The two teams vying for the Super Bowl next season will hail from west of the Mississippi. There – I said it! For the first time in recent memory, Vegas is now favoring the 49ers and Seahawks to play for the NFC conference title and while the Patriots will always be a threat in the AFC as long as Belichick and Brady remain together, the Broncos are my pick in that conference. The common theme among these three teams is that each have made significant moves either through Free Agency or trades to bolster already-formidable rosters. Furthermore, and most importantly in this offense-driven era, all have QBs coming off tremendous years although Kaepernick needs to prove he can duplicate his success over a full season.
I’ve already documented the Wes Welker signing (http://wp.me/p1m3T5-5a) which gives Peyton Manning another target along with Demaryius Thomas and Erik Decker. In addition to Welker, Elway has aggressively gone out and signed right guard Louis Vasquez, right cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. The only remaining piece is agreeing to terms with defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who along with Von Miller, anchored the Broncos’ excellent defense (3rd in the league in both pass and rush yards allowed). The Broncos easily won the AFC West last season as the division has been consistently weak; however, this may change with the recent hiring of Andy Reid by the Chiefs and the merciful firing of Norv Turner in San Diego. I still think the Broncos will prevail though and challenge New England for the AFC title.
The 49ers and Seahawks didn’t even wait until Free Agency to improve their receiving corps which isn’t altogether surprising given their coaches, Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll respectively, have a rivalry (some say hatred) that dates back to their Stanford-USC days. Seattle got the upper hand by acquiring dynamic wide receiver Percy Harvin from the Vikings for a first round draft pick. At only 24 years old, Harvin will make Seattle’s read option offense dangerous for a long time. Plus, he now has the scrambling, playmaking QB in Russell Wilson that he so sorely lacked in Minnesota (Christian Ponder apparently didn’t do it for Harvin). Oh, and he returned a Viking franchise record 5 punts for TDs so the special teams got better too! The Seahawks already have the great RB Marshawn Lynch who rushed for over 1,590 yards and a defense that ranked first in points allowed. Assuming Chris Clemons returns from his injury quickly, playing Seattle will be a very difficult task.
Not to be outdone, the 49ers traded an astonishingly low sixth round pick for veteran Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin, taking advantage perhaps of Baltimore’s reduced cap space (Joe Flacco’s astronomical contract isn’t doing them any favors). Boldin has had 4 1,000+ yards seasons in his 10 year career as well as a monster playoff run with 16 catches for 276 yards and 3 TDs. Clearly, he will help the 49ers but at 32 years old, this trade didn’t make the splash that Harvin’s did. Plus Randy Moss won’t be around as the second receiver so the 49ers will rely heavily on Boldin and Mario Manningham. On the defensive side, rumors abound that former Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha will soon sign with San Francisco for a reduced amount considering his recent swoon. If Asomugha can return to his earlier form with the Raiders though, that would count as a major coup for the 49ers.
The NFC West is a two team race between the 49ers and Seahawks and I predict the latter will get the upper hand. So that’s Seahawks vs. Broncos in the next Super Bowl which, ironically enough, will be played on the East Coast (my hometown MetLife Stadium). My friends at Fantasy Furnace (http://fantasyfurnace.com/) tell me that pre-season begins in 143 days so let the countdown begin!