Could the Cardinals fly away with the West?

While the Cards are positioned for a playoff run in 2008, their competition in the NFC West will be vastly improved from a year ago. With free agency and the draft now complete, the division race is beginning to take form.'s Brad Wilbricht dissects which teams have made the biggest strides.

The Cardinals look to build upon an injury-riddled 2007 season in which the team still managed an 8-8 record. In his second season in the desert, coach Ken Whisenhunt will attempt to lead Arizona to a winning record and a playoff appearance for the first time since 1998.

The Cardinals offense features the necessary weapons to be an explosive unit in 2008. If QB Matt Leinart can overcome injuries and inconsistent play, the Cardinals offense could experience a breakout year. On the defensive side of the ball, key veteran free-agent additions and promising rookies have the Arizona defense in position for a drastic improvement.

One of the biggest factors for the Cardinals will be the state of their competition in the NFC West. Seattle is an aging team but still has the means to compete for the division title. Like Arizona, San Francisco and St. Louis suffered numerous injuries in 2007. Both teams have been active this offseason and look to rebound in 2008.

Seattle made some significant moves this offseason, including releasing former MVP RB Shaun Alexander. Alexander is coming off two sub-par seasons and will be replaced by the combination of Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett. The Seahawks also locked up Pro Bowl CB Marcus Trufant to a long-term deal and signed former Green Bay Packers guard Mike Wahle.

In addition, Seattle selected DE Lawrence Jackson of USC with its first-round draft pick. The Seahawks hope to build on an impressive pass-rushing unit that finished fourth in the NFL in sacks (45) in 2007.

The main question for the 49ers is at the quarterback position. Former 2005 first overall pick QB Alex Smith has struggled early in his career. QB Shaun Hill filled in admirably towards the end of last season and will battle Smith for the starting spot.

A contributing factor for the struggles of Smith and the 49ers quarterbacks was the lack of production at the wide receiver position. San Francisco hopes to fill that void with two newcomers, WR Isaac Bruce and former Cardinals WR Bryant Johnson. The 49ers also signed former Cincinnati Bengals DE Justin Smith.

St Louis failed to make a big splash in the free-agent market, but managed to sign a few solid veterans. QB Trent Green, WR Reche Caldwell and TE Anthony Becht should provide depth and veteran leadership to the Rams offense.

St. Louis instantly upgraded their defense with the addition of second overall pick DE Chris Long of Virginia. In the draft, the Rams also added speedy wide receivers Donnie Avery of Houston and former Kentucky WR Keenan Burton. Additionally, St Louis built depth along the offense line by selecting OT Joe Greco from Toledo and OG Roy Schuening of Oregon State.

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