Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman hated to admit it, but he told MMQB’s Robert Klemko after Seattle’s 43-8 destruction of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII that the Seahawks had already played the second-best team in the NFL … and it wasn’t on Super Sunday.
“The NFC Championship was the Super Bowl,” Sherman said. “The 49ers were the second-best team in the NFL.”
The Seahawks beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship on Jan. 19 by a score of 23-17, a decision sealed by Sherman’s deflection of a Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Michael Crabtree in the end zone. Linebacker Malcolm Smith—who earned Super Bowl MVP honors with a pick-six along with 10 tackles—intercepted the tipped ball and Seattle had its second Super Bowl bid.
The NFC West has certainly come a long way from the division that sent a 7-9 champion to the postseason just three seasons ago, when the Seahawks beat the St. Louis Rams on the final Sunday night of the season to clinch the division title.
Since then, the division has been ticking upward. The 49ers won the division title with a 13-3 record in 2011 and hosted the NFC Championship before losing in overtime to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
San Francisco repeated as division champs with an 11-4-1 mark in 2012 and was joined in the postseason by the Seahawks, an 11-5 wild card entry. The 49ers won the NFC title in Atlanta and lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl.
This season, the Seahawks seized the division title at 13-3, the 49ers were a wild card at 12-4 and the Arizona Cardinals just missed the postseason party despite a 10-6 record. At 7-9—the same record that won the division in 2010—the Rams finished last. No other division had three teams with 10 or more wins and the AFC West—with the 13-3 Broncos, 11-5 Kansas City Chiefs and 9-7 San Diego Chargers—was the only other division to have three teams with winning records.