Everything goes in cycles, up & down, back & forth, always changing. For years the NFC East has been in a duel with the NFC South for producing the best division in the conference, but that is all going to change in the next few seasons. The NFC West will become the best division in the conference, and here’s why:
Arizona Cardinals – Looking to change our tag as the doormat of the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals have also been loading up on talent and have it all locked in for the next five years. Matt Leinart, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Edgerrin James, Adrian Wilson…the list goes on. But more importantly, the Cards used their off-season to address just about every critical area by adding Terrence Holt and Rod Hood in the Secondary, drafting LB Buster Davis (an All-American from FSU), trading up for Alan Branch in round 2, stealing TE Ben Patrick on day 2 of the draft, and most importantly, drafting Levi Brown while also picking up free agents Al Johnson & Mike Gandy to bolster a very weak O-Line. And for all of you Edge haters out there remember this: he was still 12th in the league in rushing yards with 1189 and 6 TDs behind that fish net of an O-Line, imagine what he’ll do with the improvements to that unit. With Whisenhunt and Grimm running the show in the desert, expect big things in the future……..I’m serious.
San Francisco 49ers– Rollin’ with Nolin? Absolutely. Having distanced themselves from their former glory days for long enough, the San Francisco 49ers are a team on the rise, collecting great players in the draft and off-season like they were free coupons at the grocery store. This off-season they addressed critical needs on defense at CB & LB with the drafting of Patrick Willis and signing Nate Clements from Buffalo. Picking up Joe Staley at the end of round 1 also bolsters the O-Line, while adding offensive weapons Darrel Jackson and rookie Jason Hill. Frank Gore established himself as one of the league’s premier backs last year, and Alex Smith with coming into his own, along with a healthy Vernon Davis look for the 49ers to be a mainstay in the playoffs for years to come.
St. Louis Rams – This club has endured some tough times over the past few seasons, missing the playoffs the last two years. But with the caliber of players they have I don’t think anyone can argue that they are just a hair away from the post season. Stephen Jackson will be one of the top backs in the league for the next 8 years. Marc Bulger consistently puts up pro bowl numbers year after year and has shown no signs of slowing down. Same can be said for Torry Holt who remains one of the games most dominant receivers. Special teams remains an area of concern, but picking up Dante Hall should bolster the return game nicely while the drafting of Adam Carriker immediately addresses a critical need on the defensive front. This team has a lot of veteran leadership mixed in with young talent, and that’s definitely a dangerous combination for opponents to face.
Seattle Seahawks – It’s a proven fact that anything Mike Holmgren touches turns to gold. He brought the Packers back to NFL prominence and made Brett Favre a star, and he has done the same thing for Matt Hasselbeck and company in Seattle, leading them to the Super Bowl in 2005-06. So what have they done to improve on that? Sure they lost Darrell Jackson, but Deion Branch is the number one receiver and with Nate Burelson as well as free agent signee TE Marcus Pollard, the passing game should not suffer at all. Oh yeah, and why don’t we factor in a healthy Shaun Alexander, 2005 NFL MVP. He played in 10 contests in 2006 and still managed to rush for 896 yards and 7 TDs. Defense? How about the signing of DE Patrick Kerney, pairing him with emerging star Darrell Tapp. A couple of other guys people may have heard of are pretty good too: Lofa Tatupu, Michael Bouleware, Julian Peterson; yeah they’re doing all right there. Seattle is still the team to beat in this division.
No one can deny or ignore the talent and rosters that are being put together by the teams in the NFC West. Everywhere you turn, someone, somewhere is talking about these teams, about their potential, about their chances. And everywhere else you turn, people are starting to notice that while every other division in the NFC has its sure-fire lock for the playoffs (Dallas – East, New Orleans – South, Chicago – North), every other team in those divisions are not found in post season discussions. NY Giants cannot replace Tiki Barber and will fall out of the playoff race. PHI Eagles still have Donovan and Westbrook so they always have a chance, but with no deep threat and McNabb being so injury prone, they won’t hold on too long. Carolina is a good pick every year, but without a dominant ground game they are really hit and miss. Chicago, New Orleans and Dallas are the only locks in my opinion for the postseason in the years to come. And I look for the NFC West to shine and start putting multiple teams into the playoff picture.
Still others will call me crazy or stupid, but look at these divisions and see how they stack up for the long haul. The West will dominate the playoff picture in the NFC for years to come.
Mike Duggan – AZCardsfan4life