Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco 49ers’

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After missing last week, picks are back for Week 4 and are coming back on a high note. After a near .500 week 1, there was a triumphant turn in Week 2, going 13-3 with only losses coming from the Chiefs, Bills and Chargers.

Headed into this week, the game of the week may be the first game, with the Niners heading into St. Louis coming off two consecutive bad losses and facing a team in the Rams that was a torn in their side last year. Sunday could be owned by the visitor, with six road teams having favorable chances this week.

Get your info up, and let’s get back into it. Lines and over/under for Sunday Games to come when set.

SEASON RECORD (Minus Week 3): 22-10

THURSDAY

San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams (Line: SF -3.0, Over/Under: 42)

SUNDAY

Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills (BAL -3.0, Over/Under: 44.5)

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (CIN  3.5, Over/Under: 41.5)

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (DET -3.0, Over/Under: 48.0)

New York Giants at Kansas City Chiefs: (KC -3.5, Over/Under: 43.5)

Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings (MIN -2.5, Over/Under: 42)

Arizona Cardinals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TB -1.0, Over/Under: 40)

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (IND -8.0, Over/Under: 42.5)

Seattle Seahawks at Houston Texans (SEA -2.0, Over/Under: 41.5)

New York Jets at Tennessee Titans (TEN -3.5, Over/Under: 40.5)

Philadelphia Eagles at Denver Broncos (DEN -10.5, Over/Under: 58)

Washington Redskins at Oakland Raiders (WSH -3.0, Over/Under: 45)

Dallas Cowboys at San Diego Chargers (DAL -1.5, Over/Under: 47)

New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons (ATL -3.0, Over/Under: 49)

MONDAY

Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints (NO -7.0, Over/Under: 48)

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NFL: Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints

Over the last week, I’ve been working up division by division predictions across the NFL.  But today, on the verge of full-scale NFL action breaking out, it’s time to finish the job and put it all on the line. After all, what are 32 predictions if you don’t run them down to one? So here it is, who’s going to New York City for the Super Bowl, in the order they’d play out via the standings I arrived at. As a bonus, I’ll throw in a few awards for a few guys as well, for good measure.

But before we take it there, here a recap on how it all should shake out:

NFC East                                                           NFC North

  1. Redskins (10-6)                                 1. Packers (11-5)
  2. Cowboys (9-7)                                   2. Bears (10-6)*
  3. Giants (8-8)                                        3. Vikings (7-9)
  4. Eagles (4-12)                                      4. Lions (5-11)

NFC South                                                           NFC West

  1. Falcons (13-3)                                   1. Niners (12-4)
  2. Saints (8-8)                                         2. Seahawks (11-5)*
  3. Buccaneers (6-10)                            3. Rams (7-9)
  4. Panthers (5-11)                                 4. Cardinals (5-11)

AFC East                                                             AFC North

  1. Patriots (11-5)                                   1. Ravens (11-5)
  2. Dolphins (7-9)                                    2. Bengals (10-6)*
  3. Jets (5-11)                                            3. Steelers (10-6)*
  4. Bills (4-12)                                           4. Browns (7-9)

AFC South                                                        AFC West

  1. Houston (11-5)                                 1. Broncos (13-3)
  2. Colts (8-8)                                           2. Chiefs (7-9)
  3. Titans (6-10)                                       3. Chargers (5-11)
  4. Jaguars (2-14)                                    4. Raiders (3-13)

 

WILD CARD ROUND PLAYOFFS

Green Bay Packers over Chicago Bears

Seattle Seahawks over Washington Redskins

Cincinnati Bengals over Baltimore Ravens

Houston Texans over Pittsburgh Steelers

DIVISIONAL ROUND PLAYOFFS

Seattle Seahawks over Atlanta Falcons

San Francisco 49ers over Green Bay Packers

Denver Broncos over Cincinnati Bengals

Houston Texans over New England Patriots

NFC/AFC CHAMPIONSHIPS

San Francisco 49ers over Seattle Seahawks

Houston Texans over Denver Broncos

 

The MVP from two years back has as much of a load on his shoulders as ever before. And if he delivers on promise for the Pack again, an addition to his trophy case will be well deserved.

The MVP from two years back has as much of a load on his shoulders as ever before. And if he delivers on promise for the Pack again, an addition to his trophy case will be well deserved.

AWARD TOUR

Now before throwing it all on the line with the Super Bowl picks, let me back up and get some award picks for the season. It is impossibly difficult to select an MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive/Offensive Player of the Year before the season begins. So much goes into it, and it can change on a week to week basis. But, it’s Kickoff, so why not.

MVP—Aaron Rodgers: The Packers are leaning on him more than ever, and really, the team just behind him in the North via Chicago is the better overall team. But all things considered, the Pack will still take the North and it should come via a virtuoso performance from the league’s best QB.

Offensive Player of the Year—Peyton Manning: It is going to be a close call over Rodgers, Adrian Peterson and Andrew Luck, but there’s a chance that Peyton pulls off one of the great offensive efforts in league history. He’s got the tools, the right division and a pretty decent head start to do it all. 50-45 touchdowns should be in his sights.

