Craig from Knoxville writes: I think alot of the experts, including yourself, are selling the Cards a little short. Remember, Kurt Warner didn't light up the Cards when he first got here. He didn't really light it up till Ken Whisenhunt took over. But the key is the Cardinals' schedule: Oakland, Kansas City, Denver, Tampa Bay, Seattle twice, St. Louis twice and San Francisco at home. That is nine games that can be won if the Cards just play decently, let alone very well. Throw in an upset or two and the Cardinals can easily get nine or 10 wins. There's talent all over on the defense, with players who really care (Adrian Wilson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Darnell Dockett, Joey Porter). And the Cardinals still have the best receiver in the game. If Derek Anderson does what I think he will do -- throw a lot of deep passes to Larry Fitzgerald -- we can still score 24-28 points a game (remember the playoffs; two cornerbacks couldn't cover him). Ben Graham constantly kicks inside the 20, so teams will have bad field position alot, too.
Mike Sando: I've consistently said the Cardinals can win the division, but the 49ers should be favored at this time because they have fewer question marks. As far as scheduling, it's tough to predict the Cardinals in that area. They went 6-2 on the road last season, but lost at home to Carolina. I see eight or nine victories on that Arizona schedule this season, which would put them right in the hunt for a third consecutive division title. The San Francisco 49ers should also be in that range, too. I'm not expecting any one team to run away with this division. And I'll say it again: Do not write off Arizona.
Dan from Charlotte, N.C., writes: I wanted to pass along a thought I had on Pete Carroll. I'm originally from the Boston area, Pats fan, watched the Carroll era. He had a lot of interesting ways. Most did not work. I have a distinct feeling he will do the Seahawks' organization well over the next few years. The experiences he had from USC, and the Pats role should give him very strong background on the right and wrong things to do for an NFL franchise. He's a solid guy, bright mind. I think everyone agrees with the housecleaning. I am slightly surprised they didn't try to sign a quarterback of significant value to be the future, as they need something post-Matt Hasslebeck. I think this year, some eyes will open, but it will be a down year overall. Year two will be a a big step forward. However, if you start hearing him start saying, "We're pumped and jacked," run away, just run away!
Mike Sando: Thanks, Dan. Sorry to break it to you, but Pete Carroll is already quite pumped. He used the term at least four times during his media session Wednesday:
"We're really pumped about this chance to open up at home at Qwest."
"I’m just as pumped about where we're going and the information we're going to draw on and what we'll know more so after we get out of this thing as it leads us into the next games."
"(David Hawthorne) has missed quite a bit of time, but he looked very good on Monday and I know he's pumped up about starting."
"I can see why they're (the 49ers) pumped up about their chances."
Carroll did not say whether he was jacked, or to what degree, but I'm thinking hie' probably at least "really jacked" heading into his first season as Seahawks coach. He might not be the only guy jacked up in the division, however. Last season, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said he gets "pretty jacked up" before games. Also last season, St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said his team gets "jacked" when Steven Jackson plows through opposing defenses.
Seriously, though, I think Carroll can succeed in this job. He will need the next quarterback, as you noted, and it's too early to say whether Charlie Whitehurst is the answer. I didn't see enough from Whitehurst during the exhibition season to declare him the successor, but neither would it be wise to write him off. That position remains unsettled longer term. Carroll's ability to find the next quarterback will largely determine whether all those slogans and phrases gain legitimacy or serve as ammunition for his mocking.
Brandon from Poulsbo, Wash., writes: Hey Mike, a sporting website that rhymes with "box" recently came out with their own pre-Week 1 power rankings. Same as ESPN, they had St. Louis last, but I was surprised to find my beloved Seahawks occupying the next spot up. I understand that there may be some concern with the roster turnover in Seattle, but is the team really so bad as to deserve being called the second-worst team in the NFL?
Mike Sando: Mass change creates question marks. People aren't sure what the changes mean. They just see an already bad team parting with some of its better-known players, and it looks bad. Seattle should be pretty good against the run this season, and better in the secondary. Questions on the offensive line do present serious challenges. Those issues up front make it tougher to envision Matt Hasselbeck remaining healthy enough to play consistently well this season. It's fair to rank the Seahawks among the very worst teams until Seattle proves it has some answers. Otherwise, you're taking it on faith.
Kevin from Westwood, Calif., writes: Hey Sando! Can't wait for the season to start, gonna need this blog since I'm a displaced 49ers fan (I'm going to be at UCLA this year). I was just wondering if Alex Smith has a breakout season and the 49ers make the playoffs, do you think that Captain Smith would be viable candidate for comeback player of the year?
Mike Sando: No, just because he wasn't out of the league or even struggling last season. He started 10 games and threw 18 touchdown passes. The Seahawks' Mike Williams is the leading comeback candidate in the division right now, just because he's earned a starting role after busting out of the league.
J.D. from South Dakota writes: Hey Mike, I think Sam Bradford has the tools to be a franchise quarterback for the Rams, but I do have two concerns I would like you to watch for (other than the major concern of protection issues). I would like your thoughts on how Bradford moves around in the pocket and why he seems to get more passes batted down at the line than a 6-foot-5 quarterback should. Thanks.
Mike Sando: You got it. I'll watch for those things. I haven't noticed Bradford having an inordinate number of balls batted. Usually that comes down to protection or release point or how quickly a quarterback makes decisions. Bradford should have little trouble making quick decisions as he gets more comfortable with the offense. He was known for making quick decisions, and he seems decisive. He'll be contending with a 6-foot-8 defensive end in the opener (Calais Campbell). If Campbell tips the ball, maybe it's just because he's so tall. On the movement front, I want to see how comfortably and purposefully he moves under duress.
Seth from Newport News, Va., writes: I'm really excited about the Mark Clayton trade. I think he will be starting by Week 3. I know he never lived up to expectations in Baltimore, but he is an excellent deep threat and catches the deep ball rather well. It's a great replacment for Donnie Avery. I think the Rams' offense will surprise people this year.
Mike Sando: I see definite improvement in store for this offense. It's easy to forget that the Rams were putting up good yardage totals in a few games there before their offensive line imploded, Steven Jackson's back gave out and they were forced to start a rookie third-string quarterback.
Clayton is already working with the starters at the "Z" or flanker spot. Early indications suggest he is grasping the offense quickly and showing good deep speed, which means we'll probably see him start Sunday. Laurent Robinson is the starter a "X" or split end. I think Clayton's acquisition was important because it allows Danny Amendola to remain in the slot primarily. Amendola enjoyed a very strong camp, but he's not as well suited to play on the outside. Leaving him in the slot gives him his best chance.
I'm really looking forward to seeing Bradford and this offense Sunday. Should be a great measuring-stick game against a talented defense.
Richard from Avondale, Ariz., writes: Could you please report the 49ers signing Davis to the practice squad?
Mike Sando: Consider it reported. That was an expected move and there were more important subjects to address Wednesday, but Davis does deserve mention because quite a few 49ers fans seem to have strong opinions about him. The 49ers wanted their third-string quarterback to push David Carr for the No. 2 role and provide some real insurance. They felt as though they couldn't trust Davis to do either, and if they couldn't trust him along those lines, why would another team show trust in him by claiming him off waivers?
Even if another team does sign Davis, I think the 49ers would get another shot at signing him down the line. It's just tough committing to a quarterback when that quarterback hasn't committed as fully as the head coach, Mike Singletary, wants him to commit. Perhaps Davis will get the message and take the next step.