The St. Louis Rams have kicked off training camp and will be looking to enter the 2012 season as a new and improved group.
Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have brought in a promising draft class, led by Michael Brockers, Brian Quick and Janoris Jenkins, while also bringing in several veteran free agents capable of immediately improving the team's overall level of talent (Cortland Finnegan, Scott Wells, Kendall Langford).
But the improved roster still hasn't erased the apathy in minds of many. Such people expect the Rams to struggle throughout the 2012 campaign, regardless of the upgrades.
And while it's hard to claim that the Rams have an advantage over any of their NFC West foes, there's still reason for optimism.
Here's one advantage the Rams will have over each divisional opponent in 2012.
You can call me a "homer" or a blind optimist, but there's no way you can convince me that the Arizona Cardinals are a more talented football team than the Rams.
Sam Bradford is far better than Kevin Kolb and John Skelton; Steven Jackson is better than anyone in their backfield; and, when healthy, the Rams have a far more talented offensive line, regardless of how much they struggled in 2011.
The Cardinals have a lot of talent on the defensive line and in their secondary, but every NFC West team is loaded in those two departments.
The main advantage the Cardinals have is a far superior group of receivers, a group which includes Larry Fitzgerald.
But in the end, the Rams have more raw talent on their roster, especially with their upcoming draft class.
The offensive line is loaded with young talent, the defensive line is stout and their secondary is arguably the best in the NFL, with four Pro Bowl-caliber starters.
It's hard to find an advantage that the Rams have over Seattle, but the St. Louis linebackers appear to be in better shape.
James Laurinaitis is superior to Barrett Ruud, and the offseason additions of Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Rocky McIntosh and Mario Haggan give the Rams a strong presence on the outside.
How do you compare a 13-win team to a team coming off an abysmal, two-win season?
The San Francisco 49ers were a premier team in the NFL last season, while the Rams struggled even to appear competitive in their games.
The 49ers defense is one of the best in the NFL, and while their offense is nothing to brag about, it was still far more consistent than a St. Louis offense that managed to score just 12.1 points per game.
But when comparing the talent of their quarterbacks, St. Louis has the advantage.
Alex Smith is coming off the best season of his career and has sparked new hope after being labeled a bust, but he was still just a game manager in 2011.
Sam Bradford was injured and struggled to produce while being surrounded by an inept supporting cast, but we know Bradford can play, based on his rookie-of-the-year performance in 2010.
As a rookie in 2010, Bradford threw for 18 touchdowns and 3,512 yards. And last season, Smith threw for just 3,144 yards and 17 touchdowns.
It took the best season of his career and the top defense in the NFL for Smith to come close to Bradford's rookie production.
Obviously there's no guarantee that Bradford will bounce back, but with the improved roster and coaching staff, it's not hard to argue that Bradford is the best quarterback in the division.