The NFC West had three teams that won at least 10 games last season, two teams in the NFC Championship Game and a team that won the Super Bowl by 35 points.
Consequently, there is no lack of confidence about the 2014 season for the teams in this division. Three of them -- the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals -- can make a legitimate argument for winning the division title.
But until the 49ers or the Cardinals prove otherwise, the Seahawks are the clear favorites, not only to win the division crown but to return to the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks, however, realize the biggest obstacle to repeating as Super Bowl winners lies within their own division. The NFC West is widely regarded as the best division in the NFL. It's also the most physical division in the league, which means the division rivals tend to beat up on each other.
Here's how Seahawks reporter Terry Blount, St. Louis Rams reporter Nick Wagoner, Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson see each team finishing in 2014:
What will the 49ers' record be and why?
Terry Blount: 12-4. The 49ers have a shiny new stadium, which I see them taking full advantage of and probably going unbeaten at home. Their home game against the Seahawks comes on Thanksgiving night, which likely will be a frenzied holiday crowd in front of a national TV audience. However, I don't see things going quite as smoothly on the road. I have the 49ers losing at Arizona, Denver, New Orleans and Seattle. The key for San Francisco is how the team performs in a five-game midseason stretch that includes four road games -- St. Louis, Denver, New Orleans and the New York Giants. The 49ers do have a bye week in that stretch, but how they get through the middle part of the schedule will determine their fate.
Josh Weinfuss: 10-6. This may be a bit on the nice side, considering the run of injuries to running backs since training camp started, but I think the 49ers' passing game and Colin Kaepernick's feet will make up for at least one game they'll lose because of a depleted running game. San Francisco plays a brutal schedule, facing the Cowboys, Bears, Cardinals, Eagles and Chiefs in its first five games. I don't think the road will be kind to the Niners this year, especially in the NFC West. The magic is running out for Jim Harbaugh one injury at a time.
Bill Williamson: I'm going to say the 49ers will be 12-4. They are a top team. But it's difficult to predict any team finishing higher than 12-4, although it wouldn't shock me if San Francisco finished with a better record. As long as quarterback Colin Kaepernick stays healthy, and there are no more big injuries on defense, San Francisco will win its share of games. It is a very deep and well-coached team. It knows how to win consistently. I fully expect San Francisco to start hot and stay hot.
@BWilliamsonESPN 13-3. most loaded O since glory days. Great D. Very friendly final 6 weeks of schedule.— Corey Mayne (@CDM49er) July 22, 2014
What will the Cardinals' record be and why?
Blount: 11-5. Yes, by picking the Cardinals to win 11 games, it means I'm picking the highly unusual occurrence of three teams in one division winning 11 or more games. But I believe the NFC West is that good. Arizona won 10 games last season. The offense should be better this season with quarterback Carson Palmer having a full year in the system and an improved offensive line. I actually thought this team could move ahead of the 49ers this year, but losing inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington is a huge blow to the defense. The biggest problem for Arizona is ending the regular season with back-to-back games against Seattle and at San Francisco. The Cardinals also have to play Seattle twice in their last six games. They will need to split those two games, and probably win on the road at Atlanta and St. Louis down the stretch, to reach the 11-win plateau.
Weinfuss: 10-6. There's a lot that can go right for Arizona this year, but there's a lot that can go wrong. I think the Cardinals will start hot -- building on last season's success -- and win five of their first six. I wouldn't be surprised if they continue to tear through, but their schedule is backloaded. By midseason, offenses will figure out how to exploit the middle of the defense, which was decimated by the losses of Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington. But Arizona's offense should be potent enough to make up for any issues on defense, which will be few and far between, and simply outscore opponents.
Williamson: I'm going with 10-6. The Cardinals had 10 wins last season and may be better in their second season under coach Bruce Arians. But I still don't think Arizona is an elite team. Saying this team will take the next step and get to 12-4 is a bit of a stretch for me, although I love the Cardinals' defense. I think Carson Palmer is a solid fit for this team. But he's still Carson Palmer. He will still ruin a few games with some untimely interceptions. Arizona is good, not great, and a 10-6 record is a solid showing by a good team.
What will the Rams' record be and why?
Blount: 6-10. This is my real shocker pick of the bunch because I'm sure most people see the Rams as a much better team than 6-10. St. Louis has an outstanding young defense, but the problem for the Rams is they play in the NFC West. Going through the division games, I don't see St. Louis doing better than 1-5. If the Rams can go 3-3 in the division, 8-8 or better is a possibility. But St. Louis just isn't on the same tier as the other three teams in the NFC West, not yet anyway. Maybe once the Rams move back to Los Angeles that will change. OK, I'm having a little futuristic fun there.
