AFC East Shows NFC West Has Wild Potential

Rob StatonCorrespondent IMay 27, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 18:  Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals reacts after teammate Tim Hightower #34 scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles during the NFC championship game on January 18, 2009 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The NFC West hasn't always produced the most exciting, competitive division.

Next season could be different.

The Arizona Cardinals will begin favorites as defending champions Super Bowl XLIII runners-up.

However, there's cause for optimism amongst the other three teams hoping to hit back from a disappointing 2008.

Is it possible we could see a three way battle for division title?

Let's use the AFC East as an example.

This time last year, like Arizona the New England Patriots had just lost the Super Bowl.

Their 16-0 regular season and domination of the AFC made them a sure-fire bet for the playoffs and another placing atop the division.

In contrast, the other three teams combined for a 12-36 record. Miami and New York picked in the draft's top 10, whilst Buffalo picked at No. 11.

It seemed like a foregone conclusion as the 2008 season kicked off that history would repeat.

Then Tom Brady landed on injured reserve, the Bills started 4-0, Miami first introduced the 'wildcat', and the Jets had Brett Favre.

What was expected to be one of the most predictable division's in the NFL proved anything but.

Inter-division play was thrilling, Miami losing to the Jets in week one before later ending the Favre era in New York by winning the division title at Meadowlands.

The Dolphins' recovery first started when, at 0-2, they won in New England 38-13 thanks to the wildcat debut and Ronnie Brown's five touchdowns.

Overall Miami, New England and New York all went 4-2 in division play. Only the Dolphins made the playoffs as division winners, the Patriots missed out cruelly on a tiebreaker whilst the Jets ended a season of promise at 9-7.

Buffalo, despite enjoying the best start, lost every single one of their AFC East matches—clearly the determining factor in their downfall.

The closeness of the AFC East last year and Miami's revival from 1-15 to 11-5 showed once again how unpredictable the NFL can be.

Will the same happen in the NFC West in 2009? There are plenty of comparisons.

The NFC West contains the Super Bowl loser.

Like the Dolphins last year, the three other NFC West teams are taking in a new era.

Seattle, San Francisco and St Louis all recently appointed a new head coach.

The records are similar too:

Like Miami, New York and Buffalo last year, the NFC West teams all picked within the top eleven of the 2009 draft.

Of course, most of this is purely coincidental, but the way the AFC East panned out in 2008 also proves anything could happen in the NFC West this year.

Arizona deserve their favorites tag, they won the NFC and very nearly became World Champions.

But as with Brady last year, it'd only take an unfortunate injury to Larry Fitzgerald or Kurt Warner to bring the Cardinals back down to earth with a bang.

Seattle, one year removed from four successive division titles will be hoping to hit back after an injury plagued 2008.

The 49ers made the right decision to extend Mike Singletary's contract and will likely incorporate their head coaches attitude and discipline onto the field.

St. Louis made a steal, naming Steve Spagnuolo as the man to lead the Rams into a new era and his CV contains a Super Bowl XLII ring.

It could be a much tighter division, with as many as three teams challenging for the postseason.

Not something we've come to expect from the NFC West.

Inter-division records could be crucial.

Arizona went 6-0 in the NFC West last year. Lower that record and they would have been in competition with San Francisco and possibly even Seattle.

In week one of the new season, St Louis travel to Qwest Field to take on the Seahawks whilst Arizona host San Francisco on the same day.

A week later, Seattle travel to face the 49ers.

By facing two division rivals early, the Seahawks have a chance to set the tone.

Defeat for the Seahawks in both of those two games would put them at a severe disadvantage.

It could be whoever comes out with the best record in the divisional matches, will win it.

So will we see a more competitive NFC West in 2009?

Anything is possible, the AFC East proved that last year.


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