Coming into the 2012 season it was well known that the 49ers are top dogs in the NFC West. After 4 games into the year season, all viewers outside of the Seahawk, Cardinal and Ram Faithfull’s of course, have been front row and center to the surprise divisions in the entire NFL. The Cardinals 4-0? The Seahawks and Rams both at 2-2 with quality wins? It hard to tell if it's just early season success, help from the replacement officials or maybe this is now a division that is not a doormat to the 9ers. As of right now I would compare the NFC West as a whole to a Nikki Minaj hairstyle, you just don’t know what’s real it looks funky but some how it ends up working out in its own kind of weird unique way, take the Seahawks uniforms for example.. although I am personally a fan. One thing we must take serious, is the fact that these teams have made it a point to improve their defenses. In a copy cat league and with a blueprint from San Fran all four teams rank top 15 in the league in total defense and although still early that is one way you continue to keep yourself in football games. Offensively the 9ers are the most well rounded but each team has their own identity whether it is on the ground with Steven Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore or in the air with Larry Fitzgerald. The NFC West features a Rookie qb, a former backup, and two former number one overall picks as the men under center and not one of them are deemed to be elite as of yet. We are far removed from the high powered St. Louis Rams of the early 00’s and the 9ers of the late 80’s early 90’s that won Super-Bowls with great offenses. Or even more recently unpredictable Cardinals and Seahawks teams that represented the NFC in the Super Bowl within the last 10 seasons. This is a new look division with head coaches that have focused on a more well rounded approaches. Will this be the year we see more then one team from the NFC West enter the playoffs? Will the 9ers who were a fumble lost away from going to the Super Bowl get their chance once again? I believe it’s a general consensus that the 9ers are legit, but we’ll have to wait and see if that stands true for the rest of the division. One things for sure, I will be tuned in tonight for an important early season division showdown between the Rams and the Cardinals. This should be 5-0 start for the birds out in Arizona right?
Here are my Power Rankings for the NFC West:
San Francisco 49ers: Last Season (13-3) -2012 (3-1)
Key Losses: WR Joshua Morgan
Key Additions: WR Randy Moss, WR Mario Manningham, WR A.J. Jenkins, RB LaMichael James, RB Brandon Jacobs
A team with the best defense in the NFL as well as arguably the best balance overall. The 9ers are expected to win this division and are expected to return back to the playoffs for another run at the Super Bowl. We saw this team go through an early blip in the schedule after loosing to the Vikings who have seemed to do that to a few teams already to come back a week later to embarrass the Jets 34-0 on the road. Jim Harbaugh has changed the mentality of this 9ers team, he has given Alex Smith a new found confidence to lead and win games. We see one of the best ground attacks in the league with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter who has emerged as an explosive backup. We’ve also seen a wrinkle of the wildcat with second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick proving to be another explosive weapon which opposing defenses will have to prepare for. To add they have future Hall Of Famer Randy Moss patiently waiting to make his impact in the red zone which was the one area as well as 3rd down conversion percentage where the offense seemed to stall last season. So I will chalk that Vikings loss to one they were caught sleeping, the 9ers are legit and this is their division to lose. And a scary thought it the fact that the more efficient that offense gets?? Watch Out.
2. Arizona Cardinals Last Season (8-8) 2012- (4-0)
Key Losses: CB Richard Marshall
Key Additions: WR Michael Floyd, CB William Gay
Kevin Kolb or John Skelton, the Cardinals were the last team to announce their starting quarterback coming into the season and we all sat back thought it’s the Cardinals who cares??!.. right?.. Well they had us all fooled, dating back to last season Arizona has won 8 strait at home and 11 out of their last 13 games. Those type of numbers don’t happen by accident. With the emergence of young players RB Ryan Williams 3rd year wide out Andre Roberts on offense, and on the defensive side CB Patrick Peterson and 3rd year linebacker Daryl Washington who leads the team in tackles, the Cardinals early success can be attributed to consistent play, mainly on defense as well as late game composure from Kolb. I mentioned the young guys but Safeties Adrain Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, DT Darnell Docket are still playing at a high level. Arizona has guys stepping up by committee on the other side of the ball, and lets not forget they still have a top three wide-out in the game in all-pro Larry Fitzgerald. Wins against the Patriots and Eagles two teams we mostly see as playoff contenders coming into the season, the Cardinals are a team you must bring you’re A game against. I did not rank them 1st in the division because they still have to go through the 9ers who won this division a year ago as well as barley escaping a near scare against the Dolphins last week which I believe brought them back down to earth. They’ve found a way to get it done thus far and I am curious to see how legit they are as the season continues.
3. St. Louis Rams Last Season (2-14) 2012- (2-2)
Key Losses: WR Brandon Lloyd
Key Additions: CB Cortland Finnegan, DT Michael Brockers, WR Brian Quick, CB Janoris Jenkins, RB Isaiah Pead, WR Chris Givens, CB Janoris Jenkins, Head Coach Jeff Fisher
Kurt Warner, Issac Bruce and Marshal Faulk aren’t walking out the tunnel anytime soon, this is a different looking Rams Squad. They now have the head coach from the opposing team of their one Super Bowl victory in recent history, who is already changing the identity of this 2 win squad fro a year ago. Well they have as many wins as a year ago so far so there goes one accomplishment in itself. Joking aside with the few additions they made to the defensive side of the ball, mainly CB’s Cortland Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins this has become a scrappy unit that’s is ranked top 15 in total defense. LB James Laurinaitis has continued to come into his own as the leader of that defense now in his 4th year out of Ohio St as he leads the team in tackles. Offensively is where this team needs to pick it up, former number 1 overall pick Sam Bradford has played solid but has yet to live up to the hype of his draft stock. This could be a result of the lack of weapons he has around him so I don’t give him all the blame. 5’11 3rd year receiver Danny Amendola has emerged as the teams leading receiver and Sam’s go to target, other then Brandon Gibson there fails to be another wide out with over 10 catches on the year. Relying on the run game with all-pro running back Steven Jackson is a must but on the down side is his health remains to be an issue. We will see who if anyone steps up for this offense as this remains to be a team that will rely on their defense and special teams.
4. Seattle Seahawks Last Season (7-9) 2012 (2-2)
Key Losses : MLB David Hawthorne
Key Additions: QB Russell Wilson, QB Matt Flynn, DE Bruce Irvin
I rank the Seahawks last in the division for now due the fact of the controversial “Touchercption” against the Packers and last weeks loss to in division Rams. But on the positive side this Seattle team has one of the best overall defenses from top t bottom in early season play. We saw the 8 first half sack performance and explosive D-Line play from Chis Clemons and rookie Bruce Irvin against Aaron Rogers. We continue to see one of the best secondary groups in all of football with Safeties Cam Chanecllor, Earl Thomas ,Corners Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. The problem is clearly not on the defensive side of the ball. The problem is they have a rookie quarterback who although shows a lot of promise has not passed for over 160 yards in a game yet. And in a passing league this is a problem which needs to be fixed in order for the Seahawks to take the next step. They seem to have the names to be more potent in that facet with names like Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Braylon Edwards or even a Doug Baldwin who has not been fully healthy but came on strong in the 2nd half of the season last year as a rookie. This is another team who like the Rams must rely on their all-pro running back, and although Marshawn Lynch embraces his role to the fullest, defenses know what to expect as well. If they some how can find a way to put up points with that defense this is a team that will challenge for years to come in the NFC West, but as it stand now they don’t have the cohesion on offense to get it done, this is why they are currently in last place.