8/26 Update:
Kurt Warner looks like the Warner of 2001. Even if he gets hurt, the Rams have Marc Bulger, who has also looked great in preseason. Orlando Pace has also reported to camp.

Major Additions:
FB Leon Johnson, WR Shaun McDonald, WR Kevin Curtis, TE Cam Cleeland, OT Kyle Turley, C Dave Wohlabaugh, DT Jimmy Kennedy, OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa, CB DeJuan Groce, CB Shane Walton, CB Kevin Garrett, P Sean Landeta.
Major Subtractions:
QB Jamie Martin, FB James Hodgins, FB Chris Hetherington, WR Ricky Proehl, G Heath Irwin, G Tom Nutten, DT Jeff Zgonina, CB Dexter McCleon, CB Dre Bly, P Mitch Berger.

Offense This Year: What buried the Rams last year was a poor offensive line, and QB Kurt Warner's injured hand that he failed to tell anyone about. Eventually, the Rams paid for their weak offensive line, and Kurt Warner went down with a more severe injury. After a few wins under QB Marc Bulger, all hope was lost when an unhealthy Kurt returned, and RB Marshall Faulk went down with an injury. Things look a lot brighter this year. Warner is throwing well in camp, Faulk seems to have recovered, and the Rams have added C Dave Wohlabaugh and OT Kyle Turley, which gives them one of the best offensive lines in the league. With protection, two Pro Bowl receivers (WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce), and perhaps the best running back in the NFL when healthy, the Rams look to have retained the offense they had in 2001. Even if Kurt Warner struggles, the Rams could bring in Bulger, who was 6-0 as a starter last year. However, there are a few problems. The Rams never found a replacement for WR Az Hakim, and now have to find a replacement for WR Ricky Proehl. They drafted WRs Shaun McDonald and Kevin Curtis, but as rookies, they are not ready to take on that responsibility. The Rams also lost FB James Hodgins, who was a great lead blocker for Marshall Faulk. They signed FB Leon Johnson, but he can't replace what Hodgins contributed.
Defense This Year: St. Louis will have a pretty good pass rush with DEs Leonard Little and Grant Wistrom. They also have four quality starters in their secondary, including CB Aeneas Williams, who has recovered from breaking his leg last year. The Rams drafted three corners (CBs Kevin Garrett, Shane Walton and DeJuan Groce), who may all turn out to be good players in the future. The Rams will have a pretty good pass defense, but not as good as it could be, because they will not be able to stop the run. At defensive tackle, the Rams have two former first round picks, Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis, who are both busts. They took DT Jimmy Kennedy in the draft, and he too is on pace to be a bust. He has sat out due to minor injuries, has been overweight and is arguing with coaches - all in the first month of camp. At middle linebacker, the Rams have Robert Thomas and Jamie Duncan; both struggled last year. On the outside, they are not much better with Tommy Polley and rookie Pisa Tinoisamoa. This defense is below average, but in a division full of bad defenses, its not that big a deal.
Schedule and Intangibles: The Rams signed P Sean Landeta, one of the top punters in the NFL. However, they lost WR Ricky Proehl, who was the holder for field goals. Despite being 6-2 at home last year, the Rams are only 47-41 at home since 1992. St. Louis has a pretty easy schedule. They get to beat up on teams in their own division, as well as Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago and Green Bay (they play them at home). The only four games that might be challenging are against the Giants, Falcons, Ravens and Steelers.

Analysis: The Rams will have a better season than they had last year. They will make the playoffs. They will win their division. However, they will not make it to the Super Bowl with the defense they have.

Projection: 13-3 (1st in the NFC West).

Seattle Seahawks (Last Year: 7-9).
Major Additions:
QB Seneca Wallace, OT Wayne Hunter, DE Chike Okeafor, DT Norman Hand, MLB Randall Godfrey, CB Marcus Trufant, S Danien Robinson, S Ken Hamlin.
Major Subtractions:
S Marcus Robertson, K Rian Lindell, P Jeff Feagles.

Offense This Year: Seattle has one of the best offenses in the NFL. QB Matt Hasselbeck emerged last year after Trent Dilfer went down for the year. In the last nine weeks of 2002, Hasselbeck threw for 2,666 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Seahawks went 5-4 during this stretch. Even better, during the last three weeks of the season, Hasselbeck threw for 1,050 yards, 4 TDs and 2 INTs. Seattle won their last three games; one of those being against Atlanta. Hasselbeck's success has a lot to do with his supporting cast. WRs Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson are one of the best duos in the NFL. RB Shaun Alexander, who really took off in the second half of last season, has to be considered as one of the top backs in the NFL. Hasselbeck also has a good offensive line to protect him. This offense was ranked 7th at the end of last year. They will be top five this year.
Defense This Year: The Seahawks let up tons of points in 2002 and had the league's worst run defense. This offseason, they hired defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, who shut down the run in Denver, and traded for DT Norman Hand, a pretty good run stuffer. They will also get more pressure on the quarterback with the signing of DE Chike Okeafor. The Seahawks signed MLB Randall Godfrey, who will start in place of ineffective LBs Orlando Ruff and Isaiah Kacyvenski. Godfrey will join two great players that play on the outside, Chad Brown and Anthony Simmons. Seattle's secondary will be better this year. They drafted CB Marcus Trufant and S Ken Hamlin. They also signed S Damien Robinson. With the improvement of CB Ken Lucas last year, the Seahawks have three great corners and three good safeties (CB Shawn Springs and S Reggie Tounge). While Seattle won't have a dominant defense, they won't be the pushovers they were last year.
Schedule and Intangibles: Special teams is an issue because K Josh Brown is an unproven rookie, and P Rodney Williams was out of the NFL last year. Seattle is only 44-44 at home in the last decade, so their cool, moist enviornment does nothing for them. Seattle is also a losing team in every month during the last decade. Their best month is November, where they are 22-23. Like a lot of teams, Seattle has a balanced schedule. They play Arizona twice, Washington, Cincinnati and Cleveland, but they also play St. Louis twice, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. If Seattle wins the games they have to win, they might make the playoffs.

