It was only a few years ago – in 2010 – that the 7-9 Seahawks won the NFC West, earning a playoff spot by virtue of a tiebreaker with the 7-9 Rams. The division may have been a punchline at that point, but much has changed since then. In 2013, the NFC West’s four teams combined for an impressive 42-22 record, while no other division in the conference even had a .500 overall record.
The Seahawks took advantage of a division win and a first-round bye, en route to a Super Bowl victory, and they’ll head into 2014 as the favorites to repeat. Having re-signed a handful of key contributors, including defensive end Michael Bennett, the club looks poised for another great season. But there are plenty of notable departures to consider as well – wide receiver Golden Tate, defensive end Chris Clemons, tackle Breno Giacomini, and cornerback Walter Thurmond were among the free agents who signed elsewhere, which could open the door for another team to take the division crown away from Seattle.
The top contender is likely San Francisco, a team that won 12 games of its own in the 2013 season and gave the Seahawks everything they could handle in the NFC Championship Game. Like their division rivals, the 49ers didn’t undergo a major roster overhaul in the offseason, with Antoine Bethea representing the club’s only real significant free agent addition. But there’s so much talent on both sides of the ball that the Niners enter the season as a legit Super Bowl contender without having made any major changes.
One of last year’s most surprising teams, the 11-win Cardinals, were unlucky to miss out on the playoffs, but turned plenty of heads by nearly keeping pace with the Seahawks and Niners all year long. While Arizona may be a candidate for regression in 2014, another strong season from Carson Palmer should keep the team competitive, and newly-signed tackle Jared Veldheer should help ensure that Palmer has the time he needs to find Larry Fitzgerald and co.
The dark horse in the West is St. Louis, the division’s only sub-.500 team last season. Because they’d acquired Washington’s first-round pick for the 2014 draft, the Rams were able to add potential stars on both sides of the ball, selecting offensive tackle Greg Robinson and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. In the NFL’s toughest division, the Rams will have an uphill battle to leapfrog the three clubs above them. However, the amount of talent on the roster, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines, will make St. Louis a tough team to play in 2014.
What do you think? Are the Seahawks headed for another division title, or can another NFC West club unseat them?