NFL Early Outlook: The NFC West
Over the last two seasons, the NFC West has been one the most competitive divisions in the NFL. In both of the past years, the NFC Championship Game has been between two members of this division, showing how truly skilled these players are. Aside from this, the NFC West is also widely regarded as the toughest and most physical division in the league. These teams play a lot of very balanced football, and really emphasize on powerful defenders. Last season, the Seattle Seahawks obviously won the Super Bowl, and going into next year, they are still the hands-down favorite to repeat their success. Though their biggest challenger over the last two seasons has been the San Francisco 49ers, you can expect some other teams to get into the mix. Let’s take a look at the NFC West power rankings.
- The Seattle Seahawks
Everyone in the NFL is considering the Seattle Seahawks the favorite to repeat as NFL Champions, and they would be making a safe bet. The Seahawks are an amazing team, potentially the greatest team of this NFL era, and they have no signs of stopping. The team is young, the coaching staff is motivated, and the players want to be there. This creates the perfect mix for success, along with their already talented players. The Seahawks dominated the Super Bowl last season, and there are not many teams that look like they could stop them. The biggest opponent so far to the Seahawks domination has been the San Francisco 49ers, who are currently being led by Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers and Hawks have been foes for a while now, and there is a definite rivalry being perpetuated by both fans and players. Two years ago, the Seahawks would have beaten the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game; however, Pete Carroll decided to freeze the kicker. This frozen play botched the whole game, and the Seahawks lost to the 49ers. The 49ers eventually lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl, but many analysts believe that the Hawks defense would not have made the same mistakes that the Niners did. Last season, everyone knows what happened. The Seahawks made it to the Super Bowl against one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever live. The Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos were the favorites of many to win it all, but this was not the case. Instead, they were dismantled by the Seahawks offense, leading them to their Championship ring. This season, you can expect more of the same from the Seahawks. With the exception of Brandon Browner, much of the defense is intact. Richard Sherman will be on fire as usual, and the rough hits will be more evident than ever before. On the offensive end, Russell Wilson will continue to be one of the best young quarterbacks in the game, and with a healthy WR Percy Harvin in the lineup, there is no telling what they could do. Watch out for the Seahawks in 2014.
Expected Record: 13-3
- The San Francisco 49ers
Last season, the 49ers really showed some signs of weakness. After trading away Alex Smith, which looks like it could have been as mistake after the success that he is now finding with the Chiefs, the 49ers moved towards a read option offense. Though this was a viable idea, the NFL eventually learned how to defend it. By having the DE hit the QB no matter what, the read option has become null and void. Because of this, next season will define the near-future for the 49ers. They will still be able to find success, but Colin Kaepernick will have to rely on his arm much more, which will cost them a few games. Unfortunately for the 49ers, the read option does not have a place in the NFL any more. Colin Kaepernick is supposed to be the future QB of the team, and if he gets injured, they will finish below .500. If they want to survive without the read option, they have to focus on other aspects of their game. So far, it seems as though they will be able to be fine. They will still be a superb running team, their defense will be on point, and they will be throwing around hard hits; however, they are not the same team from two seasons ago.
Expected Record: 11-5
- The St. Louis Rams
Sam Bradford is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the NFL. Last season, he was absolutely tearing it up; however, he was held out of much of the season because of an injury. While he was healthy and playing, he and WR Tayvon Austin were playing amazingly. The rookie wide receiver looked like a young Randy Moss, and before the Bradford injury, it looked as though they would contend for the NFC Championship. Next season, you can expect the Rams to have a great year. After a 7-9 season last year, the Rams are poised to find success with a healthy Sam Bradford. Expect him and Austin to be consistent for the whole year and lead their offense to a great improvement.
Expected Record: 10-6
- The Arizona Cardinals
I can’t help but feel awful for Larry Fitzgerald. He is potentially the best receiver in the game; however, he hasn’t had an elite QB to throw to him since Kurt Warner. Despite this, they still had a great season in 2013. Under QB Carson Palmer, the team put up a very strong 10-6 record, and they would have been much better if their divisional opponents weren’t such powerhouses. Next season, you can expect more of the same from the Cards. With an improved defence, they should be able to better contend with the 49ers and Seahawks, and if Carson Palmer can have another 4000 yard season, this team could make the playoffs.
Expected Record: 10-6