The NFC West has been extremely hyped this offseason, and for good reason, as the San Francisco 49ers are coming off of a near-championship season, the Seattle Seahawks look like legitimate contenders, and the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals are both continuing to revamp and improve their teams. The 49ers-Seawhawks competition has naturally taken the spotlight, as these have been and most likely will be the two best teams in the division. This offseason competition—albeit, one that takes place only between fans and analysts—has created two sides: one that believes the 49ers will repeat as division champions and another, growing, one that vehemently backs the Seahawks in this regard. Could recent developments, namely Percy Harvin’s surgery and Sidney Rice’s trip to Switzerland for a close look at his knee, alter the divisional balance of power?
Most likely, yes. The Seahawk’s trade for Harvin caused many analysts to fall in love with this team. Harvin was the “missing piece” for Russell Wilson and the dynamic offense. This missing piece is now, well, missing. Yes, the Seahawks have decent receivers behind their top two—Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, etc.—but it seems unlikely that these receivers will be difference makers that many expected Harvin—and Rice, back in the day—to be. All of this likely leads to likelihood that several analysts will revisit divisional predictions, often made after Michael Crabtree’s injury, and potentially place the 49ers back in the position of “favorites.”
The good news is that, despite predictions, games, divisions, and championships are earned on the field, not in ESPN studios. Despite a thousand predictions, only one outcome will happen—and it will be one that no one can predict entirely. Personally, I like the 49ers’ chances, even without Michael Crabtree. The 49ers have rarely had an exceptional receiving corps, and Kyle Williams, if he can stay healthy, should be an extremely underrated asset. The Seahawks, in contrast, have more overall catching up to do, and a lot of this was expected to come through Harvin. Russell Wilson, despite his impressive rookie campaign, appears more likely that Kaepernick to regress this season as well. His lack of height, and now lack of receivers, may discourage improvement on his part.
Pre-season predictions rarely amount to much, but in the case of a loaded NFC West, the 49ers seem to have lost some respect. The 49ers are the defending champs, and I expect them to play like champions.