Dec 23, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) carries the ball against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated San Francisco 42-13. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Division Predictions: NFC West

Each week, Rishi Pochiraju will predict the placement of teams in an NFL division. He has predicted the results of the AFC North, NFC North, and the AFC West. Today: the NFC West.

One of the main stories of the 2013 offseason has been the arms race between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks, with both teams attempting to gain as much of an advantage over the other. Last year, the division was decided by half a game (San Francisco was 11-4-1, Seattle was 11-5).

San Francisco brought in receiver Anquan Boldin from Baltimore, who torched them in the NFL’s most recent game. They also drafted one of the hottest names on the board in Marcus Lattimore. It’ll be interesting to see whether he is able to get on the field this year.

Meanwhile, Seattle traded for speedy receiver/kick returner Percy Harvin and signed Cliff Avril and Antoine Winfield as undrafted free agents, to name a few significant signings.

Let the race for the division crown begin. Actually, it has already begun.

1st Place:  San Francisco 49ers

Arguably the best team in the league, I expect the 49ers to repeat as division champions. Yes, I know all about what Seattle’s done. However, I believe San Francisco has the better situational defense, quarterback, running game, offensive scheme, and most importantly, coaching staff. Yes, I said it – Jim Harbaugh > Pete Carroll.

Trading for Boldin makes the front office look even smarter with number 1 receiver Michael Crabtree possibly done for the season (torn Achilles tendon). The rushing attack will continue to thrive behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. Harbaugh will continue to grind on veterans Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, second-year pro LaMichael James, and, hopefully for the fans, rookie Marcus Lattimore.

It won’t be easy for the ‘Niners, but they’ll get the job done with the pieces they have in place. The only obstacle in the team’s way is the Seahawks, but San Francisco, in my mind, is the better team and plays the best situational football of the two. This will carry them to a third straight division crown under Jim Harbaugh.

2nd Place:  Seattle Seahawks

As I said above, Seattle has brought in a number of weapons who should contribute largely to the football club. Many consider Seattle to be the best team in the league. I believe they may very well be the second-best, just behind San Francisco. Well, too bad the 49ers are in the division.

We know about Seattle’s defense, but the key to major success for the team is the development of the offense, especially the way Russell Wilson makes use of his receivers. Seattle didn’t have many offensive weapons in the passing game last season, but the team hopes the addition of Percy Harvin will give them one.

Although I don’t believe Seattle will win the division, I do think they will have a very successful regular season, finishing around 12-4. In the playoffs, it’s up to them in terms of how far they want to go, possibly facing NFC powerhouses such as Green Bay, Atlanta, or division rival San Francisco.

3rd Place:  St. Louis Rams

St. Louis was arguably the most improved team last year under new head coach Jeff Fisher. Now, the team looks to improve even more and build chemistry, perhaps pushing for the final wild-card spot in the NFC playoffs (I expect Seattle to get the no. 5 seed if they don’t win the division).

Sam Bradford overcame his cabin fever last year, and led the team to a five-and-a-half-game improvement (they tied in one game) in one season. I love the draft pick of Tavon Austin – the defense is already good under Fisher’s lead, so why not give Sam Bradford some playmakers?

Austin should be better than Danny Amendola was. Some question his durability at that height, but the man has never missed any game or practice in his life. No injuries of any kind were ever recorded, so I’m not concerned. St. Louis should be ready to compete in 2013.

4th Place:  Arizona Cardinals

Kevin Kolb is gone and Carson Palmer is in. Palmer is underrated as a passer, having thrown for over 4,000 yards. Palmer should be able to get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, something Kolb was not able to do. Bruce Arians will certainly aid the offense, but Arizona still has a lot to work on.

Rashard Mendenhall can be questioned as a 1st team running back. The offensive line was horrible last year. I mean horrible. That was part of the reason Kolb did not succeed, but the protection has to be better this year. It can only improve, and that goes for the team as well.

In a tough division, Arizona will be much improved, but not enough to compete. The team is capable of being a .500 or better team, but I don’t think they can finish above even St. Louis, who is also much improved.

Tags: 49ers Arizona Cardinals Cardinals FanSided Fansided Network Fansided Nfl Frank Gore Jim Harbaugh Kevin Kolb Marcus Lattimore Pete Carroll Rams Sam Bradford San Francisco 49ers Seahawks Seattle Seahawks St. Louis Rams

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