What Every NFC West Fan Should Know That Most NFL Fans Don't
Thanks in part to less media coverage and overall poor play as a division, the NFC West is often overlooked when compared to the NFL's other divisions. Whether it be an individual's performance or that of the entire team, without question there are a number of fans sleeping on the NFC West.
Call them bold claims. Call them crazy. Here are four things every NFC West fan should know that most NFL fans don't.
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald Is the Best Wide Receiver in the NFL
I know what most of you are thinking: "Come on, man! Really? Maybe you can argue Fitzgerald is better than Andre Johnson, but no way he’s better than Calvin!"
Here’s what we know: All three wide outs possess the unique combination of size, speed and overall play-making ability. And while Andre Johnson is deserving of top three considerations, his durability stands out as the obvious downgrading factor when compared to both Fitzgerald and Megatron.
In comparing Megatron to Fitzgerald, the obvious differences between the two have to favor Johnson. Johnson, who is listed at 6’5”, has a solid two-three inches of height, greater wingspan (6’10”) and runs faster, having clocked a blazing 4.33 40-yard dash at his combine.
However, Fitzgerald plays incredibly fast and his precise timing when leaping for a ball allow him to consistently out jump and make plays over his defenders. So while Johnson definitely has the edge here, the advantage is only slight when compared to Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald on the other hand was clocked at a pedestrian 4.6 during his combine. However, watch his game-play and what you see is a wide receiver that runs perfect routes and has the quickness as well as the knowledge of when and how to use his physical gifts to get consistent separation from his defenders. And if coverage is tight, then simply throw the ball in his vicinity and let him make a play on it. Chances are better than great that if he can land at least one hand on the ball, he’s going to haul it in.
So why again the nod to Fitzgerald over Calvin Johnson?
Simply put, Larry Fitzgerald has the best hands in football. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Fitzgerald has finished in the top eight in lowest drop percentage every year of his career, with the exception being 2009 when he finished ranked 12th.
When it comes to wide receivers, this is guy is the total package.
San Francisco 49ers: The Niners Are the Best Team in the NFL
There, I said it. And as much as it pains me in so doing, I can’t let my bias get in the way of my analysis. From top-to-bottom, the 49ers have everything it takes to win the Super Bowl, and should be the odds-on favorite to do so.
Sorry Texans fans, I think the majority of us can agree that the 49ers defense is without a doubt the best in the entire NFL. This juggernaut unit, which held opponents to a meager 77.3 rushing yards per game average, is returning all 11 starters and has quietly built depth around its core group.
More importantly, Coach Jim Harbaugh has found a way to bring out the best in Alex Smith, allowing him to conservatively mold the once thought of “bust” into a proficient NFL quarterback.
While his yardage numbers were nothing to boast at when compared to his fellow NFL quarterbacks, Smith did manage to achieve his best year statistically-speaking. En route to a solid 90.7 QB rating during the regular season, only to be followed by his 101 rating during the playoffs, Smith has proven his doubters wrong (myself included) in showing that he is more than fully capable of leading his team to the Super Bowl.
Not to forget the elite special teams play and the welcomed additions of guys like Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs, what you have is a team with a Super Bowl winning pedigree primed for greatness once again.
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks Defense Will Be a Top 5 Unit
Most would consider the Seahawks to have a good defense. Yet, few would consider them above teams such as the Texans, Ravens or Steelers. Forget top 5, this unit has the potential to be the No. 1 defensive unit in the NFL.
Behind the stellar play of the league’s top ranked secondary, comprised of three Pro-Bowlers and a fourth, Richard Sherman, who arguably should have made the Pro-Bowl, the Seahawks defense was remarkably good, especially considering the team’s lackluster pass rush and how often they were on the field due to an inconsistent offense.
Combining for only 33 sacks last season, the one area of the Seahawks defense that needed the most addressing this offseason was the pass rush. And while it’s still too early to suggest returns on the polarizing first-round pick Bruce Irvin, free agent addition Jason Jones looks to be a huge upgrade on the front line and will be a force, wreaking havoc alongside fellow teammate Chris Clemons.
I’ll stop short of calling the Seattle Seahawks a sure lock to make the playoffs, but with the QB competition starting to work itself out, the Seahawks are poised to make a deep playoff run in the near future.
St. Louis Rams: Steven Jackson Is the Best Running Back in the NFL
Go ahead and laugh all you want, but the only thing that has been holding back Steven Jackson from being the consensus No. 1 running back in fantasy-football rankings, or even the NFL’s top 100 list, has been the horrendous offensive line of the St. Louis Rams.
À la Lebron James on the Cavs, Jackson has simply never had a real opportunity to excel at the highest possible level, lacking any real surrounding talent. Not bad for a guy who despite his C-list supporting cast, has quietly amassed 9,000 plus rushing yards and 50 plus touchdowns.
It’s hard for any fan outside of the NFC to take notice, but Jackson has consistently put up great numbers while facing eight men in the box and while having carries stripped away from him due to his team’s constant need to score catch-up points. Defenses have been feasting on the Rams offense for years, and yet Jackson still finds a way to produce.
At 29-years young, Jackson might be the hardest working running back in the league, both on and off the field. Currently the NFL's active rushing attempts leader, Jackson reportedly showed up to camp weighing in at 234 pounds with only an amazing five percent body fat.
Being a Seahawk fan and watching Shaun Alexander set the all-time single season touchdown record at 28, I can tell you from experience that stats are often misleading.
So throw me all the statistics you want. But if I were building an NFL-championship caliber team for this season alone, I would rather have the always consistent Steven Jackson as my go-to running back than say an Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden or Jamaal Charles.