It can’t be denied that the NFC West has been well deserving of its lofty projections of being the best division in the NFL. Between the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers sensational defenses along with St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals newfound prospects, the NFC West has an immense amount of intrigue. Although the Seahawks and 49ers are clear favorites to win their highly competitive division, the Arizona Cardinals look to be a more balanced franchise with the acquisition of former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. The St. Louis Rams also look to be a more dynamic team with their varied and proficient draft picks. In order to determine the team with the best outlook, each team will be gauged in four essential categories: Who has the best secondary? Who has the best defensive line? Which team has the best rushing attack? Which team has the superior quarterback?
Best Defensive Secondary Edge: Seattle Seahawks
With the exception of the St. Louis Rams, every team in the NFC West finished in the top 6 in terms of dominant defensive secondary’s. However, the franchise that has the superior advantage in this category has to fall to the Seattle Seahawks. Although the 49ers have more veterans amongst their safeties and cornerbacks, the Seahawks have a balanced group of younger players with a couple of long time veterans to lead the charge.
Standouts such as cornerback Richard Sherman (3 forced fumbles, 8 interceptions) and safety Earl Thomas (1 FF, 3 INT’s last season) have proven to be tenacious while displaying a degree prophetic anticipation that allows them easily jump receiving routes. While the Arizona Cardinals are closely matched with Seahawks by having a few dominant corners of their own in Patrick Peterson and Justin Bethel, the Seahawks have the advantage of being slightly deeper and more consistent.
Best Defensive Front
Edge: San Francisco 49ers
While the emergence of Colin Kaepernick was the crux of 49ers immense success offensively, their quick and physically imposing linebackers is what made them an intimidating force to be reckoned with. Between the dynamic duo that is defensive tackle Justin Smith (47 tackles, 3 sacks) and linebacker Aldon Smith (3 FF, 1 INT) along with veteran linebacker Patrick Willis (88 tackles, 2 FF and 2 INT’s last season) the 49ers have an impressive defensive front that contains both agility and unstoppable closing power.
Although the Seahawks have solid linebackers of their own in Bobby Wagner (140 combined tackles and 3 INT last season) and K.J. Wright (98 combined tackles, 1 FF and 1 INT last season), they still lack the overall cohesiveness that has made the 49ers a truly unique and unprecedented defensive juggernaut.
Best Rushing Attack
Edge: Seattle Seahawks
Although 49ers have a ruthless running back in Frank Gore along with the Cardinals acquiring power back in Rashard Mendenhall from the Pittsburgh Steelers, none of these supreme athletes have amassed as many touchdowns or overall yardage at the same rate as Marshawn ‘beast mode” Lynch. Before the Seahawks had a sufficient quarterback, Lynch was single handedly responsible for most of the Seahawks victories.
In his last two seasons, Lynch has found the red zone 23 times and has rushed for nearly 2,800 yards. On top of that, Lynch rarely fumbles the football in critical situations making him a running back that is not only agile but also a back that can grind his way through nearly any defensive front without making a ill advised mistake. While a legitimate argument could be made that Gore is more worthy of this accolade than Lynch given his overall consistency throughout his career, Lynch is clearly in the prime of his career. If Lynch can emulate his inhuman physical abilities from yesteryear, he’ll give the Seahawks a favorable chance at going deep in the post season.
Edge: Seattle Seahawks
This one could have easily gone to either the 49ers or the Seahawks. From Russell Wilson’s impressive rookie start (26 TD’s 10 INT’s) to Kaepernick’s mid season success (10 TD’s 3 INT’s), both franchises had clutch passers who could annihilate defenses in a multitude of ways. While Kapernick is clearly superior when it comes to running the football out of the pocket (415 yards 5 TD’s), Wilson has a distinct advantage when it comes to overall accuracy (64.1% as opposed to Kaepernick’s 62.4%).
Ultimately, each quarterback’s individual success will come down to their impressive receiving corps. In this instance, the 49ers have the slight edge after they acquired Anquan Boldin (921 yards 4 TD’s) while retaining Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree (1,105 yards 9 TD’s). However, the Seahawks aren’t exactly inferior to the 49ers in this category either. Along with acquiring Percy Harvin in free agency from the Minnesota Vikings (677 yards 3 TD’s), the Seahawks still have franchise standouts such as Sidney Rice and Golden Tate (combined for 14 TD’s and over 1,400 yards).
In the end, Wilson gets a very slight edge due to his well-balanced nature and his swiftness in the pocket. Although Kaepernick has displayed an undeniably effective running approach himself, his rushing capabilities will be too heavily reliant on the 49es dominant offensive line. While Wilson’s size may make it difficult for him to have a reliable line of sight down the middle, his compactness and speed will allow him to move about the pocket with relative ease allowing him to extend plays in order to find the open receiver.
Best Team In NFC West
Edge: Seattle Seahawks
In the end, while the 49ers have made moves to improve themselves while simultaneously retaining the veteran players that made them dominant in the first place, the Seahawks have a more cohesive team dynamic that will allow them to enact multiple defensive and offensive schemes on the fly. What the Seahawks lack in a stout defensive front, they more than make for with a superior rushing attack that is coupled with a reliable quarterback that utilizes his sound intellect in the heat of the moment rather than succumbing to an intimidating defensive rush as Kaepernick did in the 49ers Super Bowl loss against the Baltimore Ravens.
While the 49ers have improved in all the ways that matter year in and year out, the Seahawks could prove to be a franchise that emphasizes substance over style, which will allow them to dominate the opposition in any way they see fit.