Analysis: Seattle is a team that looks like they are a few pieces away from being a Super Bowl team. They are in great cap position for 2004. However, this is a 2003 analysis, and this year depends on the play of Matt Hasselbeck. If he plays like he did in the second half of 2002, Seattle will be in the playoffs this year.

Projection: 10-6 (2nd in the NFC West).

San Francisco 49ers (Last Year: 10-6).
8/26 Update:
Jeff Garcia has a degenerative disc in his back, so he could go at any time. Picking the 49ers to go to the playoffs this year is not a good bet.

Major Additions:
WR Brandon Lloyd, TE Jed Weaver, OT Kwame Harris, DE Andrew Williams, DT Anthony Adams
Major Subtractions:
WR J.J. Stokes, G Dave Fiore, DE Chike Okeafor, DT Dana Stubblefield.

Offense This Year: All players on this 8th ranked unit are returning, except for WR J.J. Stokes, who was a mere third receiver. Last year, Head Coach Steve Mariucci used two running backs to run his offense, Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow. New coach Dennis Erickson has a history of using one back, and has been impressed with Kevan Barlow. Erickson will have the luxury of having Pro Bowl QB Jeff Garcia throwing to one of the best receivers in the NFL, Terrell Owens. Protecting Garcia is an offensive line with problems, particularly on the left side. The 49ers drafted OT Kwame Harris, but he will probably make his first start next year. The 49ers' offense will probably be in the top ten again, if Dennis Erickson doesn't mess things up.
Defense This Year: A defensive line that failed to get to the quarterback (with the exception of DE Andre Carter), lost two starters, DE Chike Okeafor and DT Dana Stubblefield. They added DE Andrew Williams and DT Anthony Adams through the draft, but they won't replace Stubblefield and Okeafor right away. Its no wonder that the 49ers' secondary had problems last year. Now, with the loss of two starters on the defensive line, they will have more problems. It doesn't help them that defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. is a moron. As for their linebackers, San Francisco has a great one in Julian Peterson, but other LBs Derrick Smith and Jeff Ulbrich are average at best. This defense was ranked 14th last year, which was an abboration. They will be ranked much lower this year.
Schedule and Intangibles: The front office decided to fire Steve Mariucci and hired fraud failure coach Dennis Erickson. Erickson then retained one of the worst defensive coordinators in the NFL, Jim Mora Jr. The 49ers' special teams were horrible last year. Punter Bill LaFleur is one of the worst in the NFL. The 49ers have had the second best home record in the NFL since 1992. They are 68-20 at Candlestick. The 49ers are also well above .500 in every month over the past 10 years. San Fran was able to run away with the division last year, but things should be tougher this year, as the Rams will be back and the Seahawks will be better. While the Niners have easy games against Arizona twice, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Chicago, they also have to play tough teams like St. Louis twice, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Green Bay.

Analysis: San Francisco has to deal with Terrell Owens, who might want a new contract in place, a terrible coach and a tough schedule. Unlike last year, all other divisional opponents won't be losing teams. The Niners will have trouble making the playoffs this year. Personally, I don't think they have a chance.

Projection: 5-11 (3rd in the NFC West).

Arizona Cardinals (Last Year: 5-11).
8/26 Update:
Two of the Cardinals' better defensive players have been placed on injured reserve - Kyle Vanden Bosch and Duane Starks.

Major Additions:
QB Jeff Blake, RB Emmitt Smith, FB James Hodgins, WR Bryant Johnson, WR Anquan Boldin, WR Larry Foster, WR Marquis Walker, DE Calvin Pace, DT Kenny King, LB Gerald Hayes, FS Dexter Jackson.
Major Subtractions:
QB Jake Plummer, RB Thomas Jones, WR David Boston, WR MarTay Jenkins, WR Frank Sanders, C Mark Gruttadauria.

Offense This Year: Except for the offensive line, all of the major components of Arizona's 27th ranked offense are gone. Arizona signed RB Emmitt Smith, but he won't even win the starting job, which will go to RB Marcel Shipp. Either way, teams will shut down the run, because there is no threat of Arizona throwing the ball. QB Jeff Blake is decent, but he will be throwing to two rookies and other "nobodies" that will not be able to get open. Points will be scarce for Arizona this year. They might go weeks without scoring touchdowns.
Defense This Year: Arizona's defense is better than the offense, but that isn't saying much. They will have an average pass rush with DEs Calvin Pace and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Mediocrity continues with their defensive tackles. That's the good news... MLB Gerald Hayes was drafted in the third round and he will be Arizona's best linebacker. CB Duane Starks is perhaps the Cardinals' best player, and he was the worst player on Baltimore's defense when they won the championship. CB David Barrett is the other corner, and he is a decent, young player, who made strides last year. They also overpaid for FS Dexter Jackson, who fits in with Arizona's mediocore defensive players. This defense was ranked 29th last year. They will be better this year, but not that much better.
Schedule and Intangibles: Arizona has the second worst home record in the NFC since 1992. They are only 41-47. They also have the NFC's worst road record in that same period of time. They are 23-65. Its also not surprising that Arizona has a losing record in each month in the last decade.

Analysis: This might be the worst team I've ever seen. I usually don't buy into teams finishing winless, but this is the first team I've ever seen that has a good chance at going 0-16.

Projection: 1-15 (4th in the NFC West).

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