The Wild, Wild West

By Peter Bailey-Wells

Anything can happen (and usually does) in sports, but when watching postseason sports, there’s something to consider.

If there’s no obvious favorite, the winner of the game will probably turn out to be the team that went through more of a challenging regular season.

In other words, the toughest divisions or conferences produce the best teams, whether or not that is indicated by regular season record.

The SEC West is a perfect example. So is the AL East and the NBA’s Western Conference.

So as the NFL nears the halfway point of its season, it’s interesting to ask: What is the toughest division in the NFL?

The NFC West records might not show it, but this is a division armed to the teeth with talent.

Since the hiring of Jim Harbaugh in 2011, the NFC West has appeared in two Super Bowls and has provided four of the six teams that have appeared in the NFC Championship, including the 49ers, who have made three straight appearances. One member of the division, the Seattle Seahawks, is the reigning Super Bowl Champions.

But wait, aren’t the Seahawks 3-3?

Exactly.

Come January, expect to see some deep playoff runs from a NFC West team, and don’t be surprised if you see one of these teams in Arizona on Feb. 1 for the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks were toppled by the St. Louis Rams this weekend, the 49ers were thumped by the Broncos, and the Cardinals quietly handled their business against the Oakland Raiders.

The Cardinals are the division leaders with a record of 5-1. Oh, and that Super Bowl in February? It’s in their stadium. Half of their remaining games are interdivisional, and if they can finish with a winning record in the division, you can expect them to make a run in the playoffs.

The 49ers sit in second despite getting whacked around by the record-setting Peyton Manning and his Broncos on Sunday night. That said, they are the only team in the NFL this season to have beaten the Cowboys, who are playing like the best team in football. San Francisco’s defense is still beaten up; they are missing Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman among others. When at full strength, the 49ers are dangerous on both sides of the ball, and they have playoff experience. Don’t count them out.

The Seahawks are at .500 and have already lost as many games this season as they did in all of 2013. But they beat the Broncos and the Packers, so if you think this is a Seattle team that isn’t built for the postseason, you’re a fool. As long as they can win enough to make it there, they’ll be in the hunt for another Lombardi trophy.

And finally we come to the Rams. They may be only 2-4, but have Sunday’s big win against Seattle and lost by a combined nine points to the Eagles and the Cowboys, both one-loss teams. They may have found a new star in rookie Tre Mason. The rookie is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and is the only Rams’ back to put up any runs of 20-plus yards. They may not make the playoffs, but they’ll put up a challenge for the rest of the division.

So although the division barely sits above .500 as a whole, the NFC West is a crucible, and the team that comes out of that crucible is going to be battle-hardened and tougher than any other team in the NFC. As long as that team isn’t too beaten-up, watch out for it to make a Super Bowl run come January.

Peter is a sophomore in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @pbaileywells22.