Are the San Francisco 49ers the best team in the NFC West? Some would still say so, but how many could ask this question with a straight face before the start of the 2012 season? While the 49ers are still considered the favorites in the division, the gap in the NFC West is closing rapidly.
The Seattle Seahawks (2-1), Arizona Cardinals (3-0), and St. Louis Rams (1-2) have all improved from last season. Each team shares one common trait. They all can play defense. The Seahawks are statistically a top five defense, and the Cardinals, as well as the 49ers are not far behind. Even the Rams have improved defensively, ranking in the top 20 in total yards allowed.
Many considered the 49ers to be heavy favorites to come out of the division, but that is no longer the case. If the 49ers intend to be divisional champions, they will have to fight, crawl, and scratch their way to the playoffs. The Cardinals, Seahawks, and Rams are no longer rolling out the red carpet for the 49ers. This will be a battle to the end, with only one team coming out victorious.
Remind you of the AFC North division, doesn’t it? It should, because the NFC West has become the new black and blue division.
While majority of the focus will be geared towards the individual teams, we should not forget how far this division has come. The NFC was considered the worst division in football for the last few years. In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks won the division with a 7-9 record, so the criticism was somewhat warranted.
However, this division has come a long way since 2010. The San Francisco 49ers turned the trend around in 2011, with a 13-3 regular season record, and a surprising playoff run. The Cardinals and Seahawks even finished the season on high notes in 2011, while many expected the Rams to retool with a highly publicized head coach.
The NFC West division has improved so much that we could have three teams potentially head to the playoffs. Who could have predicted that a few years back? Now, instead of asking if the 49ers are still favorites within division, we should be asking if the NFC West has turned into the best division in football?