Wagoner: 8-8. This is the season the Rams have targeted for a breakthrough since coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead took over in 2012. They've gone through a massive roster makeover in that time and have built this team into one that is bursting with potential, but still lacking in production. This is the season the Rams hope upside makes the transition to something more tangible, namely more wins. But it's still hard to see this team making the leap this particular year against an imposing schedule and the league's toughest division. Quarterback Sam Bradford returns from a knee injury, which should help but to what extent remains to be seen. The defensive line is probably the best and deepest in the NFL, and with Gregg Williams at coordinator, the defense should be able to keep the Rams in games. Once again, the onus to get the Rams to the next level falls on the offense. Beyond Bradford, the Rams have a talented offensive line but one that is dotted with injury questions at nearly every position. They should be able to run the ball effectively, but at some point the passing game will have to do its part. The receivers and tight ends won't be asked to carry too much freight, but that mostly young group has to be better and more consistent for the Rams to have success. Fisher has a history of getting teams to right at or around the .500 mark, as he's done his first two seasons in St. Louis. There is enough talent in place for this team to take the next step, but until we see it actually coalesce, it's hard to predict more than mediocrity.
Williamson: I'm saying 7-9. Look, the Rams' defense -- especially the defensive line -- is nasty good. St. Louis will win games on defense. But I worry about the offense. Yes, the Rams went 7-9 in 2013 with quarterback Sam Bradford hurt for much of the season. So, a healthy Bradford could make a difference. But I just don't see Bradford as a major difference-maker, anyway. Plus, the truth is, the Rams are the worst team in a very strong division. It is going to be tough piling up wins in the NFC West, and the Rams could suffer.
@nwagoner My heart wants to say 10-6.. But my brain tells me 8-8. Those games after the early bye week are going to be brutal.— John (@The_Tiki_Garden) July 21, 2014
What will the Seahawks' record be and why?
Blount: 13-3. It's been a while since any NFL team was coming off a Super Bowl and could realistically say it might be in better position to win it all now than they were a season ago, but that's the case for the Seahawks. This still is a young and deeply talented team that probably hasn't peaked yet. The receiving corps will be better this season with a healthy Percy Harvin, and the sky is the limit for quarterback Russell Wilson, who is starting only his third NFL season. The final seven games are as difficult as I've ever seen for a defending Super Bowl champ. Seattle closes with five NFC West games in the final seven, including two against the 49ers and two with the Cardinals. The Seahawks also have road games at Kansas City and Philadelphia in that stretch. How they close it out will determine whether they win the division title, and it's almost mandatory if they hope to get back to the Super Bowl.
Wagoner: 12-4. On paper, the defending champions remain the class of the division. They handled their business in the offseason, prioritizing their own and keeping the ones they deemed most important. The defense should be dominant again with most of the key pieces returning and the Legion of Boom largely intact. Offensively, it's probably safe to assume quarterback Russell Wilson will continue to get better and the passing game to expand. Marshawn Lynch still has plenty in the tank and the Seahawks have some good young alternatives behind him. Seattle was able to get it done without Percy Harvin for almost all of last season, but with Golden Tate gone to Detroit, the Seahawks will need Harvin to be available and contribute consistently. The team's biggest weakness, the offensive line, will need to be better and could be with some improved health, but the Seahawks got it done behind a similar line in 2013. As with any team, injuries could severely hamper Seattle's run, especially after it lost some of its better depth players in the offseason. But all things considered, this was one of the youngest teams in the league a year ago and went on to win the Super Bowl. There's little reason to think that talent will regress with the experience and confidence that comes from the run it made in 2013.
Williamson: I'm going with 12-4. Would I be surprised if the Seahawks went 14-2? No, but a 12-4 season is a great effort and I will start there, much like the 49ers. The Seahawks could easily go 8-0, or stumble once, at most, in the first half of the season. But Seattle isn't a great road team. It can be beaten on the road, especially by teams such as the 49ers, Panthers, Chargers, Chiefs, Panthers, Eagles and Cardinals. My guess is the Seahawks go 7-1 at home and 5-3 on the road.
@TerryBlountESPN 12-4. Tough schedule and early bye, but this team wont cave to pressure or think of last year. All in...again.— Vaughn Kness (@metalvx5) July 22, 2014
- Kicker Steven Hauschka was rewarded with a three-year, $9.1 million contract in the offseason and he’s worth every penny of it. When Hauschka misses a field goal in practice it’s almost a headline because it’s so rare. He made all three attempts Tuesday and was 4-for-4 Wednesday, including a 58-yarder.
