The NFC West has been one of the league’s best divisions in recent years, having sent a representative to four of the last seven Super Bowls. But the division has seen some upheaval this season. Consecutive division champions Seattle are struggling at .500. San Francisco have declined dramatically despite being in the Super Bowl two years ago. The Cardinals are leading the way thanks to the old guard of Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and Chris Johnson. The Rams have one of the most electric rookies in the league carrying them into wild card contention. So who can win the NFC West?
by Tom Parry-Jones
The Arizona Cardinals play in one of this season’s most competitive divisions with only three wins separating top from bottom, but the Cardinals (6-2) sit top of the division at present, and that’s what gives them their advantage: sheer results.
They absolutely demolished the San Francisco 49ers 47-7 in their divisional matchup in Week 3, and their only divisional loss was by two points against the Rams a week later. Perhaps the biggest reason for the Cardinals’ success is their ability to score: the team leads the league in overall touchdowns scored with 32, while quarterback Carson Palmer is second only to Tom Brady in TD passes this year with 20.
They’ve also outscored their opponents by a total 110 points in 8 games, which says just as much about the Arizona defense as it does about their offense. Along with the Panthers and the Giants, the Cardinals lead the league in interceptions (13), with three of those being returned for touchdowns.
The second half of the season will be tough for Arizona, with three divisional games on the road in the next four weeks, either side of a home game against the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals. They then host the NFC North’s Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers (both 6-2) either side of a trip to the Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) before a home game against the Seahawks in Week 17. But with six wins already this season, the Cardinals are definitely the best-placed of the NFC West teams to make it into the play-offs, and they’ll be looking to seal home-field advantage sooner rather than later.
St. Louis Rams
by Edd Hodsdon
Game-changing rookie sensation Todd Gurley has transformed the Rams into Jeff Fisher’s perfect team: a physical defense complemented by a power running game. Despite missing the start of the year recovering from a college ACL tear, Gurley is averaging 110.6 yards per game, most in the league. The defense retains the physically dominant front that we saw last year, boasting multiple first round picks; but the secondary has also improved, intercepting Aaron Rodgers twice at Lambeau Field, becoming the first team to intercept Rodgers at home since 2012.
Outside of Gurley, the Rams now have stability on offense thanks to Nick Foles. While slightly underwhelming, Foles is a consistent starter who can take advantage of the run to set up big plays. Tavon Austin has finally been utilised properly by the coaching staff, running gadget plays as a receiver and a runner to keep defenses guessing. The trio of Gurley, Foles and Austin give the Rams an unpredictable offense that confuses opponents.
The Rams are also undefeated in the division, beating Seattle and San Francisco at home and beating the Cardinals in Arizona. They will face all three again, but should go at least 2-1 in the second round of divisional games. That would help their chances of winning the division for the first time since 2003. St. Louis face undefeated Cincinnati in Week 12, but have comfortable matchups against Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit and Tampa Bay. Expect the Rams to reach double digit wins for the first time under Jeff Fisher.
by Remy Cabache
The Seahawks have not had the start to the season that they had hoped for. They have stumbled to a 4-4 record, sit 3rd in the NFC West and have struggled to hold a lead in multiple games, especially against the other ‘elite’ teams. This would suggest they can’t overtake the Cardinals to take the divisional crown for a 3rd consecutive year.
But doesn’t this all seem a little familiar? I seem to remember a similar rhetoric last year, when they stumbled out of the gate. People questioned the ‘Legion of Boom’, the offense was out of character and they looked very hungover from their Super Bowl, but where did they end last year? This team will turn it around.
Their roster is overflowing with talent and at different times they have shown that talent. The offense will start clicking with a fully fit Marshawn Lynch, Jimmy Graham has shown how much he can affect a game and Tyler Lockette gives this offense a very dynamic playmaker. On defense, they have still been good, for the most part. The leads they have given up all have something in common: the offense stopped moving the ball, giving the defense no time to rest. Every defense will make mistakes when they are tired. FIve of their remaining eight games are at home, and they still have to play the Cardinals twice. This gives them plenty of chances to fight back.
San Francisco 49ers
by David Venables
Such is the state of the 2015 NFL season, many people have probably forgotten, or not bothered to look, that the San Francisco 49ers, everybody’s whipping post in the preseason, are only three games removed from a playoff spot, and the top of the NFC West. That does seem like quite a bunch, when you consider that the 49ers have won just three games all season. But, that was before they gave the keys to the offense to our quarterbacking overlord Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert, with the poise of cobra waiting to strike, and the ruthlessness of too-hot curry the morning after, struck down the Atlanta Falcons (who were 6-2 previously) with two quick strikes to tight-end guru Garrett Celek. The rest, as they say, is history. In King Gabbert’s previous 10 NFL starts, the Jacksonville Jaguars (who were fortunate enough to have such mastery at the position) contrived to lose every single one of them, jealous of his flowing mane of golden hair. But, in true reverse-Samson style, Gabbert shorn his locks, retreated to the West Coast, and bided his time behind a peanut-headed oik until the time was ripe for him to claim vengeance. Atlanta was just the start, and with three divisional matchups remaining, plus a schedule including the Browns, Bears and Lions, Gabbert will surely make up the ground and catapult the 49ers to the postseason.
Who do you think will win the NFC West? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!