The 2010 NFL season was something of a joke for the NFC West. The division managed to supply the first sub-.500 playoff team and was the butt of more jokes than I can count. I generally ignored when the likes of Jon Gruden were mocking the division because at the end of the day people like him have no control over what happens in our division. The Seahawks managed a first round upset of the New Orleans Saints, but the division lost any momentum from that win courtesy of their fairly ugly loss last weekend to the Chicago Bears.
However, the tide might very well be turning, at least for some teams. The most high profile addition thus far was the 49ers ability to land Jim Harbaugh to become the new head coach. He's since worked to develop a solid cast of coaches and the 49ers appear to find themselves on the right track at this point.
A second high profile hiring within the division was the Rams ability to land former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels as their new offensive coordinator. The Rams took a huge step forward in part because of the guidance of OC Pat Shurmur. After Shurmur was hired by the Browns to become their new head coach, McDaniels quickly entered the picture. The Rams went through a mini-Harbaugh-esque dramatic swing when McDaniels appeared to become a candidate for a similar position in Seattle. However, things eventually worked out for the Rams and McDaniels took over the offensive operations under a two-year deal.
The Seattle Seahawks made their own small coaching splash adding the recently released Raiders head coach Tom Cable. Pete Carroll brought in Cable to work as offensive line coach and assistant head coach, while apparently getting some say in who will be their next offensive coordinator. There are mixed opinions about Tom Cable given some of his personal issues and a question how much his staff played into the Raiders renewed relative success in 2010. Either way, he's certainly a sort of name brand position coach, or at least not an anonymous hire.
The only NFC West team to not really make a splash has been the Arizona Cardinals. The biggest news for them has been the firing of defensive coordinator Billy Davis. For those who think that name sounds familiar but can't quite place it, Davis was 49ers defensive coordinator in 2005 and 2006 but was fired by Mike Nolan after 2006 and replaced by Greg Manusky.
I mention all these hirings because I'm curious if this will be enough to hold off early season jokes about the NFC West. I've noticed a lot more comments in our various threads discussing these hirings and some discussion about the climb back to respectability of the NFC West. A few coaching hires are likely going to buy some time, but we all know performance next season will really dictate what people think. After all, predictions in July and August have proven time and again to be fairly useless.
I'd suspect the Rams will be getting as much love from preseason prognosticators as anybody else in the division. The 49ers will get some love, but the Rams are in the midst of a resurgence behind a franchise QB. Add in Josh McDaniels and even with Sam Bradford potentially having to learn a new offense, the media is going to love this Rams team next year. Crazy things could happen this offseason but I'd imagine we'll see a lot of 10-6 predictions for the Rams.
The 49ers will get some love because of the Harbaugh hiring, but until they figure out their quarterback situation, I'd suspect it will be somewhat tentative press. The team's performance and the team's coverage in the national media are going to be hard to predict as things currently stand. Although I suppose if you're a big believer in Harbaugh's offensive magic, you're figuring he can improve just about anybody at the QB position.
The Seahawks offseason exposure will likely have as much to do with how offseason #2 goes for Pete Carroll. He made a lot of moves last year. I'd imagine some more changes are in store, but Carroll will also need to figure out what he's got from last year's moves.
The Cardinals remain stuck in neutral and have some big holes to fill in the coming months. They really need a homerun offseason from their front office if they want to make a stab at climbing out of the cellar. If they don't make some big moves in the draft and free agency, 2011 could be another long year for Cardinals fans.
Given all that, I'd like to hope we'll see some more respectful discussion of the NFC West around the nation. I'm not holding my breath, but I'd like to think the pieces are in place for some kind of divisional resurgence.