The top of the NFC West is as good as any division in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers will look to defend their title, and enter the 2013 season as favorites to do so. The Seattle Seahawks, though, are not too far behind after finishing a half-game out of first place last year. Other than San Francisco, Seattle has the best Super Bowl odds in the conference.
Depending on the performance of the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals, the NFC West could prove to be the strongest in the league from top to bottom. The Rams are looking to take a step forward after making a five-game improvement from 2011 to 2012. The Cardinals, on the other hand, took a step back, losing three fewer games.
San Francisco 49ers (2012 Record: 11-4-1)
Key Games: Green Bay 9/8; Indianapolis 9/22; Houston 10/6; At New Orleans 11/17; At Washington 11/25; Atlanta 12/23
The 49ers were one play fourth down conversion away from winning Super Bowl XLVII, and they, arguably, got even better this offseason. The club added 11 rookies through the draft, selecting safety Eric Reid and defensive end Tank Carradine with their first two picks. Free agents Nnamdi Asomugha and Glenn Dorsey should also help bolster a defense that was one of the best in the NFL.
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San Francisco’s biggest concern may be on the offensive end, where they lost Michael Crabtree to a torn Achilles. The 1,000-yard receiver will miss, at least, the first two months of the season, and Mario Manningham is rehabbing a torn ACL. The team did trade for Anquan Boldin in the offseason, however, and Colin Kaepernick should only improve in his first full season as a starter.
Prediction: 13-3, division winner
Super Bowl Odds: 6-to-1 (Best in the NFL)
Seattle Seahawks (2012 Record: 11-5)
Key Games: At Houston 9/29; At Indianapolis 10/6; At Atlanta 11/10; Minnesota 11/17; New Orleans 12/2; At Giants 12/15
Seattle may have had as good of an offseason as any team. They traded for Percy Harvin to give a boost to a receiving corps that didn’t even have a wide out that recorded 800 yards last season. The Seahawks also brought in Antoine Winfield, who’ll only make the NFL’s best secondary better. They led the league in 2012 by only allowing 15.3 points per game.
Russell Wilson really came on at the end of last season, finishing the year with a 100.0 passer rating. With Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, Seattle is very dangerous with its ground attack. They’ll pose a real threat to the 49ers, though their lack of depth at wide receiver and San Francisco’s edge at head coach could keep them barely out of first place.
Super Bowl Odds: 9-1
St. Louis Rams (2012 Record: 7-8-1)
Key Games: At Atlanta 9/15; At Dallas 9/22; At Houston 10/13; At Indianapolis 11/10; Chicago 11/24; New Orleans 12/15
The Rams were one of the most improved teams in 2012, almost finishing the season at .500. Unfortunately for them, they have two legitimate Super Bowl contenders in front of them. Only three teams have a more difficult schedule than St. Louis, who’ll be forced to visit the Falcons, Cowboys and Texas, in addition to the 49ers and Seahawks.
If Sam Bradford can finally fulfill his potential as the No.1 overall pick, the Rams can make some noise and compete for a wild card spot. That won’t be easy, though, with the loss of Danny Amendola and having to rely on rookie wide outs like Tavon Austin. Losing Stephen Jackson may be the biggest blow, as seventh-round pick Daryl Richardson will be the main featured back.
Super Bowl Odds: 40-1
Arizona Cardinals (2012 Record: 5-11)
Key Games: At New Orleans 9/22; Atlanta 10/27; Houston 10/10; Indianapolis 11/24; At Philadelphia 12/1
Arizona made a lot of significant changes this offseason, giving the head coaching job to Bruce Arians and trading for Carson Palmer. They also cut ties with Beanie Wells and replaced him with Rashard Mendenhall. The changes may not be enough to help a team that was one of the worst in the NFC a year ago.
Palmer had a few good moments with the Oakland Raiders, but his short run out West was, ultimately, a failure. Mendenhall has been battling a knee injury and is coming back from a torn ACL in 2012. In such a tough division, the best Arizona can hope for might be third place.
Super Bowl Odds: 125-1