Go ahead, make fun of the NFC West. Everyone else seems to be. But one team will win the division, and the teams that have won the past six titles square off Sunday when the Seahawks play the Cardinals.
The NFC West is ________?
Go ahead, fill in your own answer – or punch line. Everyone else seems to be having some fun at the expense of the four teams that comprise, well, the least successful of the NFL’s eight divisions.
Asked this week what word he would use to describe the division at midseason Larry Fitzgerald laughed.
“I’ll let you guys use any word you want,” the Pro Bowl receiver for the Arizona Cardinals said. “I’m thinking the same thing you’re probably thinking.”
But one team will win the West, and in Seattle, St. Louis, Arizona and even San Francisco, the prevailing thought is: Why not us?
Why not, indeed.
Entering Sunday’s game against the Cardinals in Arizona, the Seahawks are 4-4 and tied for the division lead with the Rams – who hold the tiebreaker because their Week 4 victory over the Seahawks in St. Louis. The Cardinals, despite losing their past three games, are just a game back at 3-5. The 49ers are 2-6, but they host the Rams this week and a win would pull them back into contention.
Adding internal intrigue to the outside insults is the fact that the teams in the NFC West are just getting started with their division schedules.
The Seahawks, who have beaten the Cardinals and 49ers and lost to the Rams, have their home-and-home rematches this week (Cardinals), Dec. 12 (at 49ers) and in the Jan. 2 regular-season finale (vs. Rams).
The Rams, who have lost to the Cardinals and beaten the Seahawks, still have four division games: this week against the 49ers; Dec. 5 at Arizona; Dec. 26 vs. the 49ers; and the finale in Seattle.
The Cardinals, who have beat the Rams and lost to the Seahawks, also have four division games left: the Seahawks this week; Nov. 29 vs. the 49ers; Dec. 5 vs. the Rams; and Jan. 2 at the 49ers.
The 49ers, who lost to the Seahawks in the season opener, have five division games in the final eight weeks: Sunday vs. the Rams; Nov. 29 at the Cardinals; Dec. 12 vs. the Seahawks; Dec. 26 at the Rams; and Jan. 2 vs. the Cardinals.
It doesn’t take a doctorate in advanced schedule scrutinizing to decipher that it is indeed anyone’s division to win.
“It’s easy to bash the NFC West because of the records of the teams,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhurt said this week, well aware that the division is the only one in the league where the co-leaders are – or the leader is – at .500.
Also, four of the division’s combined 13 victories have come against division opponents – two by the Seahawks – while the four teams are a combined 9-15 against opponents outside the division.
“But I think every time we play a division opponent, it seems to me like they’re good teams and they always play hard,” Whisenhunt said. “So I don’t buy into that too much.”
Neither does Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
“What you do with it now is what counts,” he said. “So that’s what we’re setting our sights on and we’ll see how far we can go, starting with Arizona.”
Carroll’s stated goal since he walked through the door at Virginia Mason Athletic Center for the first time in January has been to recapture the NFC West – a division the Seahawks dominated from 2004-07 by winning four consecutive division titles and being the only team in the West during that stretch to post winning records.
The Cardinals captured the division the past two seasons, as the Seahawks won a combined nine games. Just as the Seahawks replaced the Rams atop the division in 2004, and the Rams did to the 49ers in 2003.
Sunday’s game will go a long way toward determining which team wins the division this season. And that’s no joke.