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Although they should push the 49ers right to the limit _ they finish the season at San Francisco _ the Cardinals lost too much to not take a step backward.

Kurt Warner’s retirement and Matt Leinart’s flop puts the quarterbacking in Derek Anderson’s hands, with two rookies behind him. At least he has Larry Fitzgerald to throw to, but he won’t have Anquan Boldin, who’s in Baltimore now. The running game needs to come through, particularly Beanie Wells.

The defense, which was scorched in the playoffs, saw LB Karlos Dansby go to Miami. Another critical piece no longer in the desert is DB Antrel Rolle. Pro Bowlers Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback and DT Darnell Dockett are the standouts.

Seattle Seahawks

If nothing else, the Seahawks will be enthusiastic under Pete Carroll, who returns to the NFL coaching ranks for the first time in a decade. Unlike at Southern Cal, Carroll won’t be operating with a roster four-deep in talent.

Instead, Carroll has a ton of uncertainty, with more than 50 percent of the roster changing since the end of last season under Jim Mora. The biggest questions are on the offensive and defensive lines, the secondary, and at receiver after the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Seattle does have some attention-getters in linebackers Aaron Curry and Lofa Tatupu, RB-KR Leon Washington, and, if healthy, QB Matt Hasselbeck. He missed big portions of the last two seasons and the Seahawks were also-rans.

St. Louis Rams

Coming off a one-win season, a handful of victories would be satisfactory for the Rams. They aren’t likely to get there with a rookie quarterback, first overall pick Sam Bradford, and a mess of a roster.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo might not have a set lineup for weeks. He has the makings of a foundation on defense with LB James Laurinaitis and DE Chris Long, and on offense with OTs Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold.

RB Steven Jackson gives the Rams one of their few prime-time players, but you won’t see them in any national TV games this year. You might see them leading off the draft again next April.