In 2002 when the NFL realigned the NFL into 8 four-team divisions the NFC west was filled with the Seattle Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers, the St. Louis Rams & the Arizona Cardinals. Through much misery, the NFC west chugged into the new millennium being, in my opinion, the red-headed step child of the NFL. Aside from runs by Seattle in 05 and and Arizona in 08, most years ended with whatever team won the division being eliminated in the divisional or wild card round. Fast forward 10 years, and with poor records come high draft picks. The St Louis Rams now rank as the youngest team in the league. The 49ers offensive line contains 3 first round picks. Seattle has experienced a return to prominence through youth in star QB Russell Wilson and somehow through all of it the Cardinals have managed to stay not far behind. So one must ask, where does this division stand in the now? Let’s break down each teams situation.
St Louis Rams – Through the hiring of former Titans coach Jeff Fisher, St Louis is currently the youngest team in the league with an age average of 25.3 years old. With the departure of Stephen Jackson leaving a major gap in the backfield, all eyes will turn to Sam Bradford. While setting records for most completions by a rookie quarterback and most consecutive passes without an interception by a rookie quarterback, Bradford has failed to impress otherwise. With the drafting of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, fresh legs will be in the wide out positions, with most other draft spots filled with defensive positions. With a great mind like that of coach Fisher, it’s hard to believe the Rams will float around .500 much longer.
San Francisco 49ers – The obvious dark horse in the division, 49ers fans have gone through great triumph and disappointment in the last 2 years. Since the arrival of former Stanford Football coach Jim Harbaugh the team has flourished, almost 180′d from its previous direction, a dismal 8 years of sub-par seasons filled with disappointment. With a Super Bowl loss now under the organizations belt, the team remains as hungry as ever. Though a setback in the injury of star receiver Michael Crabtree has left a small amount of doubt in the bay area faithful, San Francisco remains hopeful with their star-studded offense which seems to be just getting younger with new stars Colin Kaepernick and LaMichael James. While Frank Gore remains the primary runner, James and draftee Marcus Lattimore promise to bring a continued bright future to a team with an already rock solid defense. GM Trent Baalke isn’t trying to just win a championship, he’s constructing a dynasty.
Arizona Cardinals – While some could consider Arizona the ‘weak link’ in the division, in my personal opinion they stole one of the flashiest names in the draft: Tyrann Mathieu. Paired up with Patrick Peterson in the backfield, it’s hard to see anyone moving the chains down the field at a rapid rate through the air on the Cardinals. And with the addition of new head coach Bruce Arians, who went 9-3 as interim head coach of Indianapolis in the 2012-2013 season, things look like they could turn around this season, especially if Carson Palmer still has enough gas left in the tank to get the job done.
Seattle Seahawks – And last, but certainly not least in most fans eyes, Seattle. Russell Wilson emerged out of the 2012 draft as a true unknown prospect. The same year, Seattle had signed Matt Flynn, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, to a 3 year deal worth 19.5 million dollars, $10 million guaranteed. But when it came time for quarterback competition in mini-camps and OTAs, all of a sudden young Russell Wilson stood out as a potential breakout star. So, deciding to roll with the idea of fresh legs, coach Pete Carroll made the choice to name Wilson the starter for week 1. Fast forward to the end of the season and Russell had matched many NFL records, including the 6th rookie quarterback in history to win a playoff game and tying a record set by Peyton Manning in his rookie year of 26 touchdown passes. Not to mention he has a quick set of legs on him. I seem to recall one incident of a night game in December 2012 against the 49ers where Wilson scrambled looking for a play to make. He must have been running around in the backfield for a solid 12-15 seconds before deciding to scramble for 6 or 7 yards. With ‘beast-mode’ Marshawn Lynch in the backfield and newly acquired Percy Harvin Seattle looks promising to give San Fransisco a run for the division title. Many even pick them to win the division with great confidence despite the 49ers making a trip to the Super Bowl the year prior.
One thing is for certain though, as what many call the NFLs hottest rivalry, they will dive right in as the two teams face in week 2 on Sunday Night Football.