"I don't see the dominance that everybody else talks about. One of those teams may be (dominant.) It still has to be played on Sunday."
The initial response will be a bit of a guffaw from 49ers and Seahawks fans, and maybe even Rams fans. The Cardinals finished in last place last season, getting swept by the 49ers and Rams, and splitting with the Seahawks. This seems ripe for a "How cute" type of comment, but the NFC West is turning into a serious big-boy division. This comment actually reminds me a bit of Coach Harbaugh's own comments about USC when he took over at Stanford. He would bow to no team in the country. Talent is essential to a quality team, but confidence is important as well.
Over the last decade, the NFC West has often been a bit of a joke. While the team has had representatives in the Super Bowl, much of its most recent existence has struggled to find top-to-bottom success. The division hit some sort of rock bottom in 2010 when the Seattle Seahawks claimed the division title with a 7-9 record.
Over the last two years, the division has seen a turnaround. In 2011, our San Francisco 49ers claimed the division with an unexpected 13-3 run, while the Arizona Cardinals went 8-8 and the Seattle Seahawks went 7-9. The AFC West replaced the NFC West as the joke division with three teams finishing tied for first at 8-8.
In 2012, the division took a significant step forward as the 49ers finished 11-4-1, the Seahawks 11-5 and the St. Louis Rams 7-8-1. The NFC North had three teams win 10 or more games, but the NFC West had strong performances, along with a plethora of draft picks for the 49ers and Rams in particular. A team has to properly execute on those picks, but the excess of picks provides an opportunity to build a strong foundation for the future.
As we head into the 2013 season, the NFC West is poised for another strong showing. The 49ers and Seahawks are likely still the class of the division, but the Rams and Cardinals are no slouches. The Rams added serious talent this offseason, including wide receiver Tavon Austin and offensive tackle Jake Long. The Cardinals brought in quarterback Carson Palmer, and drafted one of the more intriguing talents in this year's draft in Tyrann Mathieu.
The Cardinals have a lot to prove, but I am a fan of the Carson Palmer addition. They need to actually keep him on his feet, but that passing game has a chance to be fairly dynamic. Their running game has serious questions, and their defense needs to to overcome the loss of coordinator Ray Horton, but I am at least intrigued by them. I don't think they will win the division or make the playoffs, but they will be more than just a speed-bump along the way for the rest of the division.