Behind a dominant defense and
first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers ran away with a
13-3 record and the NFC West Division title a season ago. The team also reached the
playoffs for the first time since 2002. The Niners enter the 2012 campaign as
heavy -250 favorites at Bovada to repeat as division champs in the NFC West,
the shortest odds of any NFC club to win its division.
San Francisco led the NFC in total defense
and in points allowed per game (14.3), topped the NFL in forced turnovers and
led the league by allowing only 77.3 rushing yards per game last season.
Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch was the only back to top 100 yards on the ground
against the 49ers, who return all 11 starters on defense.
Offensively, former No. 1 overall
pick Alex Smith had his best season under center and was able to limit his
mistakes, throwing the fewest interceptions (five) of any full-time quarterback
San Francisco was 6-2 on the road,
the team’s best away record since 1996, and Harbaugh became just the fourth
first-year coach to win 13 games -– he would be named the NFL’s Coach of the
Year. The season ended in disappointing fashion, as two Kyle Williams mistakes
in the NFC Championship Game led to a 20-17 overtime loss to the New York
To improve upon a passing game that
ranked 29th in the NFL, the 49ers signed free agent receivers Randy Moss and
Mario Manningham, and used a first-round pick on former Illinois star wideout
A.J. Jenkins. San Francisco’s wins total is 10 at the book (under a -145
favorite) and the Niners’ chance of returning to playoffs is at -250.
Why is San Francisco such a huge
favorite to repeat? It’s due to the fact that the other three NFC West teams
have questions at the quarterback position. Seattle is starting rookie Russell
Wilson in Week 1, the Cardinals are going with unheralded John Skelton and St.
Louis QB Sam Bradford regressed in 2011 while missing six games due to injury.
The Seahawks are +325
second-favorites after finishing last year 7-9. Seattle did finish 2011 strong
by winning five of their final eight games, in which they lost three games by a
combined 11 points. Lynch became one of the NFL’s elite backs but the passing
game wasn’t very good under Tarvaris Jackson. The team signed free agent QB
Matt Flynn, the former Packers backup, to be the presumed starter, but
Wilson, a third-round pick out of N.C. State, stunningly beat out Flynn for the
No. 1 job in camp.
Wilson doesn’t have a true No. 1
receiver to throw to, as Sidney Rice hasn’t proven he can stay healthy. Seattle
had signed Terrell Owens in the preseason but eventually decided to release him
after a poor camp. The Seahawks’ over/under wins total is 7.5, with the over a
Arizona (+850 to win the division)
made one of the NFL’s big trades before last season in acquiring QB Kevin Kolb
from the Eagles and then signing Kolb to a large extension, but he flopped as
Arizona went 3-6 in the games he started. Skelton, who led the Cards to a 5-2
mark in his seven starts last season, beat Kolb for the 2012 starting job in
the preseason. Skelton luckily has one of the NFL’s top receivers at his
disposal in Larry Fitzgerald, who had 80 catches for 1,411 yards and eight
scores in 2011.
The Cardinals took Notre Dame
receiver Michael Floyd in the first round of this year’s draft to pair with
Fitzgerald, and the team also welcomes back promising running back Ryan
Williams after the 2011 second-round pick missed all of his rookie season with
a knee injury. The offensive line was a big problem last year, allowing 54
sacks, and things don’t seem to be getting any better as starting left tackle
Levi Brown is out for the season. Arizona’s wins total is set at 7, with the under
a -190 favorite.
The Rams tied with the Indianapolis
Colts for the worst record in football last year at 2-14. St. Louis hasn’t won
the NFC West since 2003 and hasn’t had a winning record since 2003 either. The
team showed promise in 2010 as Bradford was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of
the Year before taking a big step back last year. Bradford, the former Heisman
winner, completed only 53.5 percent of his passes in 2011 and threw as many
interceptions as touchdown passes (six).
St. Louis (+900 to win the West) was
0-6 inside the division and finished with an NFL-worst minus-214 point
differential. All of that cost head coach Steve Spagnuolo his job, and he was
replaced by former Titans coach Jeff Fisher. The over/under for Rams wins is
six (over a -125 favorite) and missing the playoffs is a huge -1000 favorite.