The season kicks off on Thursday as the Seahawks begin their Super Bowl defense by hosting the Packers. Here’s the final update for each of the Cardinals’ NFC West foes before the games begin.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
What’s new: The suspension of linebacker Aldon Smith was handed down Friday, and he will miss the first nine games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse and personal conduct policies. That stretch includes the 49ers’ Week 3 game in Arizona as well as a handful of other key matchups. Smith has 42 sacks in 43 career games so it’s a big loss. Fellow standout linebacker Navorro Bowman will also miss a good chunk of the season with the knee injury he suffered in last year’s NFC championship game.
What it means: The 49ers’ linebacker corps has been one of the NFL’s best for several years, as Bowman, Smith and Patrick Willis led the charge. Willis will be the only one available early on in 2014, so the 49ers need to find production from others until Smith and Bowman return. Ahmad Brooks was a Pro Bowler last season and San Francisco hopes he can duplicate that production. The 49ers also lost defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey for several months to a biceps injury, so the dominant defense of recent memory has some holes to fill.
What’s next: The 49ers travel to AT&T Stadium to play the Cowboys on Sunday.
What’s new: The Seahawks activated linebacker Bruce Irvin from the physically unable to perform list and he has a chance to play against Green Bay. He missed every preseason game following offseason hip surgery. Irvin had eight sacks as a rookie and 40 tackles with two sacks in 12 games last season.
What it means: The addition of Irvin in the near future will further bolster a defense which again looks like the league’s best. The 49ers, Cardinals and Rams have each suffered their share of serious injuries, but Seattle has mostly avoided that fate. The Seahawks look poised to make another Super Bowl run, but they face off with the explosive Packers offense in the opener, so it will be a good test to see if this year’s defense can match last year’s dominance.
What’s next: The Seahawks play the Packers in Seattle on Thursday night on NBC.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
What’s new: Quarterback Sam Bradford tore his ACL for the second straight year on Aug. 23 and will miss the season. The Rams will move veteran backup Shaun Hill into the starter’s role. Hill hasn’t started a game since 2010, when he threw for 2,686 yards with 16 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 61.8 completion percentage for the Lions.
What it means: This seemed to be a make-or-break year for Bradford, who hadn’t lived up to the billing associated with a No. 1 overall draft choice. Instead, his absence hurts the Rams’ chances to compete in the NFC West. The defense should still be very good, but unless Hill has a Kurt Warner-esque emergence, it will be tough for the Rams to score points against the division’s stout defenses. The Rams have many intriguing young pieces and were expected to be a feisty competitor in 2014, but the loss of Bradford is a serious hit to their chances.
What’s next: The Rams host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.