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NFC West Week 14 Preview

The NFC West has two legitimate Super Bowl contenders in their division. The Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams are both likely to be out of playoff contention but they can play the spoiler role. Meanwhile, the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers will be featured in one of the NFL’s games of the week. This is what the NFL wanted when they scheduled these division rivals to play each other this late in the season. Here is how the records look at this point:

Seattle Seahawks 11-1    San Francisco 49ers 8 – 4    Arizona Cardinals 7-5    St. Louis Rams 5-7

Let’s take a look at this week’s matchups:

St. Louis Rams @ Arizona Cardinals

The Rams have found a way to get Tavon Austin going but were derailed last week against the 49ers. This week will be a similar test because the Cardinals defense is really good. Zac Stacy will have a tough time running on the Cardinals. As a unit, the Rams were enjoying a good stretch prior to last week. They were averaging 40 points per game before the 49ers held them to 13 points.

The Cardinals lost a close one  to the Philadelphia Eagles last week. A few were hailing the Cardinals as a more complete team than the 49ers whom they are challenging for the final playoff spot. They showed balance last week. Carson Palmer was able to continue his hot play by throwing for 302 yards and three touchdowns. Rashard Mendenhall averaged 4.2 yards per carry.

[airesizeimg src=”$-150×150$.jpg” alt=”Daryl+Washington+Arizona+Cardinals+v+St+Louis+bdH6jDfcuVFx” class=”alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-2446″ ]Key Matchup: Daryl Washington vs Jared Cook  The Rams made it a point to get players that can make things happen in space. They had intentions to feature Cook in the slot this year. The results have been decent. Washington is one of the better cover linebackers in the NFL. He will get matched up against Cook when the Cardinals use man defense. His ability to stay with Jared Cook in one on one situations will allow the Cardinals to be creative with their coverages.

The Verdict: Rams 23 Cardinals 17

The Rams will get a touchdown via special teams. Tavon Austin is an absolute threat on punt returns and kick returns. Larry Fitzgerald was able to beat Janoris Jenkins for a touchdown last year and will do so once again. This game will be decided by turnovers by Carson Palmer. He is due for one of those games where he has two or three interceptions that will leave Bruce Arians scratching his head.

Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers

Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers are getting healthy at the right time. Their offense is rounding into shape from a passing perspective thanks to the return of Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree. These additions have allowed Kaepernick to have two of his best games this season over the last two weeks. Ironically, the running game has suffered. Frank Gore is a player that needs to get his touches. The loss of Mike Iupati has hurt their ability to excel in their patented trap running game.

The Seahawks are looking nearly unbeatable this season. Russell Wilson has the offense in shape and he is maturing into a very efficient passer. In fact, he is in my top three for MVP voting. He is ultra elusive in the pocket and has the ability to push the ball down field with the best of them. Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate have become big play threats. Meanwhile, Marshawn Lynch is on his way to another 1000 yard rushing season.

[airesizeimg src=”$-150×150$.jpg” alt=”Richard+Sherman+San+Francisco+49ers+v+Seattle+BfPUb1vKcIFx” class=”alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-2445″ ]Key Matchups: Richard Sherman vs Michael Crabtree This importance of this matchup goes beyond the stats. Crabtree playing means that the Seahawks will be forced to use their top cover man to stop him. While Crabtree has struggled against Sherman in the past, the mere fact that he will draw Sherman away from Anquan Boldin is a factor. I don’t expect Crabtree to put up numbers of any significance but he will help the offense. Sherman is the best corner in the NFL right now. He defends the deep ball well and will stay with any receivers that he goes against.

The Verdict: 49ers 17 Seahawks 14

This is a revenge game for the 49ers. They don’t truly want to admit it, but it is. Winning this game will do wonders for their confidence if they have to go to Seattle in the playoffs. Vernon Davis playing the whole game is crucial. He has not been a factor in their recent matchups. That has to change this week if the 49ers want to win. They will be able to get him the ball in play action. Earl Thomas sells out to stop the run. Expect the 49ers to finally unleash the screen passing game against the Seattle defensive front that is so fast off the ball. This game will be an all out war.





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