Does the NFC West deserve a little more respect?

Now that teams are reporting for training camp this week, ESPN.com rolled out their training camp edition power rankings.  The 49ers open the rankings at 28 with a low vote of 31 and a high vote of 23.  Overall, the NFC West did not fare well, finishing last among all divisions in average ranking of each team within the division.

Division Avg Rank
NFC East 9.53
AFC South 10.40
AFC North 15.70
NFC North 18.23
AFC East 18.35
NFC South 19.65
AFC West 20.03
NFC West 20.10

So the question becomes, is the NFC West being accurately predicted as the worst division in football, or is the division actually underrated and in line to surprise a few people?

Mike Sando agrees with me that he thinks the St. Louis Rams are potentially better than people expect.  I fully expect a rebound from the Rams in 2008.  Maybe they won't make the playoffs, but coming off a 3-13 season I think 6-10 is not out the realm of possibility, if not better.  Of course if they have a repeat of last year's injuries and a relatively poor season from Steven Jackson, a 3-13 repeat is certainly possible.

Of course the Arizona Cardinals remain a mystery squad.  They range between 13 and 25, lending credence to the idea that anything is possible with them.  It seems like every year somebody predicts they'll win the division and make some noise in the conference.  And then virtually every year they disappoint.  At 8-8 they certainly weren't awful last year, but we certainly won't be crowning their asses anytime soon.

And finally there are the Seattle Seahawks.  The high and low rankings for the Seahawks are 6 and 17, with most resting just above and below the 9-10 mark.  Seattle is once again the favorite to win the division and all I can muster up is a hearty, "Meh."  I wouldn't call them the Atlanta Braves of the NFL.  However, it seems like recently they have been a team that, while certainly qualified to win the division, doesn't bring much else to the table.  Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see the 49ers winning the division every year, even if it meant a crash and burn in the playoffs.  Mike Holmgren is entering his final season as head coach and would certainly like to go out with something special.  I'm not holding my breath.  I honestly think their annual cruise into the division title will be a little more difficult this season.

I've babbled on about the other teams in the division, but I'm convinced the NFC will be better than people expect.  Most of us think the 49ers can be competitive with the division.  Arizona certainly isn't spectacular, but they've improved from the crap of recent past.  So, will the Rams step up this season and show some improvement?  The division finished 26-38, good for a tie with the AFC West for worst combined record.  I certainly would like to see the West Coast get their act together.  Will it happen in the NFC West this season?

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