Defensive Player of the Year—Richard Sherman: Doesn’t seem like a stretch to think that the Seahawks will have the best defense in the NFL. And Sherman is not only the ringleader on the microphone, but also the catalyst of the entire attack. QBs have no choice but to challenge him due to the depth of the team around him. And he will make the most of it in some pretty big games.

Offensive Rookie of the Year—Tavon Austin: The impact may not be immediate…but then again maybe it will be. With a home run threat like Austin, there is no telling when or where he may make an impact from for the Rams. And in a style similar to what Percy Harvin did a few years back, Austin could be on par for a huge debut.

Defensive Rookie of the Year—Kenny Vaccaro: The Saints defense will be challenged yet again, but this time they’ll be met by a legitimate threat to bring the ball right back at them. Vaccaro was the perfect addition to a team that needs to keep its pass happy QB schedule honest.

And finally…

SUPER BOWL XLVIII –HOUSTON TEXANS vs. SAN FRANCISCO 49ers

The Texans have been on the verge for a few years, while the Niners have rapidly reinvented themselves underneath Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick. With both teams touting strong defenses and rushing attacks, it could come down to who can find room to make the big play first. When it comes to that element, the Texans have the biggest threat in Andre Johnson, but the Niners have the most options to find room for one between Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis and by that time, Michael Crabtree.

It will be tight and February in New York may not have the best conditions for a highwire act, and that’s where it favors the road options of the Niners with the ball in their hands, as well as the best linebacker group in football getting plenty of shots on Arian Foster and Ben Tate. This favors San Francisco, and it nets them their first Super Bowl since 1994.

The days of the West being the laughing stock of the NFC have been turned in for what it represents now; perhaps the most talented division in the NFL with two legit Super Bowl contenders. Yet outside of those two popular contenders in San Francisco and Seattle, there are two teams on the other half of the division that are growing as well.

The Rams beat the Niners and Seahawks last season, and have undergone an aggressive expansion to their offensive capabilities. In Arizona, they had added a signal caller with some experience for the first time since they last made their Super Bowl appearance, and the osmosis of that should change the ceiling of their capabilities.

Yet, it is tough to grow as team when the two most complete teams in football are scraping it out atop the league. With two of the most exciting young signal callers in the game, coupled by the two best defensive units in the game, the Niner-Seahawk showdown this season is one that will meet twice in the first 16 games of the year….and could ultimately meet a third time to see who heads to New York in February for the NFC.

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

QB: Colin Kaepernick RB: Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Golden Tate TE: Vernon Davis OT: Jake Long, Russell Okung OG: Mike Iupati, Paul McQuistan C: Max Unger

DE: Chris Clemons, Chris Long DT/NT: Justin Smith, Brandon Mebrane OLB: Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks MLB: Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman CB: Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson FS: Earl Thomas, SS: Donte Whitner

K: Phil Dawson, P: Andy Lee, KR: Tavon Austin PR: Patrick Peterson

 

 

After five consecutive years of at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards, Fitzgerald was held to career-lows across the board in 2012 due to lame duck QB play.

After five consecutive years of at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards, Fitzgerald was held to career-lows across the board in 2012 due to lame duck QB play. A major bounce back could be in store with his new QB on hand.

ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-11 in 2012)

The Good: There are some exciting elements to the defense. Between Calais Campbell, Dan Williams and Darnell Docket, there’s plenty of push up front and Darryl Washington proved to be one of the emerging young linebackers in the game a year ago. The secondary is headlined by one the best playmakers in the league in Patrick Peterson, and the addition of Tyrann Mathieu could provide one of the most unique sparks on any unit in the West.

The Bad: There still is no dependable option out the backfield. Ryan Williams’ health still is not clear, nor is how much he can offer. The reach to see what Rashard Mendenhall has left in the tank hasn’t been encouraging either, as he has been sidelined through much of the preseason with continuing knee issues. Add in the fact that first round pick, offensive guard, Jonathan Cooper is out for the the season already as well with a broken leg, and the offense as a whole is still missing crucial parts of the balance that is needed to compete.

X-Factor—Carson Palmer: Smartly, instead of prolonging the development of the offense via another leap for a backup or waiting for a rookie to develop, Palmer was brought in to be an instant fix. He’s steady, with the type of downfield arm that can find Larry Fitzgerald consistently, as well as help 2012 first round pick Michael Floyd round into form.

Record: @STL (L), DET (W), @NO (L), @TB (L), CAR (W), @SF (L), SEA (L), ATL (L), HOU (L), @JAX (W), IND (W), @PHI (L), STL (W), @TEN (W), @SEA (L), SF (L)

Prediction: Wrong place at the wrong time for the Cards. While they have a talented defense, as well as some producers on O, they are in the toughest division in the league, and they aren’t better on either side of the ball than any of their division mates. They won’t be an easy date on the schedule by any means, and are a prime pick to spring an upset victory that shakes up the standings. But until they get an answer in the backfield and some more experience for the defense, they’ll be relegated to the bottom of the West. Record: 6-10

 

With Richard Sherman and company looming over the top, the Seahawks allowed the fewest points per game in 2012...(and led the league in most trashed talked per QB as well).

