SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: The 49ers went 13-3 last season and advanced to the NFC championship game, but GM Trent Baalke still made significant roster moves by bringing in wide receivers Mario Manningham and Randy Moss and running back Brandon Jacobs.
Quarterback Alex Smith finally approached the expectations of being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, but the offense bogged down at times. Indicative of that was place kicker David Akers making an NFL single-season record 44 field goals.
Linebacker Patrick Willis remains an anchor on defense, which has back all its starters. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman is an emerging star on the inside.
ROOKIE TO WATCH: RB LaMichael James.
ST. LOUIS RAMS: New coach Jeff Fisher gave the wayward franchise an instant dose of credibility. Based on last season, the Rams can use all the help they can get.
St. Louis went 2-14 and averaged 12.1 points per game, last in the NFL, but the offense was missing Sam Bradford for the final six games. The starting quarterback had a high ankle sprain he has called a “non-issue” this season.
Defensively, Chris Long had 11 sacks last season, and the Rams added elite cornerback Cortland Finnegan from Tennessee, where Fisher spent 17 seasons.
ROOKIE TO WATCH: DT Michael Brockers.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: The Seahawks officially have the highest paid backup quarterback in the NFL in Matt Flynn, who received a four-year contract worth $19.5 million.
Coach Pete Carroll instead named rookie Russell Wilson the Week 1 starter after the third-round pick outperformed Flynn during the preseason. Seattle also dealt quarterback Tarvaris Jackson to the Buffalo Bills in the preseason and ended its experiment with free agent wide receiver Terrell Owens.
The defense can keep the Seahawks close most weeks. It was ranked No. 9 overall last season and limited opponents to just over 16 points per game in the second half of the season.
ROOKIE TO WATCH: Wilson.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: The quarterback controversy between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton gained traction when Kolb, who two seasons ago signed for $63 million, looked so uncomfortable in the second preseason game that Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Tommy Kelly called him “skittish” and “scared.” Skelton was named the starter last week.
Among the laundry list of issues facing coach Ken Whisenhunt is the injury to starting left tackle Levi Brown, who has a torn triceps and may not play this season.
The running back situation also could be in flux with oft-injured Beanie Wells competing with Ryan Williams for carries.
ROOKIE TO WATCH: WR Michael Floyd.