There are only two things in life that are certain, death and taxes, but for a while it certainly seemed that you could add a third to that list-the NFC West would be the laughing stock of the NFL.
Just two years ago, for the first time in NFL history, the NFC West sent a team to the playoffs with a losing record -- in 2010 the Seattle Seahawks topped the NFC West with a pitiful 7-9 record -- today, however, things couldn't look more different.
Two weeks into the season, two NFC West teams are 2-0, and the remainder 1-1. Their combined record of 6-2 is the best of any division in the NFL, and is very nearly as good as it possibly could be -- the Cardinals and Seahawks squared up in week one, guaranteeing a loss for at least one team.
There are, of course, lots of reasons for a division going 4-0 in a given week, and the statistic in and of itself perhaps wouldn't be so impressive if not for the circumstances.
This is a week the NFC West could have easily gone 0-4 against the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions and not been criticised too harshly.
In the early game, the Arizona Cardinals travelled east to face New England. West coast teams traditionally struggle when travelling east, and a loss, on that basis alone, wouldn't have been all that disappointing or surprising. Playing in the 1:00 pm game also disadvantaged the Cardinals who typically play in later slots, and then, of course, there is the biggest issue of all, playing against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots haven't lost a home opener for as long as Tom Brady has been their quarterback. Four years previously the Patriots demolished a Cardinals team, lead by future hall-of-fame quarterback Kurt Warner, in a 47-4 rout, and one of the Cardinals all-time low points. In 2008 they did that was with Matt Casell at quarterback, in 2012, many were predicting, if anything, even worse numbers.
The 20-18 Cardinals win, then, was an unexpected triumph. However in many ways, the result doesn't even do the Arizona team justice.
Yes, they were still decidely average on offense, and their points were at times scrappy, and drives very hit-and-miss.
But their defense was top notch. Six of the Patriots points could only be called spectacular solo efforts, as Stephen Gostkowski drilled not one, but two 50+ yard field goals which kept the Patriots in contention.
The Patriots lone touchdown of the day -- though admittedly an inspired drive by the home team -- may not have come to anything had the Cardinals been able to stop the clock and regroup. The team had earlier had wasted two time-outs on lost challenges, however it is fair to suggest that both challenges may not have made had the replacement officiating crew's on field calls not been so patchy earlier in the game.
In the end, the Patriots had their chance to win the game following a Cardinals fumble in the closing minutes of the game, but had Gostkowski's final 42 yard field goal found its mark, few Patriots fans would have considered that their team earned or deserved the win, on the evidence of their performance.
The field goal sailed wide -- images of Calais Campbell's blocked field goals in games past perhaps playing on the kickers mind -- and the Cardinals got the win that any honest observer would have to admit that they had earned.
In the second round of games, the St. Lois Rams and Seattle Seahawks too both chalked up wins against teams they could legitimately have expected to lose against.
For the St. Louis' home opener, and new head coach Jeff Fisher's first game in charge at the Edward Jones Dome, the Rams squared off against a Washington Redskins. The Washington team played inspired against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, and first round pick Robert Griffin III looked every bit the elite quarterback that the team believed him to be when they traded up to get him. What's more their defense stunned everyone picking off Drew Brees twice, and completely stuffing the Saints rushing game, limiting it to just 32 yards on the ground.
Although not set in stone, most gave the Redskins the edge coming into this game, and a loss against this up and coming team would not have been any kind of surprise for the Rams fans.
Things started off according to plan for the Redskins, pulling ahead to a commanding 21-6 lead late in the first half, but rather than roll over and die Sam Bradford lead his team to a dramatic comeback.
Danny Amendola squared his jaw after his fumble on the first play from scrimmage was returned for a touchdown, ending his day with 160 yards receiving and a touchdown, including a 56 yard grab on the drive which ultimately set up his own 1-yard touchdown reception which signalled the Rams comeback.
Steven Jackson spent most of the game on the sidelines after an outburst cost his team a 15 yard penalty early in the second quarter.
Jackson believed, and replays seemed to confirm, that the ball had crossed the plane of the goal line before his knee was down, however, the replacement officials, disagreed. Jackson spiked the ball in anger and the resultant 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty turned a 4th-and-1 potential shot at the end zone into a 4th-and-15 field goal attempt.
The running back was disciplined by Fisher there and then, and did not play a further role in the game, yet even without the presence of the almost talismanic Jackson, the teams best player, the Ram's running game was not significantly slowed. Seventh round draft pick Daryl Richardson posted 83 yards following his surprise promotion, and played a major role in keeping the Rams in contention.
In the end, like in New England, a missed field goal for the Redskins allowed the Rams to hold on for the win. RG3 had moved the Redskins into field goal range, and a catch by receiver Josh Morgan left the Redskins with options -- a makable 47 yard field goal attempt, or a 4th-and-1 with time to spare.
