I don’t know how this momentous event slipped past my notice, but the schedule has been released. At first VERY brief glance, it seems a little more reasonable than last year’s (in that there aren’t any freakish late-mid-season three-consecutive-road-games packed in there.
And … only 3 preseason games? That’s kinda odd I guess.
So, early prognostication has the division in the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. I can’t argue with that at all. Alex Smith looked reasonable towards the end of last year – developed quite the rapport with Vernon Davis, and Michael Crabtree flashed signs that his hold-out for more money was deserved – and they appear to have the most stable offensive line (with the most depth too). Given that their defense is pretty solid, their running game stout, and their coaching staff breathing, all Alex Smith has to do is not revert to Ryan Leaf status and they should be okay; possibly even better than okay.
Of course, the Cardinals and their fans might have something to say. Namely that losing a quarterback doesn’t necessarily eliminate a 2-time defending division champ from contention. I think the Seahawks would have something to say about that, but nevertheless, the Cards have a good team … and Matt Leinart. AND, they lost Anquan Boldin, which I bet will be a bigger hit than they’re anticipating; let’s just say Steve Breaston isn’t scaring anyone.
I’m not going to come on here and say the Seahawks are being overlooked in the slightest. Yeah, I and many of my colleagues who think we know more about sports than the average monkey (aka anyone who works for ESPN) all like what Seattle did over the draft weekend. But, let’s just say one weekend doesn’t immediately rectify 9 wins over the last 2 seasons.
The best players we got are still rookies, and no matter how NFL-ready everyone says they are, there’s still a learning curve (see: the safest pick of the 2009 draft, aka Aaron Curry). The offensive line is still thin and most of them are uncomfortable-at-best working in the zone blocking scheme. Even if they do manage to gel into a cohesive unit by the start of the regular season, we’re not exactly deep at any of the positions along the line. That doesn’t even BEGIN to describe our problems along the defensive line! Best case scenario for getting pressure on quarterbacks next year will be to leave our secondary alone in 1-on-1 situations. Not ideal.
And forget about Matt Hasselbeck, who’s always in the Best Shape Of His Life coming into the season before succumbing to some sort of flukey-yet-debilitating injury.
Let’s just put everything aside and look at the slate of games with rose-colored glasses.
Week 1 vs. San Francisco – if we’re going to do anything this year, we have to jump out and shock a divisional opponent. Especially at home.
Week 2 @ Denver
Week 3 vs. San Diego – two very lose-able games against the AFC West. I wouldn’t expect too much.
Week 4 @ St. Louis – the first of only 3 games that start at 10am Pacific Time; and this doesn’t even count because it’s the Rams. Lose this and it’ll be a long season.
Week 5 – BYE
Week 6 @ Chicago – the 2nd of the early games; very interesting matchup. The Bears might be the most improved team next year if Cutler can pull his head out of his ass.
Week 7 vs. Arizona
Week 8 @ Oakland
Week 9 vs. NY Giants
Week 10 @ Arizona
Week 11 @ New Orleans – an insanely difficult road to hoe. Tack on the Chicago game, and these are 6 entirely lose-able games. Count out the Saints, the Giants, and one of the Cardinals games at a minimum; and watch out for Oakland. Without Jamarcus Russell to kick around anymore, they’re definitely on the hook for the Addition By Subtraction award for 2010. Also, this is probably the likeliest stretch where we get our first look at Whitehurst; I’m putting the over/under for Matt Hasselbeck’s major injury at 6 weeks.
Week 12 vs. Kansas City
Week 13 vs. Carolina – this would be a nice time to get a little win streak going; it doesn’t get much easier than this.
Week 14 @ San Francisco
Week 15 vs Atlanta – to be different, I’m making the Falcons my NFC South pick to win the division. At the very least, I’ll have them in the playoffs as a wild card team. Respek
Week 16 @ Tampa Bay
Week 17 vs St. Louis – a soft landing for what I’m predicting to be a 7-9 campaign. If Charlie Whitehurst is going to be anybody, he’s going to have to show up for these last two games and impress the hell out of a lot of people. A lot of pressure on the kid’s back if he’s going to replace a future Ring Of Honor member.