State of the NFC West

Can the Rams bring home the “Show Me State” its first NFC West crown since 2003?

To quote Jim Mora, “Playoffs!?!”. That is the thought that is starting to seep into the consciousness of Rams fans in 2010. The season so far has been tumultuous. Frustrating losses against Arizona and Oakland. Morale boosting victories against Washington and Seattle. Then crushing disappointment in a blowout defeat to Detroit followed up with a gutsy win versus San Diego. Where does this leave the Rams in the NFC West and do they have playoff potential? What about our divisional rivals?

Arizona Cardinals (3-2)

The Cardinals have also had a rocky start to the year. After losing Kurt Warner to retirement they turned to Matt Leinart, who was replaced (and released eventually) for Derek Andersen, who has now been benched for rookie Max Hall from BYU. Beanie Wells has struggled with injury and the defense is still looking to fill the gap left by Karlos Dansby. They’ve been handled comfortably by the Chargers and Falcons, but have also managed to do a number on the reigning SuperBowl champion Saints off the back of two defensive TDs.

With the West looking so close the divisional clashes will most likely be the deciding factor. I can see them picking up 4 more wins (Weeks 8 v. Bucs, 10 v. Seahawks, 12 v. 49ers & 15 @ Panthers) for a 7-9 record, 3-3 in the division. If they have playoff ambitions they’ll need to win a couple more on the road in the West…

Seattle Seahawks (3-2)

Coming of the back of a thrilling win in Chicago, the Seahawks are another hard team to figure out. An embarrassing loss to the Rams and comprehensive defeat to Denver is mixed in with a win over the Chargers and a domination of the 49ers in week 1. Earl Thomas and Mike Williams have been bright spots but nagging injuries to round 1 draft pick Russell Okung has frustrated them.

I can see them getting on a minor roll with wins in weeks 7 and 8 against Arizona and Oakland. That might be the momentum to get them over the hump, but week 9 brings a reinvigorated Giants pass-rush into Seattle. If the Seahawks win that game and make it 4 in a row, they’ll likely take the division, but I don’t think they will. After an ass-whooping at home against Big Blue, Seattle will need to travel to Phoenix to face Arizona and get things back on track, before then heading to the SuperDome. Ouch. Then they get the upstart Chiefs. It could quite easily go downhill from here. My prediction for them is only 3 more wins (weeks 7, 8 and then 16 vs. Buccs), which leaves them 6-10 and several things for Pete Carroll to think about.

St Louis Rams (3-3)

We all know how the season has gone so far. A mix of good and bad, the typical derailing injuries but also some welcome surprise in Bradford’s early promise. The loss to Detroit had everyone wringing their hands, but a nail-bitter against the Chargers has got everyone excited again. Spagnuolo will look to chalk up two more wins against the NFC South in Tampa and Carolina in the coming weeks. Both are certainly winnable and would put the Rams on a 3-game streak heading into their bye week. What follows is a tough run of divisional games with the Falcons, Saints, Broncos with the Chiefs thrown in for good measure. It could quite easily result in a string of 5 losses meaing we’d need to win the final 3 games (vs. Chiefs, vs. 9ers, @ Seahawks) to stand a chance of January football.

I think the Rams are looking at 7 or 8 wins, with week 12 @ Denver and week 15 vs. Kansas as the crucial games. If we win both, we’ll have done enough to take the West at 8-8 (3-3 divisional), but slip up in just one and we could be looking at all sorts of tie-breakers with the Cardinals…

San Francisco 49ers (1-5)

The pre-season favorites for the NFC West and a dark-horse for a deep playoff run in many pundits eyes. Whoops! Alex Smith has been so bad fans are even chanting for David Carr. Samurai Mike is losing his rag and their sole win came against the Raiders last week. They’ve had three close losses to good teams (Saints, Falcons, Eagles) but close doesn’t cut it in the NFL. They need to recover and do it quickly. Luckily for them the NFC West is the epitome of parity (or is it mediocrity!?) and they aren’t out of it yet, sitting only 2 games off the pace.

They should be able to beat a poor Panthers team this week, but it’s their week 8 clash against the Broncos at Wembley that could make or break their season. A loss would mean 2-6 and that if the Seahawks had won their easier games versus Arizona and Oakland they would then be 4 behind. It will take a huge effort to turn round from there. Their final 4 games of the year will be vs. Seahawks, @ Chargers, @ Rams and vs. Cardinals. All will be tough match-ups, especially as the Chargers now need to get going after a 2-4 start. They will need to find at least 5 wins from their final 8 games to have a chance of playoff football. I’m not convinced they are that clutch. I’ll give them 4 wins for 6-10 and quite possibly the sack for Singletary.

Predicted Standings:
St. Louis Rams  8-8
Arizona Cardinals  7-9
Seattle Seahawks  6-10
San Francisco 49ers 6-10

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