With Richard Sherman and company looming over the top, the Seahawks allowed the fewest points per game in 2012…(and led the league in most trashed talked per QB as well).

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-5 in 2012)

The Good: The most unpredictable offense in the league has had a full offseason to develop together, and it has no shortage of ways to get the job done. There’s the vertigo that Russell Wilson can put a defense into, while trying to see where he comes out of the pistol, whether its downfield 25 yards himself, or to Golden Tate or Sidney Rice, there’s no easy way to call it. Oh, and then there’s the issue of the league’s most brutal back as well, Marshawn Lynch. Pick your poison.

The Bad: Like many quickly emergent teams, they are an injury away at a few positions from being in trouble. Russell Okung has to stay healthy, as does Lynch. The team’s biggest addition, Percy Harvin, is already out for the majority of the season and if Wilson goes down, the season could very well do the same thing, as Tavaris Jackson is his support. Chris Clemons rebound is also crucial to the balance and depth of the defense.

X-Factor—Bruce Irvin: Irvin never quite picked up the nuances of defenses outside of what he was drafted to do: bum rush the passer. If he can begin to be more of a factor in coverage and run support, he’ll be able to stay on the field more, which means the Hawks could have a 15 sack-potential player in waiting.

Record: @CAR (W), SF (W), JAX (W), @HOU (L), @IND (W), TEN (W), @ARI (W), @STL (L), TB (W), @ATL (L), MIN (W), NO (L), @SF (L), @NYG (W), @ARI (W), STL (W)

Prediction: This is one of the most complete teams in football, if not the most complete. The experience of playing, and winning, together last season will do wonders for them. They have the best secondary in football in Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, as well as a brutal front line on both sides of the ball. They may not have an amazing record in the regular season, but this is a team to build to go a long way. 11-5

 

With their longtime franchise runner gone, the responsibility for the Rams leap forward year falls squarely on the shoulders of Bradford, who will have more assistance than ever.

With their longtime franchise runner gone, the responsibility for the Rams leap forward year falls squarely on the shoulders of Bradford, who will have more assistance than ever.

ST. LOUIS RAMS (7-8-1 in 2012)

The Good: There are finally both options and time to utilize them for Sam Bradford. The additions of Jared Cook and Tavon Austin put wrinkles into the St. Louis attack that have been gone for nearly a decade. The team went all in to land All-Pro tackle Jake Long and succeeded, which should provide Bradford with the breathing room to finally be able to stretch the field some.

The Bad: Will they be able to move the ball on the ground consistently enough? When Steven Jackson moved this winter, the club decided to stay young, with second year backs Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead. The addition of Zac Stacy will give them a third leg in the young backfield, but it remains to be seen if they add enough to both relieve pressure on Bradford or keep defenses honest.

X-Factor—Alec Ogletree: For a long time, the Rams have not had an athlete at outside linebacker that can both cover and be released on blitz as well, but Ogletree has shown the potential to do that and more thus far. With the PED-related release of Jo-Lonn Dunbar, the rookie will be counted on to expand the defense in a similar fashion as the offense.

Record: ARI (W), @ATL (L), @DAL (L), SF (W), JAX (W), @HOU (L), @CAR (W), SEA (W), TEN (W), @IND (L), CHI (L), @SF (L), @ARI (L), NO (L), TB (W), @SEA (L)

Prediction: Much has changed for the Rams in the year that Jeff Fisher has been in control, and the roster that comes into the season is much more talented one than they have fielded in some time. There is reasonable excitement for their potential, and they should show more than just flashes of their potential by hanging with the Seahawks and 49ers. But the young team will need to mold together some still, and they are likely a year away from a breakthrough. 7-9

 

Kaepernick went 7-3 as a starter in his breakout season, and now returns with a chance to be the most diverse offensive threat at QB since Michael Vick's prime.

Kaepernick went 7-3 as a starter in his breakout season, and now returns with a chance to be the most diverse offensive threat at QB since Michael Vick’s prime.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (11-4-1 in 2012)

The Good: The gang has gotten even deeper on defense. While the mainstays of Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, Justin Smith and Aldon Smith are back to hold the fort down in their particular fashions, the team took a gamble on former Pro Bowl corner Nnamdi Asomugha to tighten up the club’s slot coverage. Add in the presence of Eric Reid, who was an All-SEC safety a year ago and this year’s unit has the ability to be even better than than 2012’s, which finished third in fewest yards yielded.

The Bad: How will the receiving group rally without Michael Crabtree. After the emergence of Colin Kaerpernick, Crabtree played the best football of his career, averaging seven catches per game in route to his first 1,000 yard season. Kaepernick had a bad habit of locking on his first read a year ago, which often was Crab. How he progress both through his reads and in comfort with other options is important.

X-Factor—Anquan Boldin: After defeating the Niners in the Super Bowl, where he had 104 yards and a touchdown, he crossed over to join them this year. An offense that highlights quick reads and short passes could bring out the best in the physical first down machine.

