The old NFC Central was called the ‘black and blue division.’ In those days the Packers, Bears, Lions and Vikings were all talented and physical teams. It was truly the toughest division in the NFL. That title has most likely moved to the west, and that may be proven in 2014.
The San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks have been battling to become NFC Western Division Champions for a couple of years. Both teams have excellent organizations, superior coaching, and talented young quarterbacks who are the epitome of the new style in the NFL. Both have gone to the Super Bowl. The other two teams in the division, the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams, are expected to show a great deal of improvement in 2014.
Coaching is one of the major reasons change is coming to the third and fourth place teams in the NFC West. All four division coaches have been to Super Bowls. Bruce Arians, Head Coach of the Arizona Cardinals, is the only one not to have been there as a head coach, but he does have two Super Bowl rings. (Pittsburgh Steelers). He may be the one who wants it the most.
Three of the four teams have franchise quarterbacks. Arizona has Carson Palmer, but that may change. Arians’ expertise is offense, which may help Palmer perform up to expectations. The addition of Offensive Coordinator Harold Goodwin, and Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles will give their HC a staff he can rely on, and one that shares his vision.
The Cardinals were 10-6 in 2013, and were the only NFL team to beat the Seattle Seahawks in their own stadium. They filled a few key positions in the 2014 Draft.
Deone Bucannon, SS from Washington State is 6-1, and 208 pounds. In his collegiate career he had 384 tackles, 270 of them solo. He had 15 INT’s, six of them in his senior year. In a league which has become pass oriented, he will likely be a starter on day one. They acquired one of the best TE’s available. Troy Niklas played for Notre Dame at 6-6 and 270 pounds. In 2013 Niklas had 32 receptions for 498 yards and 5 TD’s. His strength and size provide a viable target over the middle.
Arizona’s 4th round pick was QB Logan Thomas. He is 6-6, and 245 pounds. At Virginia Tech he passed for 9,005 yards with 53 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. He had a four year QB rating of 123.9. He needs work, but could be their ‘QB of the future.’
The big question in the NFC West is, will St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford step up? And, can he avoid serious injury?
The 2008 Heisman Trophy winner was drafted first overall in the first round in 2010. After success in his rookie year, he faltered in 2011. He rebounded in 2012, but in 2013, after starting only seven games he tore his ACL. He continues to rehab, and Coach Jeff Fisher says he will be available on opening day.
Fisher will begin his 3rd season with the Rams. A defensive-minded coach, he has given confidence to corners and safeties that they can compete in the division. The long-time Tennessee Titans coach has been rebuilding his team. He believed 2013 would mark their turnaround, and then he lost his starting QB for the season. His record with St. Louis is 14-17-1.
The Rams 2014 Draft was rated A+. They were able to fill ‘holes’ in both offense and defense. The Rams 2nd overall pick Greg Robinson is a big (6-5, 332), physical offensive tackle who can be plugged into the lineup as a Day 1 starter.
Their first overall pick was DT Aaron Donald. The rookie from Pittsburgh may be a bit undersized at 6-1 and 285 pounds, but his quickness, producing an ability to disrupt plays was noticed by every scout.
It is likely that all four teams in the NFC West will end the 2014 season with winning records. It is not likely that Arizona or St. Louis are ready to unseat the Seahawks or 49ers as division champs just yet. Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh have their machines running smoothly. Injuries and performance by rookies may dictate the division’s outcome.
All four have excellent Head Coaches and an experienced, competent staff. All four have quarterbacks who have the capability of scoring enough points to win the majority of their games. All four have defenses who can disrupt their offensive opponents.
The power of the NFC has moved west, and is likely to remain there for several years to come.