It sounds crazy, but through the first 2 weeks of this young season the NFC West is a combined 6-2 with one of those losses being a division game. Combined they have beaten the Patriots, Packers, Lions, Cowboys, Redskins, and Seahawks. So far the only true loss was the Rams playing on the road against the Lions week 1. And it took a Lions touchdown in the final seconds to steal a win. The division from top to bottom is improved compared to prior seasons and all of the teams might be on an upswing.
San Francisco 49ers
Let’s be honest even with the improvement by the other 3 teams, this is still the team to beat. They aren’t just the best team in the division; at this point it’s safe to say they are the best team in football. The defense is stifling and has made pro bowl quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford look like rookies not named RGIII.
As for the offense they are controlling the ball while mixing up run and pass and are protecting the ball. QB Alex Smith is on fire and is now the franchise leader for consecutive passes without an interception. He is starting to look elite because he has such control of the offense, he knows when to change the play, where to go with the ball, and how to protect the football. Alex has completed over 70% of his passes and is second in the league in passer rating and first down % to only Matt Ryan. The ground game is currently 3rd in the league and is averaging 5.7 yards an attempt.
This is the best group of receivers by far Alex Smith has ever had to work with. Add in a coach who knows how to game plan, an offensive system that has actually been in place for more than 3 seconds, and the fact that he has finally been given a real chance to flourish, he looks like the number 1 pick we thought we were getting 8 years ago. Turns out he wasn’t bad, the 49ers were bad. The great part is he is only 28 and is just hitting his prime years as a quarterback. Keep in mind Drew Brees was 27 before he threw for 4,000 yards in a season and Tom Brady was 30.
This might be the team to watch out for the most. They are 9-2 in their last 11 games and split the series with the 49ers last season. They don’t win pretty but they find ways to get the win. New England dominated the game Sunday and had a chance to win, but a late penalty negating a touchdown and a missed chip shot field goal left the Patriots shaking their heads and Arizona on top of a game. They were a 13.5 point underdog.
How good can they be? The offense isn’t anything to write home about, but they do have talented players. They have the Eagles coming in this next week so we’ll see if they can continue on this run.
Arizona is playing with a chip, which was evident in the post-game news conference when Coach Whisenhunt was quick to point out that they were a big underdog and no one gave them a chance. That can be repeated with the preseason predictions. San Francisco is the favorite by a wide margin, Seattle was improved and St Louis added a coach, the Cardinals were left out of the discussion. Let’s not forget they finished second last year.
An unconventional coach, an unconventional rookie quarterback and yet this is a team that is a dropped pass from being 2-0. They dominated Dallas in every facet of the game and the defense held them to just 85 yards in the second half.
Much like Arizona I’m hesitant about this team. Much like Arizona they were hot at the end of last season. This team is the enigma of the NFL. They lost 4 games by 3 or less last year, beat the Giants and Ravens, but lost to Cleveland and Washington. 2 years ago they limped into the playoffs at 7-9 then dominate the defending champions in the wild card round. They are as likely to go 11-5 as they are 5-11 and if it wasn’t for being a 49er fan, they would probably be entertaining to watch.
St Louis Rams
They weren’t going 2-14 again. When you look at the team the first 3 things you need to look at is head coach, quarterback, and defense. Last year they had a Steve Spagnuolo, Sam Bradford was injured, and they finished 22nd in defense. This year they are under Jeff Fisher, Bradford is healthy, and the defense overall is better. Are they ready to compete at the next level? No, but they aren’t an easy win anymore, just ask Detroit and Washington.
Their ceiling this year is around 8-8, but 6-10 is more realistic. I don’t see Fisher being enough of a difference maker to get them into the post season discussion. This week they go to Chicago and don’t be too surprised if they pull out a W.
Quick Rebuttals to other Divisions being better
NFC East- 5-3 overall and 0-2 versus NFC West this year
NFC North- 4-4 overall and 1-2 versus NFC West this year
NFC South- 4-4 overall with its only two out of division wins coming against the AFC West
AFC East- 4-4 overall and 0-1 versus NFC West and that was Arizona taking down their best team
AFC North- 3-5 as a division with only 1 win outside division being against the Jets
AFC South- 3-5 as a division and with it’s out of division wins being against Miami and Minnesota
AFC West- 3-5 as a division with a win versus the Titans and Pittsburgh.
Sure there might be some falloff of performance, I mean let’s face it the Cardinals aren’t a better team than the Patriots. But the first 2 weeks of the season has been promising for what was considered the worst division in the league a couple of years ago. As a Niner fan I hope the rest fall off, just so we can lock things up like we did last season. Worst case scenario, they stay good, we still win the division, and we get more respect because our division was more difficult.