Record: GB (W), @SEA (L), IND (W), @STL (L), HOU (W), ARI (W), @TEN (W), @JAX (W), CAR (W), @NO (W), @WSH (L), STL (W), SEA (W), @TB (W), ATL (L), @ARI (W)

Prediction: Kaerpernick has been one of the most visible players in the NFL during the offseason, and now gets a full season to prove why. The defense will be stout and they have the tools between Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Kaepernick to lead the NFL in rushing. They’ll have to emerge from a tough NFC West slate, as well as matchups with the three other division champions from 2012, but they as talent as it gets and are in line to return back to where their year ended last. 12-4

 

 

I am 100% sure there will be a Festivus-style air of grievances over this one (as there always is). All I ask is that you direct them to the comments section….or to me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

 

While they didn’t make it all the way to the golden shores of Super Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers pushed their turnaround season to limit on Sunday night. Absolutely nobody would’ve picked a team coming off a 6-10 year, featuring a first time NFL coach leading a team with Alex Smith at quarterback, would end up a fumble and field goal away from being the best in the NFC this year.

Nobody.

It just goes to prove even further that nobody is ever truly out of it in the NFL. It only takes a few crucial moves, a quick change in philosophy and a bit of kind scheduling, to put a team in prime position to turn their whole fortunes around in the blink of an eye.

This time last year, nobody thought "Who's the next Alex Smith" could mean anything that didn't lead to a duel.

So who’s next? Can any of the bottom feeders from 2011 take on the full blown Cinderella move the Niners put on this year and wear the “glass cleat” they rocked almost all the way to the biggest dance of them all?

Well, yeah. It’s very possible, and there are a number of teams that have what it takes to have a day to the night that was the season that’s landed them atop the upcoming draft. So I’ve taken it upon myself to name a few of the most likely candidates to shock you later on this year.

 

Carolina Panthers: When you look at Carolina it’s easy to think Cam and that’s it, and for obvious good reason. The “better damn be Offensive Rookie of the Year to be” put on to the tune of 4,757 yards and 35 TDs this year, and carried the weight of a four game improvement. However, the best is yet to come here.

See, it seemed like it was a one man show because it had to be, mostly because they were among the most wounded teams in the league, with 18 players on the injured reserve. This impacted no side of the ball more than the defense where three starters were lost for virtually the entire season, most notably All-Pro linebacker Jon Beason. Him returning alone changes the whole potential of the club. Add in the the coin flipped eigth or ninth pick in the draft and a division full of teams undergoing makeovers and there could be a lot of noise coming out the Carolinas from more than just Mr. Newton.

The Miami Dolphins: In order to put your feet down and stop your misfortunes full speed like you’re riding that bike you had growing up with no brakes, you have to have a strength to lean on, and the Fins have that in their defense. After taking forever to wake up and realize the season had started, they played good football down the stretch. In all reality, it was more of a surprise that the defense played as bad as it did to start the year allowing the sixth fewest yards as a unit in the league.

Philbin will look to add the final spark to a Dolphins club that went 6-3 after a terrible start.

Now here’s the kicker, despite losing more games in ’11 from ’10, they actually gave up fewer points per game. As a bonus, the offense greatly overachieved in many regards, especially from the coming of age of Reggie Bush. New head coach Joe Philbin has already guarantees a change in philosophy on offense and has made landing a new QB top priority already (can you say Matt Flynn?), so pulling the offense up to speed with the defense is on pace.

Indianapolis Colts: Yeah, I know what just happened down there. It wasn’t even comical how much they got battered around the RCA Dome this year. On top of that, who knows who will be leading the way next year for that mess of an offense, will the defense get any better or who will even be calling the plays in. Sounds like a team that’s prone for another year on top of the draft right?

Wrong. The bottom line is that either Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck will be leading this team next year, and that’s worth between 5 to 7 extra wins itself. Also, they are in a division that is still far from claimed, although the Texans are on the way up.

 

The offense can still go; it just needs a capable driver to handle it and one way or another that’s guaranteed. Also there is a hyper-competitive owner in Jim Irsay that is embarrassed and doesn’t look to be too gun shy about pulling the trigger on any possible move that gets him back in the playoffs immediately. 2011 was an aberration, and this team is definitely prime for strong 180 next year.

 

For more on the march to the biggest Bowl of the year and basically everything else I may end up doing throughout the day, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

The NFC West was a bad type of record setting last year. It was the first division in NFL history to not produce a winning record. It also was a division that nearly flipped it’s standings in the course of one year, and continues into this year as a division that is changing its face still.

The Seahawks, the owner’s of the dubious record, will try to defend the division, albeit with a roster still in need of a lot of aid. Arizona is looking for a renaissance at quarterback, to rediscover the passing attack that won them back-to-back division titles in ’08 and ’09. Jim Harbaugh takes control of a ship in San Francisco that sank like the Titantic a year ago. In St. Louis, one of the NFL’s most improved teams from a year ago will look to turn its potential into a snatching the most available wide open playoff ticket in the NFL.

The hangover from last year will remain though. It’s still a division in flux that could easily host three teams with losing records and is nearly guaranteed to see two with double digit loses. But if any team gets on a solid winning streak, no division could be easier to hijack a surprise trip out of the regular season from.

