikings’ O-line here, too. It’s not the same as Adrian remembers and I’m allowing for game-day cohesiveness, or lack of . That being said, first game back and all, let’s see one first. SCORE: 49ers 1, Vikings 1
Quarterback play. Here’s where it gets really interesting and personally, I’m looking forward to seeing if my eyes have seen what I think they’ve seen or if they need checking immediately. What they’ve seen is second-year QB Teddy Bridgewater’s noticeable improvement to the point where he looks both smarter and more NFL-well rounded than fifth-year Colin. It appears he can make every type of pass, including “touch” passes that may not be made when Minnesota’s defense is backed up against its own goal line. If Kaepernick has to run, he’s really fast so that makes him always a threat to break for that needed first down, but in this game brains behind a steady demeanor are at a premium. In the Colin Kaepernick vs. Teddy Bridgewater war points go to both with the edge to Teddy. SCORE: 49ers 2, Vikings 2.5
Capable receivers? San Francisco has the edge here with the find of Torrey Smith to compliment Anquan Boldin, and I’d give them an extra half point at least if I knew that Reggie Bush would see significant playing time for sure. Vernon Davis steps on the field and always looks like the man to stop…so why hasn’t he been? Bridgewater has receivers Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson to throw to. Maybe, just maybe, with Bridgewater, Patterson can become the star he has hinted at so often. For now, the ‘Niners get the nod. Score: 49ers 3, Vikings 2.5
Defensively for the 49ers, Navarro Bowman hasn’t played since 2013 but in preseason he’s been a beast attacking all over the field. Now, if they could clone him two or three times before the game Sunday… There’s been too much loss on this side of the ball for me to state anything but the obvious, but the game still must be played. Let’s give ’em a week of real-time action first. The Vikings D surely has its hands full, don’t be misled, but they win here if only by default. SCORE: 49ers 3, Vikings 3.5
Special teams and goal line is a must with this game but I won’t drag it on. The Vikings have Cordarrelle Patterson. If the 49ers continue to use Jarryd Hayne as their KR/PR it makes for good television but he doesn’t take it to the house unless the Vikings just flat out give up and turn tail from his solid core. However, down on the goal line you can bet there’s no better bet. FINAL SCORE: 49ers 4, Vikings 4.5