The NFC West may be better referred to this season as the NFL Best. From top to bottom, the division is strong with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks at the top and the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals not far below them.
Just three seasons ago, the NFC West was the punch line of many jokes as the Seahawks finished with a dismal 7-9 record that was good enough for first place and the NFC West title.
That was the first time in NFL history a division winner finished with a record below .500. and hosted a postseason game to boot.
Just three seasons later and the NFC West is now rock solid with the most competitive division in the NFL.
Even if some football fans consider the Cardinals and Rams as mediocre clubs, the 49ers and Seahawks are two of the top four teams in all of football.
Seattle has been turned around by Head Coach Pete Carroll, quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch. The 49ers have one of the league’s best coaches in Jim Harbaugh.
Seattle’s offense is tough to stop with the aforementioned Wilson and Lynch, but it is their defense and particularly their defensive secondary that is by far the best in the NFL, led by Richard Sherman.
For San Francisco, Colin Kaepernick has added a dual threat of run and throw at the quarterback position but it is their defense and particularly their linebackers that are the backbone of the team.
Depth is another key element both Seattle and San Francisco possess. Both can have injuries take place during the season and sustain them without missing a beat. San Francisco will miss Michael Crabtree and Seattle, Percy Harvin for the majority of the season, but odds makers have not lowered their odds of winning the division or the Super Bowl.
After the top two elite teams in the division, there is a drop in talent but the Rams and Cardinals will surprise many this season. The Rams were 4-1-1 in division play in 2012. St. Louis should protect Sam Bradford at quarterback better this season, giving him time to show critics how good he is.
The Rams have Tavon Austin who might just win the Offensive Rookie of the Year, while Chris Givens will complement Austin. The Rams picked up tackle Jake Long to solidify their blocking and pass protection. Defensively they are tough in their front seven, but could have problems in the secondary.
Arizona might be considered the fourth team and not given much of a chance, but they will prove many wrong this season. The team was hit hard with Daryl Washington being suspended and Jonathan Cooper the team’s first round guard shattering his leg.
Carson Palmer ended his disastrous tenure at Oakland and is now a Cardinal. If Larry Fitzgerald can return to being Larry Fitzgerald, then Palmer to Fitzgerald could become one of the top tandems in the NFL.
Defensively the Cardinals will be strong with Tyrann Mathieu making an impact from his first down on the field.
Look for the 49ers to claim the NFC West title, with Seattle second, St. Louis third and the Cardinals fourth.