The Seahawks made perhaps the biggest coaching change in the offseason, bringing Pete Carroll back into the NFL, an attempt to reinvigorate a team that had missed the playoffs for two straight years despite playing in perhaps the worst division in football.
The result hasn't quite been a renaissance, but there is no doubt that this is an improved Seattle side; after finishing 5-11 in 2009, they are 4-3 and atop the NFC West halfway through the season. The Seahawks remain vulnerable on the road, a sign of a developing team; they are 1-3 away from home, with all three defeats coming in lopsided fashion.
However, they remain unbeaten on their home turf, with blowout wins over divisional foes San Francisco and Arizona and a Leon Washington-powered upset of San Diego. Statistically, it is hard to pinpoint exactly where Seattle are finding success, as the team ranks in the 20's in both total offense and defense and QB Matt Hasselbeck has thrown more picks than TDs; their one standout area is their run defense, which is a solid eighth in the league.
While Seattle must play five more teams with winning records, they also have three more games against their divisional opponents, none of whom are over .500. Look for Seattle to finish with 8-10 wins, a mark which will probably be enough to come out on top of a bad NFC West.
St Louis Rams
A year ago, the Rams were a woeful 1-15, with seemingly little prospects for improvement. What a difference a year can make.
With rookie Sam Bradford, the Rams are proving to be something of a surprise package at 4-4. Just like the Seahawks, there are no standout categories statistically for the Rams (aside from the wins column). They have enjoyed playing at home, as they enjoy a 4-1 record when playing in St Louis, and are 1-1 in the division games they have played there.
They have been less successful on the road, where they are 0-3, although they were only beaten in Tampa on a last second TD pass. While Bradford isn't setting the league on fire just yet (his QB rating is hovering in the mid 70s), he is largely managing to avoid the big mistakes and is being given time and protection by his offensive line, something which was lacking for the Rams in seasons past.
The Rams have four division games remaining, which should allow them to stay in the race for the division crown well towards the end of the season; two of those games, however, will be at Arizona and Seattle, two teams who will be desperate for wins themselves. St Louis will also have to face off against the Saints, Falcons and Chiefs. Expect the Rams to finish with 6-8 wins, and on the outside looking in come January.
The story for the Cardinals all season has been the carousel at the quarterback position. While Hall of Famer Kurt Warner left big boots to fill, no one has looked like they were taking charge, with Matt Leinart getting cut and rookie Max Hall and former Brown Derek Anderson battling to see who is less mediocre.
While they are 3-4, and still in the thick of the NFC West race, the Cards simply don't look like a playoff caliber team. Two of their wins (@ St Louis and Oakland) came down to the last minute and they were blown out in three of their four losses.
The unsettled state of affairs at the QB position is reflected in their offensive numbers; a dynamic offensive team over the last few years, the Cards rank second to last in total offense, and are only marginally better in passing offense.
With four division games, the Cards definitely have an opportunity to make ground on the Rams and Seahawks. Arizona, however, are simply too inconsistent. Poor play from their quarterbacks will probably kill their chances at a third straight trip to the postseason. Look for them to finish with 6-8 wins.
San Francisco 49ers
Before the season, the Niners were anointed by a number of football experts as the team to beat in the NFC West. With the tough Mike Singletary at the helm of a team seemingly bursting with young talent, San Francisco was viewed as overwhelming divisional favorites.
The result of such hype? A 2-6 record, including an 0-5 stretch to start the season. Just like the Cards, San Francisco have struggled to get good play from the quarterback position. Singletary stuck with former No. 1 pick Alex Smith despite his struggles, before giving a chance to the former Heisman winner from OSU Troy Smith.
Smith led them to an entertaining win over the Broncos in their latest outing, but it's a case of too little too late as far as the Niners and Mike Singletary are concerned; in fact, Singletary's poor returns, and some erratic off field behavior, will probably see him be without a job come this offseason.
San Francisco's schedule isn't too challenging, and they may yet spoil the aspirations of one of their division rivals, but won't be able to salvage much else from this season. Expect them to finish with 4-6 wins, and a top 5 draft pick.
St Louis (8-8)
San Francisco (4-12)