October 4, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson (39) breaks away from Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Paris Lenon (51) during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams defeated the Cardinals 17-3. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

St. Louis Rams And The Rising NFC West

The St. Louis Rams got a huge win on a national stage last thursday night against the previously undefeated Arizona Cardinals.  The NFC West also enjoyed another solid weekend as the Seattle Seahawks and San Fransisco 49ers both picked up wins this weekend.  It wasn’t that long ago that the NFC West was considered the doormat of the league, now they are the only division in football where every team has a winning record.  That statistic may not be that impressive since we are only through week 5 of the NFL season, but compared to how the division had fared over the last 5 years it is certainly a huge statement for these teams.  Everyone expected the 49ers to come out and be a potential super bowl contender from the NFC West, in fact the only surprising thing about the 49ers season so far is their loss to the Minnesota Vikings, who are themselves probably the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.  So after basking in the afterglow of the Rams big win on Thursday night and seeing how all the other games played out its time to think about what the rest of the season holds for the NFC West, and the St. Louis Rams in particular, over the next four games.

Arizona Cardinals.  The Cardinals were riding high coming into St. Louis with a 4-0 record and a very good reason to believe they could walk out at 5-0.  The Cardinals had been very fortunate to reach 4-0 considering their injury problems along the offensive line and now running back.  They did just enough in the opening week against the Seattle Seahawks to squeak out a win before surviving the New England Patriots through some tough defense and a late missed field goal.  The Cardinals then jumped all over the Eagles in what was their most convincing win of the season before making a furious comeback for the overtime win against the Miami Dolphins.  The Cardinals will return home to host the Buffalo Bills this weekend which should provide them an opportunity to get back in the win column.  The following week they travel to Minnesota to take on the surprise team of the season where they could find themselves in a slugfest, advantage goes to the home team so I would anticipate a Vikings victory.  In week 8 the Cardinals will host the San Fransisco 49ers, expect the 49ers to travel to the desert looking to make a statement and collect another double digit victory.  Week 9 the Cardinals will travel to Green Bay to face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.  This game is hard to judge because the Packers have been such an under performing team up to this point in the season but if Jennings is healthy for this game the advantage will go to the Packers.  So over the next four games I expect the Cardinals to go 1-3 and enter their bye week at 5-4 and 1-2 in the division.

San Fransisco 49ers.  The 49ers are sitting at 4-1 following back to back blowouts against AFC East opponents.  The 49ers dismantled the Bills 45-3 at home to follow up the 34-0 shellacking they put on the New York Jets in New Jersey last week.  Two big wins following the surprise defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings has the 49ers back in the discussion for top team in the NFL.  The 49ers have been winning with a dominant defense and running game paving the way to allow Alex Smith to take what defenses give him knowing he doesn’t have to win the game on his own.  This weekend the 49ers will be hosting the New York Giants in a rematch of last years NFC Championship game, look for the 49ers to control the game with their run game and defense in an attempt to limit Eli Manning’s opportunities and come out with a close win.  The following week the Seattle Seahawks will travel to town which will extend the 49ers win streak as their defense controls the Seattle running game knowing that Wilson will not be able to beat them.  In week 8 the 49ers will travel to Arizona to take on the Cardinals which should be their second straight win in the division giving them an opportunity to carry momentum into their bye week.  Following the bye the 49ers will host the St. Louis Rams in their 3rd division game in a row, a lot of things could happen between now and then but as these two teams sit now its impossible not to pick the 49ers to continue their sprint towards the division title.  This projection would put the 49ers at 8-1 with a 3-0 record within the division and possibly battling the Falcons for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

Seattle Seahawks.  The Seahawks defense, running game and special teams play has gotten them to a respectable 3-2 record after the first 5 weeks of the season.  They have fallen behind their NFC West counterparts early with losses at Arizona and St. Louis making the preseason prediction as the team to challenge the 49ers for the division title seem impossible now.  The Seahawks dominated Dallas at home then survived Green Bay in a wild Monday Night game before splitting their next two road games with the loss at St. Louis and the win in Carolina.  The Seahawks will return home to host the New England Patriots to start what appears to be a brutal stretch for them.  The most winnable game on their schedule over their next 4 games appears to be in week 8 at Detroit, especially given Detroit’s special teams woes.  At best the Seahawks will get 1 out of the four games with big losses at home against New England and at San Fransisco.  The game at home against the Vikings should be a close one but the Vikings have Adrian Peterson and some stellar special teams players of their own.  My prediction is the Seahawks will find themselves at 4-5 with an 0-3 record in the division and dimming playoff hopes.

St. Louis Rams. The St. Louis Rams find themselves above .500 for the first time since 2006 and undefeated within the division.  The Rams were also a few plays away from the opening week upset at Detroit, and were also very competitive against the Bears in Chicago before the wheels fell off in the 4th quarter.  The Rams have been winning on with excellent defense and special teams play, with the teams MVP possibly being rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein.  Up next the Rams will travel to Miami to face the Dolphins who are 2-3 and open the week as 4 point favorites.  The key will be the Rams ability to stop the run and force the rookie quarterback Tannenhill to beat them.  This one is a coin toss but I will go with the Rams to win it as Zuerlein and Hekker should allow them to win the field position and special teams battle.  The following week they will host the Green Bay Packers, and with word that Cedric Benson has a potential season ending injury you have to like the Rams chances against a one dimensional offense, even if that offense is lead by Aaron Rodgers.  If the Seahawks could sack Rodgers 8 times in one half the Rams should also have some success against the Packers.  In week 8 the Rams travel to London to take on the Patriots in what is labeled as a home game.  This game should be difficult for the Rams, especially if Craig Dahl is asked to come down and defend the Patriots slot receivers, the Rams will probably keep this game close but fall in the end much like the Bears game.  Week 9 is the Rams bye week to give them extra time to rest up and prepare for their trip to San Fransisco to take on the 49ers.  With both teams coming off of the bye there is no advantage to be had for the Rams and unless the defense forces uncharacteristic turnovers from Alex Smith the 49ers will likely win this game.  So that would put the Rams at 5-4 and in 2nd place in the division with a 2-1 record.

It is always dangerous to predict how any one game will go in the NFL so these predictions will most likely not pan out, however if the Rams even manage to find themselves at 4-4 going into the bye week it would be far better than most expected out of them this season.  Please feel free to comment on what you think will happen with each team over their next four games, and as always Go Rams!!

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