However, an outburst of his own towards Cortland Finnegan, and the ensuing 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty on Morgan, meant the Redskins were left to try a 62 yard field goal attempt well outside of Billy Cundiff's range.
In Seattle, on the other hand, the Seahawks made much easier work of the hotly tipped Dallas Cowboys.
In week one, the Arizona Cardinals narrowly beat the Seahawks, leading many to question whether the Seattle team were as prepared as they had expected, while the Cowboys managed to beat the reigning NFL champions, the New York Giants in the season opener.
With a long week to prepare for their Week 2 matchup, most expected the Cowboys to overcome the Seahawks and silence their infamous "12th Man" with a dominant performance.
The Seahawks defense was tipped to be one of the top units in the NFL this year, but their performance in Arizona lead some to reassess this. Any doubts about this unit were quickly silenced once they took the field.
The 27-7 victory appeared to be a walk in the park for the Seahawks, and was in no small part due to the stellar job done by the defense, giving up just a single touchdown early in the second quarter.
Throughout the rest of the game were nearly faultless epitomising the bend but not break, and big play ability which define success in the NFL, and which afforded the Seahawks young offense the chance to succeed. The Seahawks defense blocked a punt, which was recovered for a touchdown early on in the game, and this set the tempo for the remainder of the game.
The Seattle offense is still a work in progress.Russell Wilson has at times shown flashes of brilliance, leading his team in a way which belies his experience. His instincts and reactions allow him to make reads which are unparalleled amongst NFL quarterbacks of his age.
Yet at the same time, his size and strength remain a concern, and it will take the Seahawks time to fully adjust to his style of play. With Wilson under center, the Seahawks rely even more heavily on Marshawn Lynch and the running game.
Lynch is one of the more dependable rushers in the league, but if teams are able to contain him, as Arizona did in Week 1, the team become one-dimensional, and it remains to be seen how successful they can be without their star runner. However, for the Cowboys at least, containing him proved to be too big an ask, and Lynch posted huge numbers, rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown.
In the end, the combination of dominant defense, potent rushing and solid quarterback play combined to hand the Seahawks a comfortable win, and keep them in contention in what is quickly proving to be one of the tougher divisions in football.
And finally there was reighning NFC West champions, the San Francisco 49ers, who played in the late game at home against the Detroit Lions.
Under head coach Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers have undergone something of a rebirth.Though the component parts are largely the same, their play has improved no end.
Stingy defense and competent, patient offense define Harbaugh's system, and against the Lions, this was once again on full show.
Of all NFC West games, the 49ers represented the division's greatest chance of a win. However the team always knew Matthew Stafford's Lions would be no pushovers.
In Week 1 Detroit simply outgunned the St. Louis Rams. And while San Francisco's defense was always likely to put up a better fight, some wondered if their offense could beat the the Lions in a shootout.
Stafford had thrown 350+ yards in his previous four games, and was was on target to set an NFL record had he been able to do so against San Francisco. If anyone could break through the 49ers ranks, and exploit any holes in their secondary, perhaps Stafford, and the man they call Megatron, Calvin Johnson could do it.
In the end, the win was never in jeopardy.
Once the 49ers got the lead, they never surrendered it. Stafford and the Lions struggled to get inside the 20 until their final drive of the day. The 49ers did give up a TD in garbage time.
With less than 2 minutes to play, Stafford completed a 9 yard pass to Brandon Pettigrew in the end zone, but it was all too little too late for the the Lions.
The 49ers offense was calm and controlled, doing just enough to wear down the opposing defense, and controlling the tempo of the game. They made no mistakes throughout -- QB Alex Smith has now not thrown an interception in an unbelievable 216 passes.
Harbaugh's offense emphasises textbook execution over high scoring, and his teams performance against the Lions demonstrated once again exactly why. In a game which many thought could be a shootout, it would not have unreasonable to expect the 49ers to come out all guns blazing. But that leads to mistakes, and mistakes cost games.
The 49ers now sit atop most power rankings boards, and it's easy to see why.
In all four performances, however, the message was clear.
The NFC West is no longer a pushover. Games against NFC West teams are no longer gimme's, mere speed-bumps in the road to the playoffs, even for the top teams in the NFL.
While many continue to focus on the NFL's chosen talking points -- the ongoing lock out of the officials, the dramatic fall from grace of the Saints, the Giants' first half collapse, and dramatic second half comeback to name just a few -- the NFC West is quietly silencing it's critics, and building a reputation for finally being a legitimate football division.
By focussing on the fundamentals, solid defense, power running and smart play calling, the NFC West's coaches and players finally seem to have shaken their perception as the NFL's whipping boys. Where it goes from here is hard to predict, but one thing is certain, underestimate them at your peril.