 

 

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

QB: Sam Bradford RB: Steven Jackson, Frank Gore FB: Moran Norris  WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Braylon Edwards, Sidney Rice TE: Vernon Davis OT: Russell Okung, Rodger Saffold OG: Mike Iupati, Harvey Dahl C: Jason Brown

Jackson ran for over 1,000 yards for the sixth consecutive season in 2010.

DE: Darnell Dockett, Justin Smith DT: Brandon Mebrane, Isaac Sopoana OLB: LeRoy Hill, Aaron Curry MLB: Patrick Willis, James Laurinaitis CB: Marcus Trufant, Patrick Peterson S: Quinton Mikell, Adrian Wilson

K: Josh Brown P: Donnie Jones Returner: Leon Washington

 

 

ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-11 in 2010)

Offense: L. Fitzgerald-WR, K. Kolb-QB, B. Wells-RB, J. Feely-K (C-)

Defense: D. Dockett-DE, A. Wilson-S, C. Campbell-DE, P. Peterson-CB (C)

 

The Good: Say what you will about Kevin Kolb’s price tag or what was given up to get him, but he gives the Cardinals identity and consistency in the pocket. Last season’s shuffle through Derek Anderson, John Skelton and Max Hall produced 10 touchdowns against 19 interceptions. Even if he doesn’t become an elite QB, Kolb will be better than this and when Larry Fitzgerald is on the other end of the pass, it doesn’t take an All-Pro QB to change this team’s prospects.

The Bad: The defense isn’t any better. There’s an aging linebacker group in front of a young secondary that doesn’t get much support at safety in coverage. On the offensive side, they are a mixture of injury prone and underachieving at running back, with Beanie Wells being relied on to carry a big load. The offensive line was not changed at all after being one of the worst units in the league a year ago.

Peterson will shoulder much responsibility for salvaging the Cardinals' defense immediately in his debut.

X-Factor-Patrick Peterson: On some accounts, he was the best player available in April’s draft, and the Cardinals have invested in him as such. The trade of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to land Kolb was made with much more confidence with Peterson stepping in a corner. He’ll be eased into the mix, but by year’s end he could find himself with a Defensive Rookie of the Year nod, as well as some highlights in the return game.

Fearless Prediction: CAR (W), @WSH (L), @SEA (L), NYG (L), @MIN (W), PIT (L), @BAL (L), STL (L), @PHI (L), @SF (W), @STL (L), @DAL (L), SF (W), CLE (W), @CIN (W), SEA (W)

In The End: The Cardinals have some talent on defense, but it’s still very prone to being ravaged for some big weeks against the wrong offense. However, unlike last season, they’ll be able to score easier this season and answer back more. They’ll be better, but until they get faster on both sides of the ball and add a lot more protection for Kolb, they won’t talk the crown. Record: 7-9

 

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (6-10 in 2010)

Offense: F. Gore-RB, V. Davis-TE, B. Edwards-WR, M. Crabtree-WR (C)

Defense: P. Willis-MLB, J. Smith-DE, D. Whitner-S, C. Rogers-CB (C+)

 

The Good: Braylon Edwards represents a major step forward as a legit downfield option with some size. He’ll join a receivers group with Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn, which would be great as a relay team, but has struggled to turn that into football productivity. Also, Edwards will loosen coverage over the middle on Vernon Davis, as well as give Michael Crabtree the chance to become a high quality #2 option, which is what he seems to be best tailored for.

The Bad: Alex Smith will start at the helm, but still doesn’t have the assurance that the team is his for even the full season. The plan is to keep rookie Colin Kaepernick in the wings for as long as possible, but any prolonged struggle by Smith will make cries for his assent to starter to get louder and louder. It’s hard for Smith to have the confidence to look forward to running a team while looking over his shoulder.

Smith will take the controls to begin the Harbaugh era, but how much of a leash he truly has remains to be seen.

X-Factor-Frank Gore: Although he had yet another season ended early by injury last fall, Gore dug his feet in and demanded a new contract before taking the field this year. He was rewarded with a $21 million dollar deal, and will now have to deliver on it for a full season. A consistent and heavy run attack will loosen up defenses and give Smith a much easier scenario to work with. Gore has the talent, but now has to put it on display for a full go around.

Fearless Prediction: SEA (W), DAL (L), @CIN (W), @PHI (L), TB (L), @DET (L), CLE (W), @WSH (W), NYG (L), ARI (L), @BAL (L), STL (W), @ARI (L), PIT (L), @SEA (L), @STL (L)

In The End: All of the same issues remain from the last few years. It is relying on an injury prone star running back and worn down QB to lead the offense. The defense still has an elite asset in Patrick Willis, but he can’t be everywhere at once. The secondary is still very vulnerable and the pass rush looks shaky. Year one of the Jim Harbaugh era will show how much work he has ahead of him still. Record: 5-11

 

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (7-9 in 2010; Division Champs)

Offense: S. Rice-WR, Z. Miller-TE, M. Lynch-RB, M. Williams-WR (C+)

Defense: C. Clemons-DE, B. Mebrane-DT, M. Trufant-CB, E. Thomas-S (C)

 

The Good: They’ve got the weapons to make it happen on offense. The offensive line is solid on both ends and Robert Gallery is a step forward inside. Sidney Rice, Mike Williams and Zack Miller are the best starting receiver/tight end combo in the division. If Marshawn Lynch has any of the beast mode left he unleashed on the Saints last year, the running game will be solid as well.

