Coming into the 2011 NFL there was little doubt that the NFC West would be greatly improved from top to bottom.
There didn’t seem like a way that these teams could really get worse. The Seattle Seahawks returned as the kings of the west. But there are a lot of kings around. What really matters is size of their kingdom. As royalty, the Seahawks fall somewhere between the sacrosanct, ceremonial Monarchy of Denmark and the Burger King. A total lack of respect is well earned when you become the first NFL team since the merger to qualify for the post season with a losing record (7-9). Some of the stink of that disgrace was lifted when Seattle came through on a stunning upset of the defending the Super Bowl Saints on Wildcard Weekend.
The lasting memory of Marshawn Lynch entering Beast Mode on the entire New Orleans Saints defense is one that is burned into heads of most football fans. And why not, Lynch’s 67-yard touchdown run got the caffeine-laced crowd at Quest Field so fired up it registered on the Richter scale. But that play wasn’t how the season ended. No, it was falling back to earth of epic proportions the follow week, falling 35-24 at Solider Field. The final score doesn’t even tell the entire story. Seattle posted 21 fourth quarter – aka garbage time – points to make score seem respectable, but the Bears led 28-3 at half and decided to play final 30 minutes on cruise control.
The marginal playoff success aside, the NFC West still produced a dismal 25-39 combined record. Worst in NFL history. And through three weeks, sadly, the 2011 incarnation may actually be worse.
Seattle finished the 2010 season with the 28th ranked offense in the NFL, averaging 297.8 yards per game (ypg). Not exactly juggernauts. Somehow, year two under Pete Carroll has been even more offensively challenged. Like any failing company they’ve slashed production by 28% down to 214 ypg. Some how, breaking the bank for quarterback Tarvaris Jackson wasn’t such a savvy move. Whenever a pivot is described as an amazing athlete, there’s a good chance he may make a better return man at the NFL level. Management felt Sidney Rice could provide some leadership to the youthful squad, but it turns out the only unit the wide receiver is qualified to head up is the one heading to triage.
The San Francisco 49ers are the class of the division right now after taking down Cincinnati by the ever-elusive 13-8 score Sunday afternoon. Sitting at two wins, the 49ers only need to live up to their name. A four and nine record the rest of the way may actually be good enough to play into January. Fortunately, San Francisco’s played good enough defense to stay in games, but the offense is a different story. Abysmal offense is a pre-requisite for this division. It’s the Intro to English Lit of the NFC West.
The offseason hiring of Jim Harbaugh was supposed to inject life into the passing game, but the former Stanford coach is finding the transition from college to the pros as difficult as many players. The numbers are glaring. San Francisco is the worst team in the league when Alex Smith has the ball posting a measly 213 ypg. Better times do appear to be on the horizon, as Harbaugh definitely seems like an upgrade from the lunatic that once held coaching duties in the Bay Area.
Just days after the lockout ended, Arizona swapped Pro-Bowl corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second round pick for quarterback Kevin Kolb. It was a necessary move for the Arizona Cardinals after experiencing the horrific three-man carousal of Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton under center last season. Selecting corner Patrick Peterson with the fifth pick out of LSU certainly made the deal easier, but the former Tiger hasn’t caught up to the pro game as quickly as expected. Steve Smith brutalized him in week one. Peterson blew coverage assignments leading to gigantic plays. It was repeat performance Sunday in Seattle. Sidney Rice took him to the woodshed, hauling in eight catches for 109 yards. With the rest of the defense beginning to show its age, Peterson is going to need to improve in a hurry if Arizona doesn’t want to continue to be victimized on the defensive side of the ball. After three weeks they’re a bottom-three team in points allowed per game and yards against per game.
Finally, the St. Louis Rams came into the season with a chance to contend, not only in the division, but the entire NFC. Quarterback Sam Bradford was coming off an all time season for a rookie. He claimed offensive rookie honors and looked ready to take St. Louis to the next level. Enter week one. Already the favorites in Vegas to win the NFC West, the Rams built sleeper buzz in the opening week as the team to upset Michael Vick and the Eagles. Things were looking up too. Steven Jackson broke off a 47-yard touchdown scamper on their opening drive to give St. Louis a quick 7-0 lead. Jackson injured his quad on the play and has only carried the ball four times since. Danny Amendola was ready to become the new Wes Welker with Josh McDaniels now calling the plays. One unfortunate fall later and he’s getting carted off with a broken elbow.
Even Sam Bradford dislocated his finger after following through on a pass and smashing it off his offensive lineman’s helmet. They’d drop that game and get waxed the next two weeks by the superior Giants and Ravens. They’re averaging just 12 points per game and unless Rams management can find some of Lorenzo’s Oil, don’t expect much improvement any time soon.
Mitigating circumstances are playing major factors in the division. Two teams are sporting new quarterbacks, one a new coach and one with a locker room that resembles Flanders Field. While it may not be entirely their faults, there’s a distance possibility that six, not seven, wins will be good enough for a playoff spot this season.
Pat Mayo hosts RotoExperts’ Fantasy War Room, Thursdays at 8pm ET and The Sunday Scene at 9:30pm ET recapping the day’s NFL action. You may contact Pat @ [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @thepme.