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NFC West: Still the Seahawks at the top

The NFC West has been one of the best divisions in all of sports this decade. The Seattle Seahawks have been at the head of the class, making three consecutive playoff appearances including back-to-back Super Bowl runs, with a victory against the Denver Broncos in 2013.

Certainly, the Seahawks have had competition over that time. When Jim Harbaugh arrived as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2012, the franchise had long been a barren wasteland for players and coaches alike. Harbaugh immediately turned the program around, becoming the first head coach to ever guide his team to three consecutive conference championship games. However, Harbaugh is now with the University of Michigan, and much of his contending team is long gone.

The Arizona Cardinals also need to be recognized as one of the league’s best after posting consecutive seasons of 10+ wins. Arizona was able to make the playoffs under second-year head coach Bruce Arians in 2014 despite having to watch Carson Palmer go down with a torn ACL, leading to starting duties for Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley. With Palmer upright again, look for Arizona to be formidable.

Heading into 2015, it seems everybody but the 49ers is feeling good with where they stand. Even the St. Louis Rams, who have not had a winning season or a playoff berth in more than a decade, foster real hope for the first time in  years. Under head coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams have a new look with quarterback Nick Foles under center, acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford.

Yet, for all the justified optimism coming out of Arizona and St. Louis, the Seahawks remain the team to beat. The Legion of Boom supposedly took a hit with Byron Maxwell going to Philadelphia on a six-year, $63 million deal, but he was replaced by Cary Williams. The rest of the defense remains in tact, albeit with free safety Earl Thomas coming off a torn labrum. He is considered questionable for the season opener against the Rams.

Offensively, Seattle made the interesting decision to jettison center Max Unger and a first-round pick to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham. While Graham certainly makes the passing game more lethal, the rushing attack of quarterback Russell Wilson and back Marshawn Lynch will see a decrease in running room.

Overall, Seattle looks to have a 12 or 13-win team. The Seahawks are loaded and aren’t likely to be scared of Foles or Palmer. Additionally, the Seahawks are a run-first team in a league loaded to stop the pass. In the case of the Cardinals, can they stop the run after losing nose tackle Dan Williams?

Soon enough, we will have all the answers. Until then, bet on the Seahawks to win the division once again.

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