Two years ago, the Seattle Seahawks made the NFC West the controversial laughing stock of the NFL by getting into the playoffs with a division-leading 7-9 regular season record. Thanks to a highlight reel-worthy touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch, which was a catalyst in Seattle’s victory over the Saints, some of the controversy was lessened but the questions were still raised, should a 7-9 team be given a shot at the Super Bowl? If a 7-9 team wins the Super Bowl, how does the league deal with the fallout? Thankfully, Tom Brady and the Patriots showed the world exactly why the Seahawks were 7-9 in a systematic destruction of the sub-.500 team.
Last year the San Francisco 49ers stunned the NFL by going from 5 wins, to a division capturing 13 wins, and the only major change was at the head coach position with the hiring of Jim Harbaugh. San Francisco clinched the NFC West, which was then considered the worst division in football with 3 of 4 teams under .500, in week 13 and ran deep into the playoffs before finally succumbing to the New York Giants in overtime in the NFC Championship game.
With that history, people expected that the NFC West would remain quiet this season, but those people were wrong. Although The NFC west may not be the best division in the league, its definitely is not the worst, and it may be the most dramatic.
Three weeks ago the Seahawks were fighting to stay in the Wild-Card race, and now if things fall into place, they could be playing for the lead of the division.
San Francisco seemed to have the West, firmly under control once again, but a loss to, and a tie with the St. Louis Rams have cast a shadow of doubt over the 49ers ability to stay consistent enough to make a deep playoff run for a second time.
How exactly did the NFC West go from bad joke to dramatic juggernaut? The answer to that question seems complicated, with rookie quarterbacks exceeding expectations, and winning veteran quarterbacks losing their job for seemingly no reason, but in truth the answer is simple, defense.
The San Francisco 49ers defense is, without question, the measuring stick against which defenses are being measured in the NFL.
Seattle’s defense can be directly credited for keeping the Seahawks in games long enough for their rookie QB to find a way to win the ball game.
The Rams defense, while not great, has certainly improved and the linebacker corps is excellent.
Arizona is really the only team with huge question marks on both sides of the ball, their defense is strong on paper, but is struggling on the field. Arizona’s offense has struggled to overcome QB woes and the signing of a QB that was supposed to be the next Kurt Warner, but played more like the next Ryan Leaf.
This resurgence of strength in the NFC West has led us on a journey of ups and downs, an emotional rollercoaster of stunning wins and stinging defeats, regardless of which team you cheer for. However, that journey has brought us something else, validation.
Gone are the days when the NFC west goes uncontested, as are the days when the West was won by default and went to a team who couldn’t even win half of the games they played.
Today’s games will go a long way toward deciding who will win the West, and where it will be decided, but one thing is settled, The NFC West is a division to be reckoned with.