Remember the dark days, when the NFC West sent a division champion to the playoffs with a losing record? Where NFL Live’s Trey Wingo kept making the joke, “SOMEONE has to win the division” because all four teams were so inept? Yeah, me too. If you are a fan of an NFC West team, that was a truly dark time, since even if your team sucked, you didn’t take consolation knowing the team you were rooting against was any good.
Well, the good news is that those dark days are over. The NFC West nearly sent three teams to the playoffs this year, including the one seed; the two teams that did make it are fighting for a Super Bowl berth, and those two teams have the hottest rivalry in the NFL right now. Even better, the NFC East and NFC North stunk it up so badly this year that the same re-seeding arguments from 2009 resurfaced, thus erasing 2009 for many people, since America has a serious ADD problem.
Why the turnaround? What changed? It was something that I am still hesitant about, although was once completely opposed to: college coaches entering the NFL. Surprisingly enough, not one, but two have found success, and in the process re-energized a division; the recent addition of Bruce Arians in Arizona has not hurt either.
Jim Harbaugh jumped into the San Francisco 49ers from Stanford, where he had success but not overwhelming success. He immediately made an impact, and came very close to making the Super Bowl in his first year; however, as with any first year coach, he was using a roster he had inherited, not one he had necessarily shaped himself. The vast success of the next two years, though, has been all him. The players bought into his system, and more importantly, into him, and thus the Niners are once again relevant, and perennial contenders.
Pete Carroll escaped the sanctions that would hamper, and later defeat, his successor, Lane Kiffin, at USC by jumping to the Seattle Seahawks. Despite a rough first year, the aforementioned 7-9-playoff year, his Seahawks have taken off, with a great two years under their belt, and the one seed this past season. In those past two years, they have a stunning 16-1 record at home, have seemingly opened the flood gates for crowd noise, and are the best the Seahawks have really looked since Zorn was throwing passes to Largaent.
Despite not being necessarily in prime position this past year, the hiring of Bruce Arians in Arizona was a brilliant move. His previous work as the Colts interim head coach justifiably earned him this job, and he did not disappoint this year, earning the Cardinals ten wins, and missing the playoffs by a hair. Rallying that team after their previous flops is nothing short of amazing, and further proof that the division is back.
I know that the 2009 campaign was four years ago, but look at everything that needed to happen for the NFC West to become, as Tony Kornheiser calls it, “the toughest division in football.” You needed great coaches to win a lot, and especially in games outside the division.
Now, I’m going to stop now, because for all I know, the division will crumble again next year, and I’ll look like an idiot for writing this. Thanks for reading!