The NFC West hasn't earned much respect in the last 10 years and with good reason, right? It might not have been as bad as you thought and things are certainly looking up.
The NFC West has often been mentioned as one of the worst divisions in the NFL. Until this year perhaps that title might have been justified. As recently as 2010, the entire division finished under .500. The 7-9 Seahawks represented the NFC West in theplayoffs subsequently becoming the worst team (record-wise) to earn a spot in the playoffs since the league moved to a 16-game schedule. In fact, since the 2002 season each team has had at least five seasons with a record of .500 or worse (Rams - 10, Cardinals - 9, 49ers - 8, Seahawks - 5).
What if I were to tell you there is only one division since the 2002 Super Bowl (2001 season) to have all four of its teams represent the division in the Super Bowl? What if I were to tell you that one division is the NFC West? I'll wait a few minutes while you recall the last 11 Super Bowls...
Yep, it's true. In 2002 the St. Louis Rams lost to the New England Patriots 20-17. In 2006 the Seattle Seahawks lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-10. In 2009 the Arizona Cardinals lost to the Steelers 27-23. And of course, the 49ers will face the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday and try to become the first NFC West team to win the Super Bowl since the Rams in 2000.
While this certainly doesn't make the history listed in the first paragraph irrelevant, it does illustrate unique parody not only in the NFC West but NFC as a whole. Since the 2001 season the NFC has had 11 different representatives in the Super Bowl with only the NY Giants appearing more than once. Compare that to the AFC where only five teams have advanced to the Super Bowl in the same span with New England leading the way (five appearances) followed by Pittsburgh (three) and Indianapolis (two). In fact, this is the first Super Bowl not featuring someone named Brady, Manning, or Roethlisberger since 2003.
So the next time someone tries to tell you the 49ers play in a weak division you DO have an argument. Just remind them that this division represented the NFC in the Super Bowl 33% of the time since 2002. For comparisons sake, the only other division in the NFL to send three different teams in that same span in the NFC South (Tampa Bay - 2003, Carolina - 2004, New Orleans- 2010).
There is no question that the NFC West can no longer be considered one of the worst divisions in the NFL. In fact, I think it can now be considered one of the best. The Niners/Seahawks rivalry might be the new Steelers/Ravens rivalry. We know all too well how much better St. Louis is getting and IF Arizona finds even an average quarterback it's not beyond realm of possibility to think with great defense across the board, all four teams could finish .500 or better in 2013.