From top to bottom, the NFC West is largely considered to be the best division in football these days. The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks will go into the upcoming season as favorites in the conference, and it would surprise no one if the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams were in the playoff hunt.
Despite the strong rosters and high expectations, each team still has players behind center with lingering question marks. While Carson Palmer, Sam Bradford, Colin Kaepernick, and Russell Wilson have each had varying levels of success, all four signal callers have something to prove in 2014.
2013 was a bit of a career renaissance for Palmer. The veteran led the Cardinals to a 10-6 record after going 12-28 as a starter from 2010-12 with the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders. Palmer’s big arm is a good fit for head coach Bruce Arians’ system, which calls for his quarterback to make plays down the field.
The Cardinals struggled to run the ball for much of last season, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry. While improvements on that end will help the passing game, Palmer himself must cut down on turnovers. He threw 22 interceptions which was tied for the second-most in the NFL. If the Cardinals are to compete with the 49ers and Seahawks, he’ll have to take better care of the football on a consistent basis.
As a former No. 1 overall pick, Bradford was expected to be a franchise quarterback for the Rams. To his credit, he was enjoying his best statistical season in 2013 before a knee injury put him on the shelf after seven starts. Even with the step forward last year, Bradford still hasn’t shown himself to be the kind of quarterback you can build your team around.
Bradford is 18-30-1 as a starter and owns a 58.6 percent completion rate. His overall pedestrian play makes 2014 a make-or-break campaign as Bradford must prove he can be an upper-tier quarterback in the NFL. The Rams are slowly but surely building a strong team around him, but whether or not he will be the man to take them forward remains to be seen.
By signing what basically equates to a year-to-year deal, Kaepernick bet on himself to continue to develop. While he has had great success early in his career, the 49ers quarterback struggled for much of 2013.
Kaepernick averaged 154 yards passing a game from Weeks 2-10, and often looked hesitant in the pocket. While he turned his game around late last season, he must prove that he can make plays from the pocket on a consistent basis. The 49ers have loaded up with offensive weapons to help him do so, as Kaepernick will have Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson and Vernon Davis to choose from in the passing game.
What can a quarterback who is 28-9 with a Super Bowl victory in his first two years still have to prove? How can someone improve from a 52-19 regular season touchdown-to-interception ratio?
It’s not that Wilson has to justify his status as a winner in the NFL, but he does have to prove he’s worth the massive contract he’s likely to receive with the Seahawks.
Wilson has been excellent when called upon to make plays, but he’s yet to be the focal point of the offensive attack. The Seahawks have attempted only 825 passes the past two seasons, which is the lowest total in the NFL. If Wilson is going to get paid like an elite quarterback, he must be able to show he can be as successful in a bigger sample size.
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