2014 NFL Preview: NFC West

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The NFC West was once the worst in the league only a few years ago as they were home to some terrible teams. They could produce one good team every year and had some teams make it to the Super Bowl but the competition was never that good. The rest of the teams did not put up much of a fight against the top team in the division and it was essentially a free win when top teams played them. Lately though that has all changed as the NFC West has become the best division in the NFL and they proved that last season. The division champions would move on to win the Super Bowl in one of the most dominant seasons of any team. The Seattle Seahawks only lost three games all season and become one of the toughest teams to play against all season. The Seahawks carried the way for the West division in a season where they announced that they are the best division in football. Seattle was not the only team to show that the West is the best as the San Francisco 49ers had a season that would have won most divisions in the league if it was not for the Seahawks. The Niners finished the year 12-4 and went into the playoffs looking like a better team than most in the playoffs. In the end the playoffs came down to a game between two West division teams to make it into the Super Bowl in a game that would officially announce the arrival of the West as the new power division in the NFL. The new season is the start of another chance for the West to show just how dominant they can be. With the Niners and Seahawks at the top of the division two other teams were looking to make their way into the conversation and begin taking the wild card spots year after year. The Arizona Cardinal are a good team in a great division as their 10-6 record would have been god enough to win many other divisions. Yet they are among two of the best teams in the conference and continue to fall just short although a new year means a new opportunity for the Cardinals to make a run at the division and hopefully land among the wild card teams. The St. Louis Rams were building a case for many as a surprise team in the division this year as their rebuilding phase may have begun to show value. Then their quarterback went down and the chances of them competing fell off dramatically. When healthy they are still a great team that could have made some noise this year. All four teams in the West have the potential to make this a great competition but injuries may have reduced it to a three team battle for the division. Whoever can come out on top of the division will likely be a favourite to win the NFC as anyone that can make it out of the West has to be one of the best teams in the NFL and will look to continue the dominance of the West in the NFL.

Arizona Cardinals

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The Arizona Cardinals had a great year last year ending 2013 with a 10-6 record but they did not see the payoff form a great season. Thanks to the division hey are in the Cards ended up in third place and out of the playoffs. The finish overshadowed what turned out to be a good year for the Cardinals as they finally got back to their winning ways but they did it at the worst time. The Cardinals now try to get back where they were in 2013 and are hoping that they can challenge for the division or at least a wild card spot. The Cardinals are a team that is balanced all-around and it all starts with the defence. Among a division with two of the best defences in the league the Cardinals put together a season as the 6th best defence in yards per game and 7th in points per game. That had a lot to do with the very good secondary that includes Patrick Peterson and the emerging Tyrann Mathieu. This year they will be joined by Antonio Cromartie to make an even better secondary that is sure to increase their turnover margin. Meanwhile on offence the Cards have plenty of weapons and have found a quarterback that can get the ball in the hands of these weapons. Carson Palmer should only get better with another year in the system that includes Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and Ted Ginn along with rookie tight end Troy Niklas and running back Andre Ellington. The weapons on the field for the Cardinals are enough to win any division but in the West it is tough sledding as it seems that for four games every year the Cardinals have to be perfect to compete against the likes of San Francisco and Seattle. The Cardinals are hoping to put their hat in the ring of the top two and with the great season’s unlikely to repeat at the same level there is some room but still plenty of ground to make up for the Cards.

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St. Louis Rams

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The St. Louis Rams have been a team in the last few years that has loads of potential but can never seem to meet that potential. It has been injuries that have hurt the Rams year after year as they have suffered bad injuries that have put a stop to any hopes of competing with the top teams. More often than not it has been Sam Bradford who has gone down and thrown a wrench in the plans of the Rams. Last year Bradford tore his ACL in Week 7 and missed the rest of the season ending the hopes of the Rams. They would go on to finish with a 7-9 record and finished last in the division as the potential was forced to wait until 2014 to be shown. Then during the third game of preseason Bradford went down again tearing his same ACL against the Browns. The potential for a great season has seemingly slipped away again for the Rams as Bradford will miss the rest of the season with the ACL tear and the Rams are forced to look to Shaun Hill to lead the way on offence. Hill will have some weapons to work with as Tavon Austin is poised for another good season and the addition of Kenny Britt provides a veteran presence on the outside. It will take some time for Hill to adjust to being the starter on such short notice so he will have to look to his defence to help him out. The Rams defence will have a new leader in Gregg Williams who takes over as the defensive coordinator after a suspension for his role in the Bountygate scandal. There is loads of talent on the field for Williams including a great pass rush tandem in Chris Long and Robert Quinn while James Laurinaitis and Janoris Jenkins lead from the linebacking corps and defensive backfield respectively. The Rams have all of the tools to compete but their quarterback position has been thrown into uncertainty and that throws their season upside down.

