The eighth and final installment of my previews takes us to a foreign land of enigmatic teams with unknown quantities. Well, sort of. I can guess without too much brain squeezing that the Seahawks will likely win this division.
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
It's hard to find any weaknesses on the offensive side of the ball. QB Matt Hasselbeck is solid. WRs Darrell Jackson and Nate Burleson are pretty good. Starting RB Shaun Alexander ... yeah, I guess you can get by with him, too.
The defense doesn't offer a lot of star power, but coach Mike Holmgren has gotten out of them what he has needed. I see no reason why the Seahawks won't be there contending for the Super Bowl again this year.
The x-factor: injuries. As with Carolina, it's about the only thing standing between them and contention.
2. St. Louis Rams (8-8)
Marshall Faulk's career is officially a ghost. Steven Jackson must carry the torch of the "Greatest Show on Turf" for future generations. Unfortunately, that torch isn't burning so bright at the moment. Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce are still around for Marc Bulger to throw to. Kevin Curtis provides a nice addition to the receiver mix that helped carry the Rams to two Super Bowls. But this is a team starting to short out.
The defense ... let's not even go there. Jason Fisk is their backup nose tackle. Yep, that Jason Fisk from last year's Browns.
The x-factor: Jackson. He is the only guy who can come close to carrying this team.
3. Arizona Cardinals (6-10)
What does it say that we know Matt Leinart dated Paris Hilton and got an ex-girlfriend pregnant, but we know next to nothing about what kind of NFL quarterback he'll be?
Call it the Katie Couric syndrome. Everybody wants to know what she's wearing, nobody wants to know the news she's reporting.
Meanwhile, the rest of the team got somewhat better, but not enough to draw a Richter scale reading in '06. Edgerrin James is the Ben Wallace of NFL free agent signings. Great in the short term, probably burdensome in the long term as he ages.
When Leinart has bored himself chasing beaver tail, he has Anquan Boldin to throw to. I think he'll score some touchdowns if you get the ball to him.
The offense has some weapons, but the defense needs serious help before the Cardinals can come close to contending. Die-hard Cardinal fans would probably have trouble naming all 11 starters.
The x-factor: James. With Leinart still sowing wild oats like Johnny Appleseed, somebody needs to lend a stabilizing veteran hand to the roster.
4. San Francisco 49ers (2-14)
It's sad to see what has become of the 49ers. Less than 10 years ago, this was a proud franchise. Now, they are limping along with system QB Alex Smith under center and mercurial Antonio Bryant as their best receiver.
Frank Gore offers a small ray of light as the feature back, but who is going to spring him for yards?
Outside of a select few players, you aren't going to know a lot of 49ers to look at their names. Bay Area fans feel the same way, I'd think. It probably makes them sick to pay attention too closely.
The x-factor: the first overall pick in 2007. That's all the Niners have to play for this year.