If I have to read or watch one more story about how great the San Francisco 49ers are, I’m going to…..do nothing because it all seems to be true. Among other things, San Francisco has a talented young quarterback, a top shelf coaching staff, and one of the best defenses in the league. With all the media attention surrounding the 49ers this off season, it would be easy to overlook the big improvements the Seahawks’ other two NFC West rivals have made.
The Rams and Cardinals have both made strides toward competing inside and outside of the NFC West this season. I don’t believe we’re going to see another 58-0 on the scoreboard this year when the Cardinals come to The Clink. I also think the Rams’ success in the division last season wasn’t a fluke. If anything, there are plenty of reasons to believe either of these teams could be a “sleeper” this NFL season.
Let’s start with the Cardinals. After starting the 2012 season with four wins, Arizona could only muster one more win the rest of the season. Serious trouble at the quarterback position was a big factor to their downfall. By the end of the season they were probably ready to ask James Van Der Beek to reprise his role as Johnathan Moxon from Varsity Blues.
Thankfully, Carson Palmer joined the team instead. After playing in Cincinnati, Oakland, and now Arizona, it might be easy to write Palmer off as a “journeyman quarterback.” However, he did throw for over four thousand yards last season, and any quarterback who has Larry Fitzgerald on their team has a chance to succeed.
On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals defense has the potential to build off a successful 2012 campaign. Led by Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals were ranked in the top ten against the pass. With the addition of a hopefully reformed Tyrann Mathieu and the players they have returning, there is no reason to think they can’t improve again this year.
Perhaps the best addition to the Cardinals this off season is Bruce Arians. If you’re not familiar with Bruce Arians already, you should just remember him as the “reigning coach of the year.” He took over the Indianapolis Colts at a time of crisis and led them to the playoffs. The addition of Arians is the biggest reason Cardinals fans should have hopes of being a “sleeper.”
Speaking of coaches, Jeff Fischer must feel pretty good about where he stands in the NFC West. Going 4-1-1 in one of the toughest divisions in football last season is certainly commendable. The Rams clearly made the right choice by hiring a coach that the Tennessee Titans never should never have let slip away. In his second year, Fischer may have the opportunity to expand on his teams success.
Their progress starts with the addition of Tavon Austin in the slot. Austin has the potential to be an instant play-maker and a nightmare for the Seahawks (fast slot receivers are Seattle’s kryptonite). Sam Bradford has been waiting for the opportunity to have a skill player like Austin on his side. If the offensive line can keep him upright, Bradford will likely find Austin a lot this season.
Like Arizona, St. Louis’ defense was a bright spot for them as well last season. Led by Chris Long and rookie Janoris Jenkins, the Rams defense is young, talented, and hungry. If they have any chance to be a “sleeper,” it’s going to start on the defensive side of the ball for them.
At this stage of the preseason, it still seems perfectly logical to believe the 49ers are the biggest threat to the Seahawks this season in the NFC West. But I’m guessing the Rams and Cardinals aren’t too happy about simply being considered the “other two teams in the division.” Hopefully the Seahawks don’t forget that, because if they do, I’m sure the Rams and Cardinals will be ready to jog their memory.