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San Francisco 49ers

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The San Francisco 49ers are a team that is a class above the rest and yet they could not win the division last year. A great year where the Niners only lost four games was not good enough for the division title but it was good enough for a wild card spot. They took that wild card spot all the way to the Conference finals where they took on the Seattle Seahawks in another chapter of the best modern rivalry in the NFL. Their loss in the conference championship should keep them hungry for the 2014 season but you wouldn’t know it if you watched the preseason. The starting offence did not score one touchdown the entire preseason and it has some worried. That would be wrong though as Jim Harbaugh is famous for showing nothing in preseason and would forfeit every game if he could just to keep his players healthy and to ensure no team sees any of his playbook. Colin Kaepernick is still a dynamic quarterback with playmaking ability above almost everyone else in the league. He is sure to be better than the preseason when the playbook opens up and he will find a boost in the offence with the return of Michael Crabtree for the full season after he was injured for the majority of last year. Along with Anquan Boldin the passing game of the Niners is still strong and with the playmaking ability of Kaepernick there should be little to worry about. On defence the Niners are not as strong as they once were. The stalwarts in Patrick Willis and Justin Smith are still there but this year the defensive backfield is going to suffer from massive losses. The losses of Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner, and Tarell Brown leave the Niners with some big holes in the secondary. The singing of Antoine Bethea will help soften the losses but it will not cover everything. The Niners are still one of the best teams in the league but they are showing some signs of weakness and may not have the season that many expect.

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Seattle Seahawks

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What else can be said about the 2013 season for the Seattle Seahawks they were simply the best team in the NFL. From the first week until the Super Bowl the Seahawks were the best team in the league and only lost three games all year. The defence was crippling and the offence was tough to stop as the Seahawks went on to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Seattle now enters the 2014 season with the same issues that every Super Bowl winning team does. Repeating as a Super Bowl champion is one of the toughest things to do in the NFL and it hasn’t been done since the New England Patriots did it in 2004 and 2005. Now ten years later the Seahawks think they can do it too. That is par for the course in Seattle who are one of the more confident teams in the NFL and have no reason not to be heading into a new season. The defence was the anchor for the Seahawks’ championship run with the “Legion of Boom” leading the way. Richard Sherman is back and is still, according to himself, the best cornerback in the league. They will have to move on without Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond this year while the defensive line will be without Chris Clemons and Red Bryant as the usual exodus of talent continued for the champions. The offence is not as powerful as their defence but it is still a formidable group. Led by young star Russell Wilson the pass game is without Golden Tate but will still have Percy Harvin and Doug Baldwin to throw to while Marshawn Lynch leads the backfield once again. All together it is a good group but not one that is going to carry the team as they still depend on the defence. The Seahawks are still a very good team but repeating as a champion and having the same success as 2013 is going to be a tough task as there are plenty of teams waiting to unseat them as the champions.

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Prediction:
The NFC West is one of the best divisions in the league and they are not slowing down at all in 2014 as four playoff teams is not out of the question this year. The St. Louis Rams would have been right in that battle throughout the year as a very improved team. Unfortunately the key to their team is now out for the season and that puts them at the bottom of the league. The Cardinals are a good team that continues to improve and they will do the same this year. That won’t put them in the top two spots in the division though as they will settle for a wild card spot behind the two rivals in the division. The Niners and the Seahawks will have to fight it out again for the division in what will be another hate-filled season between these two. The Niners’s defence is not up to the level of the Seahawks with age and departures forcing them to sit in second. The Seahawks will not have the dominant season that they had last year but they are still the best team in the division and should go far in the playoffs.

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