The third week of the exhibition schedule has been completed and the big news revolves around injuries.
The most costly occurred to St. Louis QB Sam Bradford who missed much of last season with an injured knee and suffered a similar injury in Saturday night’s win at Cleveland. Bradford is out for the season and there is a huge drop off to the backups.
Denver also saw WR Wes Welker suffer his third concussion in 10 months while Carolina QB Cam Newton suffered a hairline rib fracture. Newton figures to be ready for Week 1.
Last week, in games that were considered dress rehearsals, the action produced 11 UNDERS, just 4 OVERS and one push. It remains to be seen if we will see a decrease in penalties, as many observers expect, once the games start to count.
After being the laughing stock of the NFL’s eight Divisions for the first decade following 2002’s Divisional realignment this is the best division and has been the past couple of seasons.
It changed with the re-emergence of both San Francisco and Seattle, aided by improvements from both Arizona and St. Louis. In 2012 the NFC West was a solid 23-17 straight up in non-division games and a fantastic 30-10 last season. The point spread record was 26-13-1 in 2012, 26-12-2 in 2013.
The 49ers and Seahawks are again expected to battle for the division title with Seattle given a greater expectation of emerging on top. The Seahawks’ season wins total at the LVH/Westgate is 11, San Francisco’s 0.5 and both Arizona and St. Louis at 7.5.
However, the Rams are likely to be adjusted downward, perhaps as much as a full game with Bradford’s torn ACL. Arizona has shown improvement in recent seasons and could challenge again for double digit wins and a Wild Card, which suggests OVER their total may be the way to go.
Seattle returns much of the team that romped over Denver to win the Super Bowl and appears the most capable of repeating of any defending champ from the past decade. Not since 2005 has a defending Super Bowl champion even won a playoff game the following season.
San Francisco appears to be showing signs of age and starting to slow down. The 49ers have been eliminated from the playoffs in each of the past three seasons by the team that won the Super Bowl, losing by a combined 12 points (6, 3 and 3 points).
There are reports of friction between coach Jim Harbaugh and the front office and that can only serve as a distraction if the media makes a big deal of that during the season. In terms of talent, the 49ers should battle Seattle for the division title with both capable of winning at least 12 games.
Another strong Division with three teams having made the Playoffs in 2013. Only Oakland continued its long run of futility with a 4-12 record, the latest in its string of 11 straight non-winning seasons since being routed by Tampa Bay in Super Bowl 37 some 12 years ago.
What followed was seven straight losing seasons before a pair of 8-8 marks in 2010 and 2011 gave some signs of hope that things were turning around. But “Da Waders” fell back to 4-12 in 2012 and 2013.
Denver is expected to easily win the division again with San Diego considered the most likely challenger. Kansas City is expected to fall back from its 11-5 mark last season that saw the Chiefs start 9-0 but then go 2-5, blowing a 38-10 lead at Indianapolis in the opening round of the playoffs, losing 45-44. But the Chiefs are still expected to finish comfortably ahead of Oakland.
Denver’s season wins total is 11.5. San Diego and Kansas City are both at 8, while Oakland is at 5. The Broncos have won 13 games in each of QB Peyton Manning’s two seasons. The record setting offense should be just as potent this season as it was last.
It’s unlikely Denver’s foes, on a week to week basis, will be able to summon the intensity shown by Seattle’s defense, although opposing coordinators have had six months to pick apart each play in that Super Bowl. Yet the emphasis on the pass defense rules is thought to have been aimed at Seattle’s successful tactics.
If those rules are enforced in the regular season as they have been in the preseason the Denver offense will benefit greatly. Barring injuries, the Broncos should be a 12 win team this season. Of the two teams with 8 projected wins, the forecast is better for San Diego than Kansas City.
San Diego is well positioned to improve on its 9-7 record and played Denver competitively in all three meetings, including dealing the Broncos their only home loss of the season.
Kansas City is expected to regress from its 11-5 record but that is reflected by its 8 wins total. The Chiefs should still be a competitive team and could finish at or within one win of .500.
Oakland remains a team that is seeking an identity and will again have a new QB in charge. History suggests seven teams will finish with 5 wins or less and Oakland is a prime candidate to be in that group, considering their decade of futility since losing in Super Bowl 37 with nine seasons of 5 wins or less in the last 11.
Enjoy (or tolerate) the final week of practice football (all 16 games will be played on Thursday).
Next week: A preview of Week 1 along with a forecast of the teams to make the playoffs at the end of the 16 game regular season schedule.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]