NFC West is Set To Be the Best Division in Football for Five Years
Five Years of Domination
The NFC West has come a long way since the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks won the division in 2010. They were the laughing stock of the NFL before the 2012 season and most of it was warranted, but in a little over a decade the NFC West is the only division in football to send all four of their teams to the Super Bowl. The St. Louis Rams were the only team to win, but since then, the division is 0-4.
For the next five years the NFC West will dominate the rest of the league. The Arizona Cardinals may be weaker next season, but they will surprise people under the new coaching staff. The Rams are only getting better and the sky is the limit for both the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.
The NFC West now has three great coaches and Jim Harbaugh is better than average. He is the only coach that did not inherit a team that was completely in shambles. The 49ers have more talent than the rest of the NFC West and it makes Harbaugh look like the best coach in the NFL, but he isn't and it's not even close.
This division is strong and I do not believe anybody can question that statement intelligently. Five years of dominance could be what's to come. However, as the Seahawks and 49ers get better the balance could shift dramatically as more and more free agents want to join them leaving the Rams and Cardinals in the dark.
Let's take a look at the situation for all four teams in the NFC West and how they can continue to improve going into next season and beyond.
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San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are still the team to beat, they won the division and represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is one of the best in the game at creating something out of nothing and their defense is crazy fast and athletic. The 49ers finished second in scoring defense and top five in rushing and passing yards allowed.
The only real question is RB Frank Gore. He will be 30 next season and that seems to be the season where running backs start to see a steep drop in production, but overall their running game will be solid as long as Kaepernick is at the helm. In the draft, the 49ers will try to find a replacement for DE Justin Smith. He may have one or two seasons left in him, but two years under Smith can only help a young player.
The Seahawks are hot on the 49ers tail and a lot of analysts say they will win the division. QB Russell Wilson already has the best quarterback rating in Seattle history and only has one season under his belt. Their offensive line continues to improve every year and every game and their running back is Marshawn Lynch. "Beast Mode" speaks for himself. The Seahawks will be one of the best offenses in football next season.
Seattle has a young defense that will continue to make improvements. Rookie LB Bobby Wagner played brilliantly last season and he will retain his role at middle linebacker. The only question mark for this team is who will replace LB Leroy Hill? There is just no way the team re-signs him after another off-season with legal troubles. The Seahawks will look at the draft for a strong pass rusher with coverage skills better than Hill in the third or fourth round.
St. Louis Rams
The third place team in the NFC West finished a respectable 7-8-1. The Rams started strong, ended strong and finished with the best divisional record in the NFC West. They have a fantastic coach in Jeff Fisher, but it's time they surround Sam Bradford with more talent and expect more from him. He needs to step up his game or Fisher might have to start looking at veteran passers to come in and give him some competition.
Fisher will continue to build this team up with young talent through the draft, but in the mean time they need more depth in the secondary. If the New York Jets are really serious about trading CB Darrelle Revis, the Rams need to make a strong run at him. If that is the case, Danny Amendola would be a great bargaining chip and the Rams would look for a receiver in the draft. May I suggest the Marquess Wilson from Washington State, he broke current Rams WR Brandon Gibson's record at WSU.
Cardinals are the only mystery in the NFC West. It can be argued this team was only three players away from being a serious playoff contender in 2012. Obviously the quarterback and even more obvious in my mind, two solid offensive linemen. Arizona will get OT Levi Brown back next season and I suspect he will resume his normal position at left tackle, but if the Cardinals get a burly tackle in the draft it's possible he will move back to the right side. A lot of people believe he is a lot more comfortable on that side anyway.
On the defense, this team is solid. They were on the field way too much in 2012, but they have four or five potential Pro Bowl players. Patrick Peterson, Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington and the underrated Sam Acho are players this team can continue to build around. If the Cardinals can stay healthy in 2013 they can make a run at a Wild Card berth. However, I think it will take some time to get used to New Head Coach Bruce Arians' system, so they will start slow and come on strong at the end of the year.
The Next Five Years
Over the next five years, you will see the rise of a new dynasty led by the man seen above. It took less than half a season for Wilson to emerge as the best rookie in his class. Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III deserved rookie of the year because he played well all year, but Wilson is the best rookie. He has had 18 games under his belt and he had improved every single game. If he continues this pace he will redefine the word unstoppable.