Nfc West

September 02, 1994|By Team capsules and division predictions by Vito Stellino

Division prediction

The 49ers will win this division easily. Their goal isn't the division, it's the Super Bowl. The Rams should finish last before they order the moving vans, and the Saints and Falcons will have a spirited duel for the backup spot. It probably will turn on whether Jim Everett has a better season than Jeff George.

1. San Francisco 49ers

1993 record: 10-6, first in division; beat Giants in divisional playoff, lost to Cowboys in NFC title game.

Coach: George Seifert (62-18 career).

Key additions: LB Ken Norton, DE Richard Dent, LB Gary Plummer, LB Rickey Jackson and C Bart Oates.

Key losses: QB Steve Bono, LB Bill Romanowski, G Guy McIntyre and CB Don Griffin.

Strengths: With QB Steve Young, RB Ricky Watters, WR Jerry Rice and WR John Taylor, they have the second-best offense in the league.

Weaknesses: For two years in a row, the 49ers' defense hasn't been able to stop the Cowboys in the NFC title game, and that has cost them two Super Bowl appearances. They think they solved that problem by plunging into the free-agent market, but the jury will be out until Nov. 13, when they play host to Dallas.

Extra point: The 49ers gambled by spending all their money on starters and ignoring depth. Whether it works depends on whether they can avoid injuries.

2. New Orleans Saints

1993 record: 8-8, second in division.

Coach: Jim Mora (77-50 career).

Key additions: QB Jim Everett, WR Michael Haynes, C Jeff Uhlenhake and LB Darion Conner.

Key losses: LB Rickey Jackson, LB Vaughan Johnson, WR Floyd Turner, S Gene Atkins and G Derek Kennard.

Strengths: A Jim Mora team usually has a familiar look. It is sound defensively (the Saints were seventh last year) and has a good running game (14th last year), but is not very explosive.

Weaknesses: A Jim Mora team isn't noted for its passing game, and the Saints were 21st in that category last year. Everett was brought in to revitalize the passing game and salvage his career, but he's a question mark.

Extra point: The Saints sagged from 12-4 in 1992 to 8-8 last year and are at something of a crossroads. If they don't return to the playoffs this year, it could be a long road back.

3. Atlanta Falcons

1993 record: 6-10, third in division.

Coach: June Jones (first year as a head coach).

Key additions: QB Jeff George, DE Chris Doleman, S Kevin Ross, LB Clay Matthews and CB D. J. Johnson.

Key losses: WR Michael Haynes, WR Mike Pritchard, OT Chris Hinton, QB Chris Miller and LB Darion Conner.

Strengths: The departure of Jerry Glanville is an addition by subtraction. Jones is untested, but he'll give the Falcons a more professional look. They also like to think they've stabilized the defense by adding such veterans as Doleman, Ross, Matthews and Johnson.

Weaknesses: The Falcons like to think that George, who has been a malcontent in college and the NFL, just needed a change of scenery to turn his career around. He has to prove he's not the problem.

Extra point: This could be the last stand for the run-and-shoot offense. Jones is a believer in it, and he has hired the guru of the offense, Mouse Davis, to make it work.

4. Los Angeles Rams

1993 record: 5-11, fourth in division.

Coach: Chuck Knox (182-135-1 career).

Key additions: QB Chris Miller, QB Chris Chandler, QB Tommy Maddox, DT Jimmie Jones and CB Terry Taylor.

Key losses: WR Henry Ellard, S Michael Stewart, TE Pat Carter, DE Tony Woods and S Pat Terrell.

Strengths: Jerome Bettis is predicting he's going to have a 2,000-yard season (only O. J. Simpson and Eric Dickerson have done it), and Knox is going to give him the ball enough to give him a shot at it. The trouble is, running the ball is their only strength.

Weaknesses: The Rams got rid of Jim Everett and brought in three new quarterbacks. But starter Miller, who was paid $3 million, is injury-prone, Chandler is a career backup and Maddox isn't ready. The defense, ranked 24th, is nothing special, either.

Extra point: All the drama surrounding this team is off the field. Are they going to move, and can Paul Tagliabue keep them out of Baltimore if they do?

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