When people talked about how good the NFC West was going to be prior to the 2013 NFL season, the primary focus was obviously on the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.
If the other teams were mentioned, it was to call the St. Louis Rams a dark horse candidate, because it's against the laws of the universe to make it through an offseason without multiple analysts saying "Well if you look at Sam Bradford's stats, he really wasn't a terrible quarterback with no hope of ever leading the Rams to anything significant."
Well, the Rams fell flat -- as expected -- but the Arizona Cardinals, a team I'm relatively certain I at one point forgot about last season, picked up the slack and elevated the strength of the NFC West to the next level. Despite the fact that the media talked a great deal about how good they were doing, especially at the end of the season, I was completely shocked when the 49ers were suddenly battling for a spot in the playoffs.
I personally think the Cardinals can't do that again. I don't see them sustaining the level of play they managed to put forward last year, and I frankly don't expect them to be a very good team at all. But others disagree, and if some projections are to believed, the NFC West will be even better in 2014.
USA Today posted some record projections a few days ago, and the NFC West is interesting. They have the Seahawks winning the division at 12-4 -- and winning the Super Bowl -- the 49ers coming in second at 11-5 (and losing to the New Orleans Saints in the Wildcard round of the playoffs), and the Cardinals picking up 10 wins again. So that's pretty solid, though if we're being honest, the Saints are the team I'd be least afraid of if the playoffs opened up looking like that.
But here's the kicker: USA Today says the Rams will also go 10-6. This isn't going to stop until the Rams finally give up on Bradford, I think. I just don't see much about that team, other than a crazy good defensive line, that suggests they will be any good next season. Yes, that pass rush will win them a few games, but at the end of the day they're simply not a complete football team.
Of course, I'm wrong like all the time (and I'm fine with it). So who knows, their projections could wind up being 100 percent accurate. Let's hope not, either way.