SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (13-5-1)
NEW FACES: WR Anquan Boldin, WR Jonathan Baldwin, S Craig Dahl, K Phil Dawson, QB Colt McCoy, QB Seneca Wallace, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, S Eric Reid, TE Vance McDonald.
KEY LOSSES: QB Alex Smith, S Dashon Goldson, TE Delanie Walker, K David Akers, WR Randy Moss, DL Isaac Sopoaga, DL Ricky Jean Francois.
STRENGTHS: LBs, RBs, OL, special teams.
EXPECTATIONS: Super Bowl return — and win — is what 49ers have in mind after reaching big game for first time in 18 years and falling short of sixth title. Schedule, though, more daunting and division much better. 49ers believe Colin Kaepernick is guy who can lead team to another special postseason. Addition of Phil Dawson bolsters confidence in kicking game. Boast one of best overall defenses, led by LBs Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith. Frank Gore leads ground game. Tight-knit offensive line has played two full seasons together and made big strides during that time.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (12-6)
NEW FACES: WR Percy Harvin, DE Cliff Avril, DE Michael Bennett, DT Tony McDaniel, CB Antoine Winfield, DT Jesse Williams, DT Jordan Hill, RB Christine Michael, QB Tarvaris Jackson.
KEY LOSSES: DT Alan Branch, OL John Moffitt, KR/RB Leon Washington, QB Matt Flynn, LB Leroy Hill, CB Marcus Trufant, TE Anthony McCoy.
STRENGTHS: QB, RB, OL, DB.
WEAKNESSES: DL, OLB, TE, G.
EXPECTATIONS: Super Bowl or bust? Pete Carroll quieted all those complaining about sluggish first two seasons with 11-5 regular season in 2012, first-round playoff win over Washington, then close loss to Atlanta in next round. Settled at quarterback with Russell Wilson, at running back with Marshawn Lynch, and with league's best secondary, led by All-Pros Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman. Seattle expected to battle San Francisco for division crown. But schedule doesn't help with road games at Houston, Indianapolis, Atlanta and New York Giants. Survive those, hold serve at home where Seahawks were undefeated last season and road to Super Bowl may go through Seattle.
ST. LOUIS RAMS (7-8-1)
NEW FACES: WR Tavon Austin, WR Stedman Bailey, OT Joe Barksdale, TE Jared Cook, OL Barrett Jones, OT Jake Long, S T.J. McDonald, CB Brandon McGee, LB Alec Ogletree, RB Zac Stacy, LB Will Witherspoon.
KEY LOSSES: WR Danny Amendola, S Craig Dahl, RB Steven Jackson, LB Rocky McIntosh, S Quintin Mikell.
STRENGTHS: DL, WR, CB
WEAKNESSES: S, RB.
EXPECTATIONS: One of youngest teams also was among most improved in first season under coach Jeff Fisher, shaking off five-year stretch totaling 15 wins — worst in NFL history. More youth must step up to contend in stacked NFC West, so posting franchise's first winning season in decade might be plenty. Speedy Austin and Cook should help rev up offense that features two former No. 1 overall picks in QB Sam Bradford and OT Jake Long, but minus proven commodity at RB. Pass rush among NFL's best, but both safeties are new and OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, second-leading tackler last season, suspended first four games.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-11)
NEW FACES: Coach Bruce Arians, QB Carson Palmer, RB Rashard Mendenhall, OT Eric Winston, CB Jerraud Powers, ILB Karlos Dansby, ILB Jasper Brinkley, OLB John Abraham, S Yeremiah Bell, OLB Lorenzo Alexander, OG Jonathan Cooper, S-CB Tyrann Mathieu, ILB Kevin Minter.
KEY LOSSES: QB Kevin Kolb, QB John Skelton, S Adrian Wilson, CB William Gay, S Kerry Rhodes.
STRENGTHS: WR, DL.
WEAKNESSES: OL, S.
EXPECTATIONS: 60-year-old Arians brings "throw deep" mentality that will only work if questionable offensive line, weakened further by loss of first-round draft pick Cooper (broken leg) at left guard, can keep Palmer upright. Palmer put up big numbers year ago in Oakland but most of those came after team had fallen behind. With wholesale roster changes, Arians has quickly put his stamp on team, including adding several dozen plays for CB Patrick Peterson on offense. But questions abound on both sides of ball, and if Palmer can't stay healthy, backup Drew Stanton hasn't thrown a pass in regular season since 2010. There's also lack of depth at RB and WR. Playing in toughest division in NFL will make success even more difficult.