NFC West: The Toughest Division in Football?

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By now it’s been hashed to death that the Seattle Seahawks defense is what was responsible for a trouncing of their AFC competition in the Super Bowl this past season but the cutthroat division that produced that defense is rarely examined. It’s the intensity of the competition that exists in a culture of bigger and better defenses that produced a team with arguably the best defense in the history of the game. Below is an assessment of the recent champions and each of the teams that regularly challenges them at their own game.

Seahawks

The Seahawks last season was obviously a good one. The Legion of Boom, most of whom are returning, blew their way into the history books in a show of domination during the Super Bowl. However, as with anything else, with time comes change. The question isn’t at this point whether Seattle is capable of performing at the same level but will anyone have come up with a sufficient counter to their play style? The old saying says that fire should be fought with fire and if that’s the case, the NFC west should be up to the challenge. The Seahawks draft was generally filled with firebrand characters which will either further fuel their particular brand of machismo or create a chaos. With team leaders and professionalism abound, it will likely be the former.

Cardinals

In any other division, the Cardinals would have a chance at the division title or at least a decent opportunity at the wildcard slot. A returning quarterback that put up solid numbers throwing to the best wide receiver in the division, Larry Fitzgerald, has gotten them through a lot of games. Include the magic of Andre Ellington and a group of defensive linemen and backs that are formidable at worst and you’ve got a solid team. Unfortunately for them, these other teams in the division simply have more star-power. One claim to glory that the Cardinals had from last season was the victory in Seattle which broke their 2 year home game winning streak. Playoffs are going to be elusive again this year but at least the Cardinals will have a pleasant off-season winter to look forward to.

Rams

The Rams continue to have strong draft rankings that shape up like an ‘86 Bears style defense. Rather than try to compete with the defensive backs of Seattle, the Rams have placed their eggs into the basket of a powerful defensive line that will pressure the quarterback. Perhaps this is in the hopes that a pressured quarterback will supply the errors that can accommodate the defensive backs they have. This would be an interesting strategy as a strong line definitely has spillover potential into all other areas of the field from rush yard reduction against the Niners to pass yard reduction against the Cardinals. The Rams have managed to place themselves in a strong position; unfortunately it’s in a division that contains the reigning champs. These guys certainly have the potential to challenge all comers.

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‘49ers

The Niners had a rough stretch for a while there. That is, until Jim Harbaugh showed up. Previous to his reign the team was both directionless and out of ideas. Now they’re a veritable font of creativity for the run game and players are proud to put on a ‘49ers jersey. Plays that haven’t been seen before in the NFL are being tried and perfected by the best running game in the league.

Further, they continue to pick up strong runners that will be able to accomplish a variety of tasks moving down the stretch. Perhaps the most interesting thing about these guys is that they have a variety of star players that all manage to work together towards the single goal of victory unlike the situation that has developed in Washington. I blame this largely on the culture of NFL fandom, however, as most people root for players not teams.

I would honestly argue that any of these teams has the opportunity to take the NFC title this coming season for one specific reason: it’s the toughest division in football. They all play each other all season and challenge each other to be better. Each of the teams has the same core as last year and all experienced varying levels of success. Even more interestingly, while watching the draft this off-season it seemed like each of these defense heavy teams simply continued to load up on defense. If nothing else, it’ll be fun to watch.

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