If you ever needed physical evidence that the NFC West was the best division in football, well today you have just that. The San Francisco 49ers will travel to Seattle to play the Seahawks, and for the second year in a row, an NFC West team will be playing in the Super Bowl.
That’s just the 49ers and Seahawks however, two of the most elite teams in the NFL. Having said that, it makes the job a lot tougher for the Rams and Cardinals who have to play them twice a year.
The Cardinals went 10-6 and still managed to miss the playoffs. Put that team in the NFC North or NFC East and the Cardinals would have easily made the playoffs.
The Rams on the other hand went 7-9 and haven’t seen the playoffs since 2004. After going 4-1-1 in the division just a year ago the they went 1-5 in the division.
Part of that huge drop off was due to the fact that the Rams were without quarterback Sam Bradford for four of those division games, and the Rams’ sole division win was week one against the Cardinals with Bradford under the helm.
In the four division games the Rams were outscored by an average of 13 points, and the closest the Rams got to a win was at home against the Seahawks when the Rams lost 14-9 on the one-yard line.
Head coach Jeff Fisher was quoted saying this last month:
“We’re closing the gap and I hope we’ll be able to catch the other teams. I think one of the things that you probably would discover is how teams struggle after they’ve played teams in our division the next week because they’re such physical ballgames.”
Hope is really all Fisher can do right now. The 49ers and Seahawks just seem to be on another level than the rest of the NFL.
The Rams definitely lost a step in the NFC West last season as they were clearly outplayed in every loss except the close game against the Seahawks.
Whether or not Sam Bradford would have made much of a difference is a mystery, but stats show that the Rams at least would have had a better shot.
In the eight division games started by Bradford over the past two years before he went down with a knee injury that ended his 2013 season, the Rams went 5-2-1.
In the four division games started by backup quarterback Kellen Clemens this season, the Rams went 0-4. Granted they should have beaten the Seahawks, but they did not and Clemens literally threw the game away.
In his eight games against the NFC West defenses over the past two seasons Bradford threw 10 touchdown passes with six interceptions. His passer rating was 82.
In his four games vs. the NFC West this year Clemens threw two touchdown passes and was intercepted seven times. His passer rating was 55.
With Bradford the Rams win games in the NFC West, without him, the Rams are just another meal for the Seahawks and 49ers to feast on.
If Bradford can comeback healthy and not have any issues with his knee, the Rams should make much improvement in the division. The Rams have two first round draft picks and with the possibility of a trade, the Rams could acquire more picks.
Fisher and general manager Les Snead are also building this team to compete in the NFC West. The Rams now have a power running game with Zac Stacy, and they already have a solid defense. Add a quarterback who can make plays in the air, and the Rams can once again be competitive.
It should also be noted the Seahawks and 49ers are able to do a lot more with the small contracts of Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. It’s only a matter of time before both start asking for big time contracts.
When that happens, is when the Rams will be able to make some serious ground on their division rivals.
The Rams may be young, but they are slowly gaining on the two elites in the West. With a few additions the Rams could definitely be competitive once again in 2014.