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The NFC West is no longer the NFL's doormats

Before every season, I look at what divisions face off when making my preseason predictions. Divisional strength can change by the year, but one common theme remained consistent over the last decade: The NFC West was bad.

The division could occasionally go from pathetic to sub-mediocre, but it was always a plus to see the four-pack of the Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals, and San Francisco 49ers on the schedule. 2012 should finally change all that.

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San Francisco looks like a powerhouse. Seattle and Arizona showed at the end of last year that they have two of the most dynamic defenses in the league. That's carried over. St. Louis already looks far more competent under Jeff Fisher. It's only Week 2 but look at the results from Sunday:

The 49ers followed up a win in Green Bay by beating another NFC contender. Arizona moved to 2-0 with a stunning win over the New England Patriots. Seattle pounded the Dallas Cowboys into submission. St. Louis won an exciting shootout against the Washington Redskins.

The four teams have combined to go 5-1 outside of the division this season. The only loss on the books was St. Louis' narrow Week 1 defeat in Detroit, a game the Rams led into the waning moments. NFC West teams have already beaten the favorites in the AFC and NFC on the road.

We've found the NFC's answer to the AFC North. Arizona, Seattle, and San Francisco all play a bruising brand of football. Jeff Fisher's squad should get there eventually.

Facing the NFC West out of division is no longer a gift from the scheduling gods. It may wind up being one of the best -- and most fascinating -- divisions in the league.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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