- Receiver Bryan Walters made the catch of the day with a leaping grab in the back corner of the end zone, however, it was questionable whether the play actually would have happened. Russell Wilson was running around in the backfield for a quite a while, under tons of pressure, before making the throw. Some of the defensive players were upset that a whistle didn’t blow, signaling Wilson would have been sacked.
- Receiver Percy Harvin showed his ability to get to the edge quickly, no surprise, when he beat Richard Sherman to the front corner of the end zone after catching a quick out from Wilson at the 5-yard-line.
- Spencer Ware is listed as a fullback, but continues to get work as a running back. Ware had an impressive 5-yard touchdown run Wednesday. He is the one back on the roster who can play both spots.
- Outside linebacker K.J. Wright continues to shine each day at camp, including a sack Wednesday. Wright is in the final year of his rookie contract. “I’m hoping something gets done, but if it doesn’t, I’ll be fine,” Wright said Wednesday. “If they want me here, they’ll find a way to keep me.” The thought of working something out to give Wright a new deal could impact how the Seahawks approach Lynch’s holdout demands.
- Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn can’t say enough good things about linebacker Brock Coyle, a rookie from Montana. “He’s a really a good finisher,” Quinn said. “The guy’s in terrific shape to play football. He’s got good instincts and the versatility to play both Mike [middle linebacker] and Will [weak-side linebacker]. He came here ready to compete right from the get go and didn’t back down from any of the challenges in front of him.”
NFL.com revealed the news Wednesday.
Sherman is one of only three players who received a 99 overall rating in the EA Sports rankings, along with Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson and Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt.
Sherman leads the NFL over the last three seasons with 20 interceptions and 60 passes defensed.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Patrick Peterson had about eight minutes to celebrate after announcing his five-year extension worth $70 million with the Arizona Cardinals on Twitter before the Seattle Seahawks' Richard Sherman chimed in.
This time it wasn't through Sherman's own words. He retweeted a tweet that of the eight touchdowns the corners combined to allow last season, Peterson gave up seven of them. Peterson stoked the fire this morning and Sherman responded with a photo of his Super Bowl ring.
To Peterson, his ongoing Twitter feud with Sherman is all in good fun. Peterson doesn't think Sherman sees it the same way.
"I don't know how he feels about but I think it's just fun, healthy competition," Peterson said. "I'm having fun with it. Sometimes it seems like he's a little salty about it. But it is what it is. I don't have any problems with Richard. I don't have any beef with him. I'm having fun. I don't know if he's having fun."
The Cardinals clearly had Sherman in mind when they gave Peterson an average of $14.01 million per season. It's slightly more than the $14 million average Sherman received as part of an extension signed in May. It was important to Peterson to become the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL.
The Seahawks announced that Williams had suffered a knee injury a few hours after practice, but no details were given. Williams, a fifth-round draft choice out of Alabama in 2013, missed his rookie season with knee problems.
Left guard James Carpenter (calf) and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (hamstring) did not practice after getting nicked in Tuesday’s workout. Wide receivers Jermaine Kearse and Paul Richardson did not practice, but both players looked fine.
Linebacker O’Brien Schofield, who missed practice Tuesday because he was resting, did not practice Wednesday. Offensive tackle Michael Bowie is still out with a shoulder injury.
Three starters who had offseason surgery – offensive tackle Russell Okung (toe), linebacker Malcolm Smith (ankle) and strong safety Kam Chancellor (hip) – have not practiced yet in training camp.
Rookie linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis was in full pads, but did not take part in any team drills. He has an oblique injury.
Winston (6-foot-6, 310 pounds) is insurance for the Seahawks at the right tackle spot. They have rookie Justin Britt taking the first-team snaps. The man who was expected to compete with Britt (second-year player Michael Bowie) has been out with shoulder injury.
With Winston’s presence, the Seahawks know they have a quality veteran they can use if they need him.
"We were just looking for depth and a competitive guy to come in and fill the spot," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We’re very young in the backup guys. Michael has been slowed down a little bit. Eric’s done a lot of playing in his time, so we’ll see how that works out. We’re glad to have him out here battling."
Winston started all 16 games last season for Arizona. He played for Kansas City in 2012, but spent the first six seasons of his career in Houston, where he makes his home.
"I’ve been sweating it out down there working out," Winston said. "I’ve never been around Seattle. What a gorgeous place. What great scenery. The lunch room [at the VMAC], you walk in and see the lake. It doesn’t get too much better than that, so yeah, it’s exciting to be here."
