The best division in football hands down puts three teams in the playoffs because – why the hell not?
Maybe you think the Seattle Seahawks are just too good not to repeat out of the NFC, but keep in mind, one dimensional teams – those that dominate only on one side of the football, NEVER repeat.
Seattle’s defense, even with the rule changes, is just too good for them not to still figure prominently in the NFC playoff picture, and it doesn’t hurt that they continue to boast the NFL’s biggest home field advantage. Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin will provide just enough on offense to allow Seattle to once again win the West.
I’m a big fan of good teams that improve their line play, and that’s what the Cardinals did in the offseason. That should help RB Andre Ellington, who will be the feature back this season, and give Arizona a good balanced attack.
On defense, the Cardinals excellent stop unit suffered key losses to the line and linebacking corps, but got better in the secondary, which makes them more like Seattle. That’s not a bad thing.
I’m not exactly dissing the 49ers when I pick them third – I do have them going 10-6 and there are a number of things wrong with the 49ers right now that I feel will hold them back. First off, I’m still not sold on Colin Kaepernick as anything more than an athletic quarterback. I’d rate him slightly behind Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton. He doesn’t elevate the players around him. Steve Johnson and Carlos Hyde are both good additions, but neither elevates the Niners’ offense to an elite level.
That means the onus remains on San Francisco’s defense, and that unit has been in slight decline ever since their Super Bowl year. Losses to a secondary that was already a weakness, legal troubles for stand out Aldon Smith and less-than-elite level play from elite ILB Patrick Willis are all causes for concern heading into 2014.
Finally, Jim Harbaugh appears to be distracted heading into the last year of his deal. I’ve always felt Harbaugh was overrated, but having a lame duck coach, no matter who he is, is never a good thing.
Even though I think Shaun Hill is one of the more reliable back up QBs in the NFL, having him start all 16 games for the Rams pretty much kills their season.
That may turn out to be a good thing, since the Sam Bradford era is probably over in St. Louis and there are at least three potential marquis quarterbacks available in the 2015 draft (Jameis Winston, Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota). Before worrying about next year, the Rams need to navigate this one.
Once again, playing in the NFL’s toughest division will retard the Rams overall W-L record but for once that will be a good thing as it plays into improved draft position. While the Rams offense remains a work in progress, Jeff Fisher is quietly building a real holy terror on defense, starting with one of the best and deepest defensive lines in football.
2014 may be a lost cause, but the future for St. Louis could be quite bright.
Seattle Seahawks (12-4) (2nd seed; NFC Championship Game)
Arizona Cardinals (11-5) (5th seed; NFC Divisional Round)
San Francisco 49ers (10-6) (6th seed; NFC Wildcard Round)
St. Louis Rams (4-12)
Games to Watch:
Week 3 – Denver @Seattle: Does anyone NOT want to see this Super Bowl rematch? I didn’t think so.
Week 10 – San Francisco @New Orleans: Last season’s week 11 match up between these two teams was one of the games of the year. There’s every reason to think the rematch will be as well.
Week 15 – Arizona @St. Louis: The Cardinals were the only team in the West to lose a game to the Rams last season. They can’t afford to do that again.
Week 16 – [email protected]: This is the end of a brutal five week stretch for the Seahawks that sees them playing San Francisco and Arizona twice each. It has huge playoff implications.