1. San Francisco
4. St. Louis
Remember back in 2010 when the Seahawks won the NFC West with a 7-9 record? And then they won a playoff game?
The NFC West was once coined the "NFC Worst." Now it is shaping up to be one of the more competitive divisions in the NFL.
San Francisco was the NFC's representative in the Super Bowl. Seattle finished 11-5 and was less than a minute from playing in the NFC Title Game. Even though the Rams finished 7-8-1, they had a 4-1-1 record in the division and was 1-0-1 against the 49ers. Arizona started 4-0 which included a surprising Week 2 win at New England and a dominating Week 3 win at home over the Eagles.... and then things fell apart from that point onward.
The Cardinals Super Bowl appearance in February 2009 feels so distant due to the downward direction of the franchise over the last few seasons, but it happened. The Cardinals are trying to recapture the magic of that season. For starters, they will be doing that with new head coach Bruce Arians. If you recall, Arians was named interim coach of the Colts while head coach Chuck Pagano was undergoing cancer treatment. Arians was named the 2012 Head Coach of the Year.
While they still have wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald who can catch anything and cornerback Patrick Peterson who finished with 7 interceptions, what doomed the Cardinals to a 1-11 finish was their lack of depth at quarterback. NFL 101: You need a decent quarterback in order to win. The Cardinals are trying that again with the signing of Carson Palmer from the Raiders.
The St. Louis Rams missed .500 by THAT MUCH but it appears that the franchise is building. Jeff Fisher did it when he was with
Houston Oilers Tennessee
Titans in the late 1990s.
There is buzz in Seattle and it is not from the coffee. Last season quarterback Russell Wilson took team to playoffs as a rookie drafted in the third round and won a playoff game. Seattle still has Marshawn Lynch in the back field who can at any time enter into Beast Mode. Then there is Seattle's secondary, the Legion of Boom. This unit is led by cornerback Richard Sherman...
While he is known for his mouth, Sherman was tied for second in the NFL with 8 interceptions. Seattle finished in the Top 5 in creating 31 turnovers and yards given up. One category the Seahawks was #1 in on defense: opposing offense average starting position. Seattle's opponents started from their own 24.7 yard line. San Francisco's opponents started at the 25.1 yard line.
For the 49ers an era ends. Candlestick Park was originally opened as the new stadium for the San Francisco Giants in 1958. It became the home stadium of the 49ers in 1971. The Giants left Candlestick in 2000 for their current home in San Francisco at AT&T Park. It looks like the 49ers will be turning off the lights as they move into Levi's Stadium south in Santa Clara, CA which is close to the 49ers training facility. During the off-season the NFL announced that Levi's Stadium will host Super Bowl L, or 50 if you are unfamiliar with Roman Numerals. The game will take place in February 2016.
This season will be about the 49ers past, present, and future. In the last 35 years, the 49ers have been a franchise standard winning 5 Super Bowls; 4 of those with quarterback Joe Montana. The arrival point for the 49ers occurred in the 1981 NFC Championship game against Dallas and led to their first Super Bowl title in team history. For the next 8 seasons the 49ers made the playoffs 7 times and won 3 more Super Bowls.
San Francisco's recent history has not been as golden. In the time period between their last Super Bowl victory and the hiring of head coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers only made the playoffs 6 times in the time period from 1995 to 2002. From 2002 onward.... it's ugly. Since the hiring of Harbaugh in 2012, the 49ers have been to the last 2 NFC Championship Games and came within a Colin Kaepernick 4th down pass from winning their franchise's 6th Super Bowl.
Even though Seattle will be a formidable challenge in the NFC West, I think the 49ers will win the division. For the most part, the 49ers roster has remained intact over the last few seasons. They still have running back Frank Gore, tight end Vernon Davis, linebacker Patrick Willis, and defensive tackle y. To boost depth at receiver they signed Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens. And their coach is still Jim Harbaugh whose attitude reflects this team.
In 2011 the 49ers made the NFC Title Game and lost. In 2012 the 49ers made the Super Bowl and lost. Will 2013 be third time is the charm?