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Monday, July 5, 2010
Where every NFC West team stacks up

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

The Arizona Cardinals' No. 4 ranking among NFL teams in ESPN The Magazine's Ultimate Standings begged for a wider lens.

The rest of the division ranked between 19th and 31st in voting by 1,000 sports fans across weighted categories including bang for the buck, fan relations, players, affordability, ownership, stadium experience, championship prospects and coaching.

This type of survey probably carries a lag effect as perceptions chase reality. That appears to be the case in the first chart, which breaks out overall rankings for NFC West teams since the survey began in 2003. For example, the Seahawks fell six places from 2004 to 2005 after suffering the latest in a string of playoff disappointments. Going to the Super Bowl after the 2005 season produced four years of higher rankings, including an eight-spot jump to No. 3 in 2007, even though the organization was declining during that time.

The second chart shows where NFC West teams ranked within the NFL across the eight categories. The rankings differ from those shown in the main Ultimate Standings piece because mine reflect rankings only relative to NFL teams (the Ultimate Standings rank teams in all sports).

The chart ranks categories from most influential (bang for the buck) to least influential (coaching).

Quick thoughts on results for each team:

Arizona

It's interesting to see the Cardinals rank so high in bang for the buck and affordability even after opening a new stadium in recent seasons. ... Coach Ken Whisenhunt gets plenty of respect in this poll and I think he'll continue to score well among fans if the team falls off without Kurt Warner. Whisenhunt projects competence. ... The high ranking in the "players" category reflects likable stars beyond Warner. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald comes to mind. ... Ownership gets middle-of-the-pack ratings, but perceptions should change as the organization demonstrates stability.

San Francisco

Coach Mike Singletary gets high marks from fans even though he hasn't held the job long enough to prove himself. I suspect fans love his message and decisiveness (as shown during his handling of the Vernon Davis situation in 2008). ... Candlestick Park ranked low, no surprise. Getting a new stadium built would raise that ranking while giving fans reason to have more confidence in ownership. The 49ers' overall ranking could rise dramatically if the team meets expectations this season and Measure J's passage results in a new stadium by 2014. ... The "title track" category reflects the 49ers' five Super Bowl titles, not just whether fans think the team will win another one anytime soon.

Seattle

Qwest Field still commands respect even though the team has a 6-10 record there over the last two seasons. ... CEO Tod Leiweke can't like that No. 18 ranking in fan relations, defined as "openness and consideration toward fans by players, coaches and management." Head coaches can set the tone in this department. ... The Seahawks' Paul Allen ranked first among NFC West owners. I suspect his aversion to meddling insulated him from blame for the team's problems in recent seasons.

St. Louis

The Rams' highest ranking is in the "title track" category. No other NFC West team has won a championship as recently. ... The ranking for ownership stands to improve once Stan Kroenke takes over, as expected. ... No amount of goodwill can overcome the team's recent struggles and instability, however.