Analysis  

 

Seahawks, 49ers, Rams, Cardinals make NFC West the NFL's best

In 2010, the NFC West was a punch line. The Seattle Seahawks won the division with a 7-9 record. Thus, the division set records for futility, as the NFL never had a division winner under .500, never had a team under .500 host a playoff game.

That season feels like a lifetime ago. Get out of your bubble. Look West my friends.

The NFC West is the most dominant, competitive and fascinating division in the league -- and it's not even close. I'm captivated. Three years after being the worst division in NFL history, it conceivably could be one of the best.

Hyperbole? Sure. But I also truly believe it. At worst, Seattle and San Francisco are two of the three best teams in the NFL. At best, they are the top two.

Pete Carroll has done a superb job in Seattle. Jim Harbaugh is, quite simply, one of the top coaches in the NFL. I think the Seahawks and 49ers have the two finest defenses in the league -- they both punch you in the mouth. Seattle's "Legion of Boom" defensive backfield is the best in the business. San Francisco's linebackers are elite. And both clubs maul opponents with the defensive line. They punch you in the mouth running the football, too -- Seattle gets Marshawn Lynch in beast mode, while San Francisco rides Frank Gore and friends. Oh, and did I mention that each team boasts one of the best young quarterbacks in the game? Thirteen months ago, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick were ticketed to be backups. Now, they've proven to be clutch quarterbacks and are only getting better. These teams are deep, too -- both can sustain injuries during the course of the season. For example, key receivers Percy Harvin and Michael Crabtree are out for the bulk of the season (at least), but these teams are so good that you don't downgrade them.

And that's just the top of the division. Don't sleep on the St. Louis Rams or Arizona Cardinals.

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Jeff Fisher is a fabulous coach, always getting his teams to overachieve. After inheriting a mess last year, Fisher somehow helped the Rams achieve a 4-1-1 record in the division. And all signs point to the Rams being better in 2013. Sam Bradford finally has continuity with his offensive coordinator, and he's a great fit with Brian Schottenheimer. Tavon Austin will be my pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year. I expect big things out of receiver Chris Givens, as well. Daryl Richardson has earned the top spot at running back. Jake Long helps solidify the offensive line. I love Chris Long and the defensive front. James Laurinaitis is a big-time linebacker. General manager Les Snead stole Alec Ogletree near the end of the first round in April. Janoris Jenkins is a play-making stud in his second year.

As for the fourth team in the division, it's one I believed in enough to write this column in February. And if Daryl Washington wasn't suspended and first-round pick and stud guard Jonathan Cooper didn't shatter his leg last Saturday night, I'd still believe in the Cardinals as a playoff team.

Carson Palmer was a disaster in Oakland, but the veteran quarterback has reinvented himself with dedication this spring and summer. Thus, Larry Fitzgerald will be back to being Larry Fitzgerald. Michael Floyd will break through. Patrick Peterson will make an impact on offense, defense, and special teams. And the Cardinals have a ton of talent on defense, starting with the line. Let's not forget about Tyrann Mathieu, who will make an immediate impact.

In a total reverse from 2010, I predict every team in the NFC West will finish with at least eight wins. And I actually feel badly for the Rams and Cardinals, that they have to play in this battle zone. In fact, if the Rams were in the NFC East, they would win that division, and probably by two games.

You read that correctly. The Rams are the third-best team in the West -- and better than the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Redskins.

I had to chuckle when Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said the NFC East is "the SEC of the NFL." Sorry, Bruce -- maybe the Big East. (Or now AAC. Or whatever.)

The classically powerful NFC East is a mirage; a division filled with four very average teams. The NFC West is the real deal, with two of the best teams in the league, a nine-win squad (at least) in St. Louis and a true sleeper in Arizona.

Wake up, people. Get out of your bubble. History is about to be made.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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