That this is even a legitimate question is impressive enough for a division that has been the laughingstock of the NFL for the last 10 years.
Just two years ago, the NFC West title went to a team with a losing record (2010 Seattle Seahawks, 7-9). Now, the Arizona Cardinals are undefeated and coming off of two wins over perennial playoff contenders in the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Seahawks—say what you will about the Monday night game against the Green Bay Packers—are 2-1 with the second-ranked run defense in the league. The San Francisco 49ers are still largely the same team that came within inches of making a Superbowl appearance last year. While their defense has been disappointing so far this season, consider that all of the key players from last year are still there and it would seem to be only a matter of time before they turn things around.
The St. Louis Rams have a new culture, an offense that has shown more life than any point in the previous two seasons and a much improved defense. If for no other reason than that, they now have two legitimate cornerbacks, which is two more than they had last year.
How does the west stack up against the rest? I'll start with the NFC South.
A strong season is all but assured from the Atlanta Falcons. The Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers could still join them in the playoff hunt, but the 32nd-ranked New Orleans Saints defense has looked utterly abysmal on their way to giving up a jaw-dropping 477 yards per game. Right now, the Saints are a weak link the likes of which the NFC West doesn't have.
The NFC North could be the west's toughest competition for overall best division. The Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers have been as disappointing as the Minnesota Vikings have been impressive, but the Lions and Packers were both playoff teams last year and they both boast quarterbacks who threw for ridiculous numbers throughout the 2011 campaign. If the Vikings and Chicago Bears can continue their defensive brilliance, the NFC North is going to be hard to beat.
The NFC East is another tough division. I don't think anyone knows what the Philadelphia Eagles are going to do. In a paradox that pretty well encapsulates the team as a whole, they are fifth in the league in yards gained but are tied for last in the league in points scored. I don't see them or the Washington Redskins, who have taken two major hits to their defense with the losses of Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo, sniffing the playoffs, especially considering the Redskins have not given up fewer than 31 points in a game this season.
Which brings us back to the west vs the north. The north has more explosive potential on offense but they haven't shown much of it so far. If we've seen anything, it's that good defense beats good offense. If the Seahawks' and Cardinals' defenses continue to perform as they have for the first three weeks of the season and the 49ers defense starts looking more like they did last year, I don't think there's any doubt that the toughest NFC division in which to win a game will be the NFC West.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!