The NFC West is holding the keys for their conference for the Super Bowl. While Green Bay is white hot on offense, they will still have to face the tough defenses in the West at least once to get to Glendale, AZ. Let's take a look at the division as the 2014 season screams toward the back stretch...
OK, St. Louis' long chance of swinging their way into the playoffs is gone. The loss to the Cardinals Thursday night put a pin in their 2014 season balloon, but this is a team on the rise. Their slow start virtually doomed them, going 1-5 through the first 7 weeks of the season. But they've built up momentum as the year progressed, and if they can dial in their offense in 2015 they'll be a team to watch. On defense, they have no significant possible free agents hitting the open market. Safety Rodney McLeod is a free agent at season's end, and he's really grown as a player at a position many would say was a weakness for the Rams when training camp began. The addition of Mark Barron may make him expendable, but Jeff Fisher would love to have some quality depth at safety. On offense, Shaun Hill, Kenny Britt and Lance Kendrick are free agents in 2015, and I'd expect the Rams to re-sign all of them.
Seattle took a while to shake off their 2014 Super Bowl party hangover, but they're firing on all cylinders right now. Who would've thought packing off Percy Harvin to the New York Jets would help turn things around for the Seahawks? Maybe it didn't, but Seattle has returned to its 2013 defensive-self. Their offense doesn't scare anyone, and it may be their undoing in the postseason. Quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch will have to play lights-out down the stretch, and they really need Arizona to stumble to improve their playoff seeding. If the season ended today, they face Atlanta in the opening round. But they'd likely be on the road throughout the playoffs, and that's a tough road to the Super Bowl.
They haven't clinched a playoff spot yet, and could still miss the post season. They face all NFC West opponents down the stretch, with the 49ers today, then a trip to Arizona before finishing with the Rams at Seattle.
San Francisco hasn't been eliminated from the playoffs, but they'll need some help from quite a few teams to salvage their drama filled season. They're at Seattle today, then finish the season at home against San Diego and Arizona in week 17. Prior to the start of the 2014 season, many picked the San Francisco 49ers to be in the hunt for the Super Bowl. Then it happened: Players missing due to injuries or off the field issues, coach/front office drama, and a once feared offensive line going on a weekly hiatus. But the biggest story is the apparent fall of NFL media darling Colin Kaepernick. Signed to a shiny new contract this year, he hasn't lived up to his new tax bracket. Many 49ers fans blame offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who only a season ago looked like a prime head coaching candidate.
This team is on life support in more areas than just the win/loss record. The curse of Candlestick Park? Maybe not, but their new home - Levi Stadium - hasn't been much of an advantage... In 2015, I really can't see Jim Harbaugh staying, especially if they don't sweep their final two game at home this season. They have three pretty big names hitting the open market in 2015: mainstay running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and guard Mike Lupati. I think Gore stays, but with a re-worked contract. Lupati is the one who'll be key. Wave bye-bye to Crabtree, and don't be shocked if the soon to be in-coming new head coach wants to draft a quarterback...
Arizona started the year strong, and unlike other season, they've stayed the course in 2014. Strong defense, and a front office who picks gems to fill their constant injury created voids have kept this team humming. Through NFL math, they still haven't clinched a playoff spot, but it's only a formality. They need home field advantage in the playoffs, especially against Green Bay. If they get to the Super Bowl, they'll be playing on their home turf, since the grand NFL gala is slated for Glendale, AZ this coming February.
But there's a kicker, and it's a big one: They will have to finish out this season with their #3 quarterback. Carson Palmer is gone on Injured Reserve, and Drew Stanton is out for at least a couple weeks with a MCL sprain. This means either Ryan Lindley or rookie Logan Thomas will face Seattle and the 49ers; both of whom are clawing their way toward the post season in "must win" scenarios. Ouch!
Antonio Cromartie is their one big name possible free agent in 2015, which bodes well for the future. This is a strong team, and they'll unseat the 49ers in the next few years - along with Seattle - as the NFC West team to beat.
NFC West standings, courtesy of CBS Sports:
|San Francisco||7||6||0||.538||244||268||3-3||4-3||1-3||.250||6-4||.600||1-2||Lost 2|
|St. Louis||6||8||0||.429||291||297||3-4||3-4||2-3||.400||4-6||.400||2-2||Lost 1|