TEMPE, Ariz. -- The stakes in the NFC West just went up.
In 2013, it was, undoubtedly, the best division in football but there were still skeptics around the league. It’s still the West, people thought. How good can they be? In the last decade it sent a team to the playoffs with a 7-9 record. But that was then. The reputation of the division preceded it last year. Heading into 2013, the West was thought to be a two-team race between San Francisco, which was coming off a Super Bowl berth, and Seattle. Arizona was coming off three straight sub-par years. And you never knew which way St. Louis’ season would head.
Then the Seahawks went 13-3 and were the best team in the NFC, the Niners made an impressive charge late in the season and the Cardinals tied the best turnaround in franchise history and were in the playoff conversation until late in Week 17.
Throughout 2013, the West showed it was the toughest division in the NFL.
Seattle’s dominating win over Denver in Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII just proved it.
And now, the rest of the division won’t just be chasing Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, they’ll be chasing the entire franchise. But that’s good news for the Cardinals, who can claim their place as the last team to beat the now-defending Super Bowl champs.
Everything Arizona will do this offseason will be done to unseat the Seahawks. It may not verge on the point of obsession for general manager Steve Keim and company, but Seattle is the target.
They’ll find a safety to combat Seattle tight ends Zach Miller and Luke Wilson, the only tight ends under contract for Seattle next year. And while the Seahawks may lose wide receiver Golden Tate to free agency, the rest of their receiving corps, including the speedy Percy Harvin, will be back.
Arizona’s defense will be built to win, no doubt, but it’ll also continue to be constructed to stop Marshawn Lynch up the middle, which the Cardinals were able to do for the most part in Week 16, holding Lynch to 71 yards, as well as a healthy Harvin. His speed caused havoc for the Broncos in the Super Bowl and Keim won’t let that happen to Arizona.
Getting outside backers like Sam Acho and Lorenzo Alexander back from injury will help the outside containment of Harvin. Arizona will also be losing a slew of cornerbacks to free agency and now Arizona will make sure to restock so it's able to keep up with Seattle’s speed.
But that’s not the most feared part of Seattle’s game.
That’s its defense.
Arizona obviously has the formula to beat Seattle with its defense, but the Cardinals’ offense was able to succeed against Seahawks, as well. And with the Arizona’s offense improving weekly in the second half of the season, it’s just going to improve, especially at running back and tight end.
Denver showed that without a speedy offense, it’s tough to penetrate Seattle’s defense. But Arizona already knew that though.
The West just isn’t for bragging rights or a spot in the playoffs anymore. Welcoming a Super Bowl champion into the division changes everything. It ups the ante.
But, as Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said last week, part of him was hoping Seattle would win, so they’ll enter the 2014 season with a Super Bowl hangover.
Even if that happens, the stakes in the West were just raised.