Football.com's Big, Bad NFL Preview Series: NFC West
Only a few seasons ago, the NFC West stood as the laughingstock of the National Football League. The Seattle Seahawks finished with a 7-9 record, but with a win over the St. Louis Rams on national television in Week 17, the Seahawks won the division title. Despite posting a losing record, Seattle took advantage of playing at Century Link Field in the wild card round and stunned the New Orleans Saints. That major upset didn't change perception around the league, however, and common fans hardly paid attention to the NFC West until the San Francisco 49ers came out of nowhere two years ago and nearly made a Super Bowl run under first year head coach Jim Harbaugh.
In just a matter of a few seasons, the division has gone from being the league's worst to arguably the league's toughest and most challenging. The 49ers nearly pulled off a stunning comeback to win the Super Bowl against the Ravens this past February and appear reloaded as the new season is set to begin, but it won't be easy to stay atop the divisional standings. Coach Pete Carroll has assembled a young, dynamic football team in Seattle that almost made it to the NFC Championship game last season, while the Rams and Arizona Cardinals have added critical pieces that should make them much more competitive this year. San Francisco and Seattle appear to be the frontrunners, but it wouldn't be out of the question for either St. Louis or Arizona to crash the party and make some noise in 2013.