Largely regarded as one of the worst, if not the worst, conference in the NFL, the NFC West once again appears up for grabs.
With the St. Louis Rams still in full-blown rebuilding mode, the San Francisco 49ers looking for someone to run their offense and the Arizona Cardinals reliant on a heavy pass attack with a 40-year old quarterback and a malcontent wide receiver, this season could present the Seattle Seahawks with a perfect opportunity to rebound and reclaim their status as division champions.
Having won the West four of the last five years, the Seahawks are certainly no stranger to the top of the division and given the relative weakness of the other teams they must contend with, the Hawks are once again eyeing a playoff berth.
By far, Seattle’s biggest in-division competition will be the Cardinals, who were the runners up in last year’s Super Bowl and were a perfect 6-0 in division games. In 2008, the Cardinals swept Seattle, closing the regular season with a 34-21 victory in Glendale.
In that game, Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner threw for 263 yards and four touchdowns against a defense that finished dead last in the NFL in passing defense.
Warner and his favorite targets Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin return and are again the nucleus of a high-octane passing attack. Even if Boldin is traded — as has been his desire since the beginning of last season — Warner still has options in Steve Breaston and second-year man Early Doucet.
Winning a division with a 9-7 record and going winless on the East Coast in the regular season hardly inspires a feeling of dominance in regard to this season though. The Cardinals still have questions defensively coming off a season, in which they were 19th in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed at 26.6 points per game.
After Arizona, though, the 49ers and Rams do not bring much to the table, with the Rams perpetually in the rebuilding phase, going 0-6 against the division last year and 1-11 the last two. The greatest show on turf is no more, and Marc Bulger is far from the quarterback he was from 2002-2005.
San Francisco has been without a quarterback since the days of Jeff Garcia and in his absence, many have tried but none have taken the reins as the starting quarterback. They still finished second in the division at 7-9, beating up the Rams twice and taking one of two from the Seahawks, a bitter 33-30 overtime loss for Seattle.
Mike Singletary returns as head coach, but loses offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who had helped bring the offense back to respectability with Shaun Hill under center. The new offensive regime will also be tested with the lack of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Other than running back Frank Gore, there is not a lot of battle-hardened talent ready to produce. First round pick Michael Crabtree could help the 49ers in that respect, but will be a rookie this season.
The defense was among the league’s ten worst scoring defenses allowing 23.8 points per game.
Should the Seahawks win the division, though, they will be hard pressed to earn one of the playoff byes, with the weakness of the division. The NFC West will play the four teams of the NFC North this year and, with the exception of Detroit, the North is the far superior conference.
With the power of the NFC lying in the North and East, any team from the West would be hard-pressed to earn a first round bye and the division is almost assured of not earning one of the two Wild Card berths. Should that be the Seahawks win the conference, they would be most likely on the road for one, if not two of their playoff contests.