The St. Louis Rams undoubtedly have a long way to go before they improve their heavily-damaged reputation.
They have a surplus of promising young talent to develop, but they won't garner league-wide respect until they replace potential with production and force their win/loss column to do a back flip.
You don't have the luxury of the doubt when 15 wins is all you can accumulate over a five-year period.
So if the Rams want to be relevant once again, they must produce wins. And if they want to win, they must be competitive within their division.
As it stands, knowing what we know now, how do the Rams stack up against their NFC West opponents?
This article will power rank each unit and determine which NFC West team dominates each category.
Note: Defense will be broken into two categories—Pass Defense and Run Defense. This prevents complications and confusion due to teams using a variety of defensive schemes.
1. Sam Bradford (Rams)
2. Alex Smith (49ers)
3. Matt Flynn/Russell Wilson (Seahawks)
4. Kevin Kolb/John Skelton (Cardinals)
You can call me a "homer," or whatever you want to call me, but it's still safe to say that Sam Bradford is the best quarterback in the division, regardless of his sophomore slump.
Even during his down year, he still was one of the best decision-makers in the league, averaging one interception every 59.5 attempts last season (third-best in the NFL).
Alex Smith had a career year, but it took the best defense in football and a great supporting cast just to get solid (but not great) play out of him.
Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson are both loaded with potential, but other than Flynn's one game against Detroit that resulted in six touchdown passes, neither of them have done much on the field yet. They are unknowns.
Kevin Kolb and John Skelton are both average in a best-case scenario, even with Larry Fitzgerald out wide.
The 49ers are absolutely loaded up front with Joe Staley, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati.
The powerful San Francisco offensive line was able to pave the way for Frank Gore and finish with the eighth-best rushing attack in the NFL (127.8 yards per game).
Seattle's line played solid football last year, but it hasn't even hit its peak yet. Max Unger, John Moffitt and Russell Okung are rising stars who could eventually formulate one of the best lines in the NFL.
The Rams and the Cardinals both struggled last season, but the Rams clearly have more overall talent with Scott Wells, Harvey Dahl and Rodger Saffold.
1. Vernon Davis (49ers)
2. Zach Miller/Kellen Winslow (Seahawks)
3. Lance Kendricks (Rams)
4. Todd Heap (Cardinals)
Vernon Davis is easily the best tight end in the division, and he will be a key weapon for the San Francisco offense next season.
Zach Miller is a Pro Bowl-caliber player who fell off the map last season. Expect him and the newly-acquired Kellen Winslow to team up and make big plays for Seattle.
Lance Kendricks was expected to be a major weapon in the St. Louis offense, but he struggled at times as a rookie. Although, even with Kendricks' rookie jitters, he was still able to outproduce Todd Heap in Arizona, so it shouldn't even be close next season.
1. Steven Jackson (Rams)
2. Marshawn Lynch (Seahawks)
3. Frank Gore (49ers)
4. Beanie Wells (Cardinals)
This is by far the hardest position to power rank since the division is absolutely stacked at the running back position.
But if you had to bet your life on one NFC West running back gaining 1,000 yards, then you'd be crazy to not pick Steven Jackson.
Jackson has been able to consistently perform at a Pro Bowl level regardless of the lack of talent surrounding him. With this in mind, it's fair to say he's the best back in the division.
Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore are neck-to-neck and just a hair behind Jackson, but Lynch gets a slight advantage since he's younger and was a bit more productive than Gore last season with four more touchdowns.
As for Beanie Wells, he's not a terrible runner and is certainly a quality player. However, if it wasn't for a 228-yard performance against the Rams, then the former first-round pick would've fell short of 1,000 yards for the third time in as many years.
1. Larry Fitzgerald/Michael Floyd/Early Doucet (Cardinals)
2. Randy Moss/A.J. Jenkins/Michael Crabtree (49ers)
3. Sidney Rice/Mike Williams/Golden Tate (Seahawks)
4. Brian Quick/Danny Amendola/Steve Smith (Rams)
The Cardinals might be suffering in certain areas on offense, but they are in great shape at wide receiver.
Larry Fitzgerald alone puts the Cardinals at the top of the list, but adding first-round draft pick Michael Floyd makes it a landslide.
The 49ers have significantly improved at the position this offseason. Randy Moss is an unknown asset at this point, but rookie A.J. Jenkins is generating a lot of buzz. Both Moss and Jenkins should team up nicely with Michael Crabtree.
The Seahawks are heavily dependent on Sidney Rice. If the injury-prone 25-year-old is in the lineup, then they have a solid group of receivers. If he's injured (as usual), then the group is pretty average.
The Rams added some talent at the position this offseason with free agent Steve Smith, as well as draft picks Brian Quick (Round 2) and Chris Givens (Round 4).
St. Louis will enter the 2012 season with an improved receiving corps, but too many of their guys are unknowns at this point.
This one isn't even close. The 49ers have the best run defense not only in the division, but also in the entire NFL.
Isaac Sopoaga and Justin Smith are tough up front, while linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman make it extremely difficult for teams to move the chains.
The Cardinals also have some serious muscle up front with Darnell Dockett and man-beast Calais Campbell. Linebacker Daryl Washington is also developing into a solid player after two NFL seasons.
In Seattle, Brandon Mebane and Jason Jones formulate a scary duo at defensive tackle, while Chris Clemons is also tough on the end. If they improve their linebacker corps, they'll surely move up this list.
The Rams have a solid pair of ends with Chris Long and Robert Quinn, but neither are stellar against the run. The addition of Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers in the middle, combined with the solid play of James Laurinaitis, could ultimately improve a run defense that was beyond awful last season.
Seattle is easily at the top of this list with a very impressive defensive backfield.
Brandon Browner had an excellent season at cornerback and Richard Sherman was also solid, but the real dealbreaker is their dominant pair of safeties.
Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are both Pro Bowl-caliber safeties who will carry the Seattle defense next season. Thomas in particular is looking to distinguish himself as one of the elite safeties of the NFL.
The Cardinals also have an impressive duo at safety with Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson, but the real star of their backfield is Patrick Peterson.
In St. Louis, they have improved more than anyone in the secondary. Cortland Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins will create a scary duo at corner, while Quintin Mikell and third-year player Darian Stewart are both capable safeties.
You might be shocked to see that San Francisco is at the bottom, but frankly, its pass defense looked better than it actually was last season thanks to an elite run defense.
Carlos Rogers had a career year and it's a stretch to think he can repeat. Dashon Goldson is a good safety, but he's hardly a difference-maker.
If Aldon Smith can pressure the quarterback as effectively as he did last year, then the San Francisco secondary should not have any serious problems. But if they fail to attack the quarterback for whatever reason, then the backfield will be exposed.