Winston also said he will do all he can to help Britt learn the position.
"I think anytime you become a vet in this league, you’ve got an obligation to the young guys to help them and teach them," Winston said. "If Britt wants me to do that, then I’ll do it. I’ll be here for him to help him, that’s for sure."
RENTON, Wash. -- There has been a lot of confusion over the fines Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is incurring, so here a few of the main points:
As of Tuesday, Lynch was subject to losing 15 percent of his $6 million signing bonus, however, that's on a pro-rated basis per year. So Lynch incurred a $225,000 fine on Tuesday. He can be fined another 1 percent of his bonus per each day he misses going forward, up to 25 percent of the bonus.
Lynch also is subject to a $30,000 fine for each day of camp he misses, which was up to $180,000 as of Tuesday. That’s a total of $405,000 in fines, so far.
Lynch will not lose a regular-season game check for each preseason game he misses, which is the rule now under the collective bargaining agreement. But Lynch signed his contract before that CBA rule went into effect.
The fines add up quickly now, however, all these fines could become a moot point. The fines are at the team's discretion. So if Lynch said he would return to the team as long as all his fines were waived, the Seahawks could agree and he would owe them nothing.
- The national TV audience watching ESPN's live telecast from training camp Tuesday got to see exactly why the Seahawks drafted wide receiver Paul Richardson. The second-round pick from Colorado was the star of the day, once again displaying his blazing speed on two long touchdown receptions. The first one also proved that quarterback Terrelle Pryor has a big arm. He stepped up in the pocket and let it fly it 65 yards down the sideline to Richardson, who had cornerback Tharold Simon beat by six yards. The second one also was from Pryor in the back corner of the north end zone. The throw was a little late, but Richardson had beaten cornerback Phillip Adams so easily that Richardson had time to turn around and face the ball, waiting for it to arrive before Adams could get back to him.
- Richardson wasn't the only receiver making big catches. Percy Harvin made several spectacular grabs that wowed the crowd, one of which was a leap backward over safety Earl Thomas. Harvin also made a tough catch on the sideline after a ball was tipped by cornerback Jeremy Lane.
- Tuesday was a day of big plays on both sides of the ball. Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Jackson Jeffcoat, defensive tackle Jordan Hill, middle linebacker Brock Coyle and linebacker Mike Morgan all had sacks. Coyle had his best day of training camp by far, getting to play some with the first-team defense after Bobby Wagner got a cramp in a hamstring.
- Veteran offensive tackle Eric Winston, whom the Seahawks signed Tuesday morning, got in the mix of things immediately. He played right tackle with the second-team offense and looked great for a guy who hasn't been on the field in months. Winston is used to playing the same zone-blocking scheme that the Seahawks use under offensive line coach Tom Cable, so he was ready to go.
- Marshawn Lynch's holdout continues and the Seattle running backs continue to shine. Robert Turbin was the standout with a 35-yard TD run off right tackle.
- Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was on KJR radio and noted four players who have impressed him so far in camp -- defensive tackle Jordan Hill, safety Jeron Johnson, defensive end Greg Scruggs and outside linebacker Mike Morgan.
"If it is what we think it is, it's just a real heartbreaker," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. "Anthony has worked so hard to get back. If it was the same Achilles you might understand it, but it's the other one."
McCoy was expected to make the team as the third tight end behind Zach Miller and Luke Willson, but his injury opens an opportunity for Cooper Helfet and rookie RaShaun Allen.
Left guard James Carpenter and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner left practice early, but Carroll said both are OK.
"His calf just got tightened up a little bit so we pulled him out early," Carroll said of Carpenter. "It was the same type of thing on Bobby with the hamstring."
Rookie outside linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis missed practice Tuesday with a stomach injury.
"He's got a little oblique thing that has bothered him," Carroll said of Pierre-Louis. "We're hoping it's not a serious deal, but we want to make sure we don't push him too hard or two fast."
Outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield did not practice Tuesday, but he was getting a rest day.
The team placed wide receiver Taylor Price on injured reserve and released cornerback Chandler Fenner and rookie guard Bronson Irwin.
They signed rookie free-agent wide receiver Randall Carroll, veteran offensive tackle Eric Winston and veteran cornerback Terrell Thomas.
Carroll (5-foot-10, 180) played college football at UCLA, but he was dismissed in 2011 for failing to meet academic requirements. He transferred to New Mexico State.
As stated in an earlier blog post, Winston is the most significant move. He’s an eight-year NFL starter who played for Arizona last season.