I dusted off my fearless (if sometimes defective) crystal ball - here's what it says:
Seahawks) Human nature suggests that after finally reaching the pinnacle of your profession (and all that it entailed) that only the truly great teams can repeat that same drive, determination and excellence and validate their title against very stiff odds - with no shortage of great teams with every reason to feel hungrier and looking to zero-in on that big bulls-eye on your back. It's been 10 years since a team has even appeared in two consecutive Super Bowls (2003-2004 Patriots), with 5 of the last 8 Super Bowl Champions failing to win their division the following year (and missing the playoffs entirely 4 of 8 times). It's a tough assignment. I see the Seahawks slipping just a bit.
49'ers) After two consecutive years of last second, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking endings to a team's season, how does a team respond? Great teams with great character, team chemistry and commitment will regroup - forever remaining positive, more determined and better than ever. That test of a team's mettle would seem even more challenging in the absence of a totally harmonious environment. While I respect 49'er roster, they show signs of being about to implode from within (the coach and GM not exactly male-bonding these days), and a slow start might add fuel to the fire. Just not feeling it, so I see the 49'ers slipping a bit, and possibly more.
Rams) I see the Rams as a team continuing to gradually improve since acquiring Jeff Fisher. Consistency seemed to be their biggest problem last year - hammering the Colts on the road only to follow up with taking a thumping from the Bears at home. It doesn't hurt having two first round draft picks yet again (part of the boatload they received for the RG3 pick - the gift that keeps on giving). They've also been known to give the 49'ers fits. I see the Rams improving.
Cardinals) I see no reason why we can't improve on the 10-6 record provided we get off to a better start (3-4 just won't do). Slow starts have been commonplace in Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals history but it's imperative it doesn't happen again. The new dynamic duo of Veldheer and Cooper is huge reason for optimism on offense. And true to his word, Steve Kiem has acquired nothing but class players with outstanding character and great teammates - the likes of Cooper, Mathieu, Watford, Ellington, Sowell, Veldeer... A team with chemistry is so much greater than just the sum of its parts - and with the possibility of having that elusive 'Super Bowl At Home', I envision our guys pushing themselves (and each other) harder than ever. I see the Cardinals taking the division! Woooo hoooo!
If the teams rise and fall (if even just a bit) like my crystal ball says, that would make for a wide open race with all those division games back-loaded to the end of the season. Holy cow!
By setting a lofty standard last year with NFC West teams achieving an incredible 30-10 record outside the division, the bar is set very high this year for the division - but I see no reason why the 'NFC West' won't keep rhyming with 'NFL Best'.
What does your crystal ball say?