The NFC West - Don't Look Now, But...

The Attack of the Mini-Me-s! - USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are missing something, as they spatter challenges at each other heading into the 2013 NFL season. In the powerful NFC West, there are two other teams quietly going about their task of building. Seattle and San Francisco have shut out the outside world, viewing themselves in a two team chess match.

Let's forget the rest of the teams they'll face from outside the NFC West for a second, and consider St. Louis and Arizona. Both these teams have top 10 defenses, as do the 49ers and Seahawks. Yet, what few take into account is how middling all four of the divisions offenses were in 2012. While it's true Arizona ranked dead last in the NFL, St. Louis (#23) and Seattle (#17) were in the lower half of the league in yards per game. San Francisco (#11) was solid, though pedestrian. The 2013 season has seen the Super Bowl runner-up lose it's best wide receiver - Michael Crabtree - and though they acquired Anquan Bolden in free agency, in a sum-game the team came out negative.

So while theses two teams envision themselves as the keeper of the keys in the NFC West, Arizona and St. Louis have become their afterthoughts. They spend their time banging on about P.E.D. use on one team, while the other hires released players to gain intelligence on their foes. "Classy" doesn't seem to enter into these two teams' mindsets, and it could be a fatal error for at least one - or both - of them.

On the proverbial "outside-looking-in", are the Rams and Cardinals. This seems odd to me, since both have made huge moves to improve their offenses, while the 49ers and Seahawks have stood pat for the most part. They sport highly publicized second season quarterbacks in Colin Kaepernick (actually his 3rd NFL year) and Russell Wilson. There's no hint of a dreaded sophomore slumps, or reasoned worry about how NFL defensive coordinators may have found kinks in their armor. When I look at Arizona and St. Louis, their quarterback situations are filled with potential. Both Sam Bradford and Carson Palmer are former #1 overall NFL Draft choices, with one who's career teeters on promise, while the other's is on the wain. Palmer has arrived in the desert just in time. New head coach Brice Arians is a "fling it down the field; pass happy" coach who saw Andrew Luck through his meteoric rookie season in 2012. If the Cardinals can provide a decent offense line for the aging former USC star, there's little doubt future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald could have a banner year. Make no mistake, Palmer can throw the ball. Arians is going to stress opposing secondaries, with the strongest and deepest wide receiver corp in the NFC West.

St. Louis has taken an interesting tack. After losing Danny Amendola to free agency, Rams' head coach Jeff Fisher analyzed the NFC West's huge corner backs, and went small in the NFL Draft. He replaced the speedy Amendola with the even faster UWV product - Tavon Austin. He added Stedman Bailey too, who isn't all that much taller than Austin's 5'8". He added a tight end/wide receiver hybrid in Jared Cook in free agency. Chris Givens - 6'0" tall - had an outstanding rookie year, and promises to become a solid WR1 option. So now the former Oklahoma star quarterback has offensive weapons that appear to be part of the Amendola Gambit. If one little guy could bring the 49ers and Seahawks defensive woes in 2012, what could a whole cloud of them buzzing around the field do in 2013?

All in all, it appears San Francisco and Seattle are entering the 2013 season with more to worry about from within their division, than they appear ready to face. St. Louis and Arizona have the cards to stay in the game with either of them. While defense will carry the headlines in the NFC West, don't be shocked to see startling offensive numbers coming from the Rams and Cardinals. I firmly believe at least one of them will leave either Seattle or San Francisco standing on "the outside looking in" in the coming post season. I guess they should have paid more attention to their division rivals, eh?

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