The Bad: It’s also a woefully young team at some critical places. Starting a second year guy in Russell Okung and a rookie (James Carpenter) at offensive tackle is a risky proposition. Lofa Tatupu was the best tackler on the team and was released, weakening an already shaky group. The offense isn’t deep, and any injury could prevent them from reaching their potential as a group.

The Seahawks are unsettled in a lot of departments. Okung needs to be consistent & healthy in year two.

X-Factor-Tavaris Jackson: He’s getting what he wanted in Minnesota: a chance to be the unchallenged starter from day one. They will be careful to not put too much of the team’s fate on him to win, but that’s a bad sign in itself. He won’t be asked to win games, however an overly reserved approach is just as bad. Letting him roll the dice and going with the outcome would be a much smarter approach.

Fearless Prediction: @SF (L), @PIT (L), ARI (W), ATL (L), @NYG (L), @CLE (W), CIN (W), @DAL (L), BAL (L), @STL (L), WSH (W), PHI (L), STL (L), @CHI (L), SF (W), @ARI (L)

In The End: While they are far from the “accidental” playoff team they were made out to be a year ago, it is still a team that had a losing record a year ago and got worse at the most important position. A mixture of a defense with no playmakers and an offense without a leader will keep the Hawks with a similar record from last year, but with a more appropriate result. Record: 5-11

 

ST. LOUIS RAMS (7-9 in 2010)

Offense: S. Bradford-QB, S. Jackson-RB, M. Sims-Walker-WR, D. Amendola-WR (B)

Defense: C. Long-DE, J. Laurinaitis-MLB, Q. Mikell-S, J. Hall-DE (C+)

 

The Good: They’ve got Sam Bradford, and that’s an advantage nobody else in the division has. As a rookie, he threw for over 3,500 yards with a makeshift receiver group and one-dimensional running game. The team took an aggressive approach in putting new and diverse options everywhere on the offense to accent new offense coordinator Josh McDaniel’s scheme, and with a more experienced Bradford at the helm, the unit will flow much easier. Mike Sims-Walker provides them with a big, every down target and Jerious Norwood and Cadillac Williams offer more options out the backfield to get a fresher Steven Jackson than in many years.

The Bad: The defense needed to get faster, but didn’t. Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher is a solid, but not exciting cornerback tandem. It’s also a thin coverage group, that would be in bad shape if anymore injury finds it (Jerome Murphy is already gone). They don’t match up well against the big, physical receivers that line nearly every week of the Rams schedule. The linebacker group struggled a year ago to stop runners from turning the corner, and that it still is among the least athletic groups in the league.

With a new scheme and arsenal, Bradford stands to take the Rams, and himself, to new levels.

X-Factor-Lance Kendricks: The scheme that new coordinator Josh McDaniels employs makes good use of the tight end spot, and the Rams wisely picked up an athlete capable of maximizing the position in Kendricks. The former wide receiver at Wisconsin gets up the field as well as any wide receiver he’ll line up with and has already proven to be a redzone favorite of Bradford’s in the preseason.

Fearless Predictions: PHI (L), @NYG (L), BAL (W), WSH (W), @GB (L), @DAL (L), NO (L), @ARI (W), @CLE (W), SEA (W), ARI (W), @SF (L), @SEA (W), CIN (W), @PIT (L), SF (W)

In The End: They came up short by just a game in their quest to go from worst in the league to the playoffs a year ago. This season they’ll finish the move to the top of the division, due to an expanded offensive approach and Bradford’s rise continuing to take him up the QB hierarchy league wide. The schedule will open up brutally for the first seven weeks, but it ends with matchups with divisional foes that they can easily outmatch. Record: 9-7

 

To see how right, wrong or in-between this all works out, and me living with it, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360.

Yesterday I showcased my picks for the best defenders in Super Bowl history, during my life. Today we’ll switch to what lands the most headlines: offense. There have been a ton of the league’s greatest names to make their mark on Super Sunday, but only the best of the best rise above them all. It is impossible to list them all here, so some great individual performers, such as Kurt Warner & Larry Fitzgerald for example, may not make the cut. Likewise, some of the game’s most accomplished winners, (all due respects to Troy Aikman and Tom Brady), may be on the outside looking in too.

Here is the best of the best, the untouchables under the brightest lights.

Quarterback

Joe Montana-San Francisco 49ers (XVI, XIX, XXIII & XXIV): The greatest winner in the history of the game played his best under the most pressure. In four Super Bowls he won four games, one of only two quarterbacks to achieve this level of success. Montana threw 11 touchdowns with 1,142 yards in these games and sported a 127.8 quarterback rating. He took home MVP honors in 3 of his appearances.

"Golden Joe" never shined brighter than when under the Super Sunday lights, where his 4-0 record is tied for best ever.

Running Back

Emmitt Smith-Dallas Cowboys (SB XXVII, XXVIII & XXX): The all-time rushing yards and touchdown leader didn’t take off Super Sunday’s either, playing a vital role in three Cowboy Super Bowl wins in four years. His five rushing scores are career Super Bowl record and his 132 yard, 2 TD game in ’94 netted him a game MVP.

Of the trio of Cowboy stars on offense, Emmitt was the hammer that wore down Buffalo twice and Pittsburgh.

Terrell Davis-Denver Broncos (SB XXXII & XXXIII): John Elway takes many of the headlines, but Davis was the driving force in the back-to-back Bronco Super Bowl wins of ’98 and ’99, running for 259 yards in both his appearances and taking home MVP honors in XXXII after a 3-touchdown day.

Wide Receiver

Jerry Rice-San Francisco 49ers & Oakland Raiders (SB XXIII, XXIV, XXIX & XXXVII): The lynchpin over two eras of the 49ers dynasty, Rice took home three championships, bringing in a record eight touchdown, with two 3-TD games. He won the MVP of XXIII matchup with 11 catches for 215 yards and one score.

Rice took three different MVP quarterback to Super Sunday, where he put in work each trip.

Antonio Freeman-Green Bay Packers (SB XXXI & XXXII): One of the underrated game breakers in Super Bowl history. In two games, Brett Favre’s main target made his presence felt, totaling 12 catches for 231 yards and three touchdowns, including a then-record 81 yard score in his Super Bowl debut.

Santonio Holmes-Pittsburgh Steelers (SB XLIII): He has appeared in only one SB thus far, but he maximized the opportunity, finishing with 9 catches for 131 yards. However his clutch performance on the game’s final drive lands him here, as he brought in 4 catches for 71 yards including an amazing game winning grab in the corner of the end zone in double coverage.

Tight End

Jay Novacek-Dallas Cowboys (SB XXVII, XXVIII & XXX): A key receiver for Troy Aikman that opened up lots of opportunities for his better known teammates, Novacek won three Super Bowls and brought in 17 catches and two touchdowns in the three games.

Offensive Tackle

Erik Williams-Dallas Cowboys (SB XXVII, XXVIII & XXX): The tackle that watched Troy Aikman’s blindside while he engineered three Dallas ‘ships and a bulldozer that opened up holes for Emmitt Smith record-breaking Super Bowl performances. He more than deserves this spot.

Orlando Pace-St. Louis Rams (SB XXXIV & XXXVI): Pace played against two tough and diverse defense in his games versus the Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots, yet he still kept the heat off Kurt Warner long enough to let him to have two of the three best passing days in Super Bowl history.

Offensive Guard/Center

Mark Schlereth-Washington Redskins & Denver Broncos (XXII, XXXII & XXXIII): Before he became an ESPN personality, he was a road grating blocker for John Riggins and Terrell Davis and took home three Super Bowl rings for his dirty work. He was a key member of the brutal, and sometimes dirty, interior line in Denver.

Schlereth was a warrior for two of the toughest front lines in recent Super Bowl history, in two different cities.

Adam Timmerman-Green Bay Packers & St. Louis Rams (SB XXXI, XXXII, XXXIV & XXXVI): An underrated element of two great offensive teams, Timmerman played in four of the great offensive performances in the Super Bowl history and was a steady presence in front Marshall Faulk and Dorsey Levens. He took home two Super Bowl rings in four trips and played a vital role in each team.

Tom Nalen-Denver Broncos (SB XXXII & XXXIII): A quick and versatile center, Nalen was equally adept at opening up the middle for Terrell Davis as he was at keeping inside pressure off of John Elway. Nalen Anchored the Broncos’ offensive line which was the underrated strength of the back-to-back Broncos championship teams.

Kicker

Adam Vinatieri-New England Patriots & Indianapolis Colts (SB XXXI, XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLII & XLIV): A six time Super Bowl attendee, and four time champion. If any player’s legend is owed to the game, it is Vinatieri’s. He has seven career SB field goals, including game winners from 48 and 41 yards.

No player has had to assume more sudden Super Bowl responsibility than Vinatieri, and he hasn't cracked once under the pressure.

Head Coach

Bill Belichick-New England Patriots (SB XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX & XLII): There may not be a more controversial or disliked coach in NFL history, but his success on the biggest stage is outstanding. He upset the a powerhouse Rams team for his first Super Bowl win as head coach, and followed it up with two more wins in the next four years. His success on Super Sunday did not start when he took over the reins in New England, as he served as assistant Head Coach for the Patriots Super Bowl XXXI team and was the defensive coordinator of two New York Giant championship teams in Super Bowls XXI and XXV.

The biggest stage of them all, the Super Bowl. The biggest spectacle in all of sports, it has become just as big of a cultural event on the worldwide stage as it is football game. It has taken on a life of it’s own, and “Super Sunday” is the first big post-New Year’s day of the year. Despite all of the events, advertising, and parties around it, the very heart of it all is still the game. In the NFL there is no more surefire way to achieve legendary status than to do it in February football. Here in the CHEAP.SEATS, I’ll be taking a daily look at a different part of the Super Bowl from my perspective, both in the now and the past. This includes a countdown of the greatest Super Bowls of recent times, the biggest x-factors in this year’s game and eventually a breakdown and pick for who will take this year’s game.

First however, let’s take a look back at who has made this game what it is. Over the next two days, I’ll be breaking down my picks for the greatest Super Bowl team of my time. Now it would be easier to pick one team and pay homage to them, but instead I’m taking the best of the best of all the teams of my nearly 28 years here and placing them on one team, the ultimate fantasy draft of sorts. In part one, we’ll take a look at the defensive side of the ball and special teams picks, and come back with the offensive stars and the coach who’s legend looms largest.

 

Defensive Ends

Reggie White-Green Bay Packers (SB  XXXI): The Minister of Defense is perhaps the greatest pass rusher in the history of the game, and he made good on this honor in his first of two appearance on Super Sunday, as his three sacks set a Super Bowl record and lead helped push the Packers to their first Super Bowl win since Super Bowl II.

White landed 198.5 sacks in regular play, but none were big than his 3 on Bledsoe to win his only championship.

Charles Haley-San Francisco 49ers & Dallas Cowboys (SB XXIII, XXIV, XXVII, XXVIII & XXX): Haley featured at both linebacker and defensive end during his record five Super Bowl wins during the late 80’s and early 90’s. Has record for most Super Bowl sacks with 4 and a half.

Defensive Tackles

Darnell Dockett-Arizona Cardinals (SB XLIII): His three sacks for the Cardinals in 2009 tied Reggie White’s single game record, and came against a pretty difficult target to bring down, in the generously listed 250 pound form of Ben Roethlisberger.

Russell Maryland-Dallas Cowboys (SB XXVII, XXVIII & XXX): The former #1 overall pick helped to anchor a strong interior defense for Dallas’ three championship squads along with Leon Lett.

Oustide Linebackers

Mike Jones-St. Louis Rams (SB XXXIV & XXXVI): One play usually shouldn’t count for a career, but when that one play comes on the one yard line with no time left in the game and saves a Super Bowl win for your team, I’ll make an exception. “The Tackle” Jones landed in 2000 is one of the Super Bowl’s great moments.

On team known for its offensive play, no play was bigger than Jones' tackle to save the Super Bowl.

Mike Vrabel-New England Patriots (SB XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX &  XLII): Spotlight linebacker for the Patriots during their dynasty of the 2000’s. He has two Super Bowl sacks all-time, but his role as a goal line receiving option has landed him two crucial touchdowns in SB play as well.

Lawrence Taylor-New York Giants (SB XXI & XXV): The game’s greatest linebacker twice took his team to Super Bowls and walked away with two wins. He landed a couple of sacks and recovered a crucial fumble in SB XXV to setup the game winning field goal.

Middle Linebacker

Ray Lewis-Baltimore Ravens (SB XXXV): Ray turned in perhaps the greatest defensive performance in the game’s history, with his 11 tackles (8 for a loss), 2 sacks and four pass deflections, in route to becoming the first linebacker to win Super Bowl MVP honors.

After leading one of the greatest defenses ever to Super Sunday, Lewis saved his best for last.

Tedy Bruschi-New England Patriots (SB XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX & XLII): The New England tackling machine was a catalyst for a tenacious defensive unit that stopped the historic “Greatest Show on Turf” in 2002, and went on to win 2 more Super Bowls in the next five years, including a sack and interception in a win versus the Eagles in 2005.

Cornerback

Deion Sanders-San Francisco 49ers & Dallas Cowboys (SB XXIX & XXX): Prime Time won back-to-back Super Bowls with both powerhouses of the NFC in the early 90’s. He netted an interception for the Niners in ’93 in a route over the Chargers and was as big of a return threat as coverage danger for the Cowboys versus the Steelers.

Ty Law-New England Patriots (SB XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX & XLII): Matched up with some of the eras best wide receivers (Isaac Bruce, Terrell Owens, Plaxico Burress and Steve Smith) as the Patriots top corner during their championship run. His interception return versus St. Louis played a huge role in their upset win in SB XXXIX.

Safety

Dexter Jackson-Tampa Bay Buccaneers (SB XXXVII): His two first half interceptions on league MVP Rich Gannon shorted out a dangerous Raider passing attack and kick started a 48-21 Buccaneer route, and led to him being named MVP of the game.

Ronnie Lott-San Francisco 49ers (SB XVI, XIX, XXIII & XXIV): A standout at free and strong safety, and even cornerback for the 49ers during their dominance of the 1980’s. Lott made his impact felt in coverage, but more so in presence with his devastating hits. One of only four players to suit up in all four 49er Super Bowl wins, and went undefeated on Super Sunday.

No matter where he lined up, the feared Lott played a crucial role in the 4-0 49ers Super Bowl run.

Special Teams

Chris Gardocki-Pittsburgh Steelers (SB XL): In a back and forth defensive matchup, Gardocki averaged over 48 yards per punt for the Steelers in their 2006 championship, giving their impressive defense solid field position in route to holding the Seahawks to 10 points.

Desmond Howard-Green Bay Packers (SB XXXI): The former Heisman Trophy winner made his NFL bones in one night’s work for the Packers in 1997. His 244 total yards, including a 99 yard kickoff return for a touchdown, made his the first special teamer to win Super Bowl MVP honors.