Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC West [Print without images]

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
NFC West stock watch: rising

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

1. The Cardinals organization. The rest of the NFC West can no longer dismiss the Cardinals' success as insignificant to the future of the division. Arizona is the team to beat until further notice. Most Cardinals coaches, executives and players belong on this list, but we'll focus only on those who have gained the most recently.

2. Ken Whisenhunt, head coach, Cardinals. This is his team, no doubt about it. Not many coaches could hold their ground against Anquan Boldin during the offseason, bench a former MVP quarterback, restore said quarterback, bench Edgerrin James, restore James -- all while taking a previously floundering franchise to the Super Bowl.

3. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals. Fitzgerald already owns the NFL record for most receiving yards in a single postseason, and he is not finished.

4. Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals. It's getting harder to rule him out as a Hall of Fame candidate.

5. Billy Devaney, general manager, Rams. The Rams aren't a flagship franchise at this point, but Devaney still managed to land one of the hotter coaching candidates in recent seasons. Steve Spagnuolo brings a Super Bowl ring to the sideline, just as Whisenhunt did in Arizona.

6/7. Russ Grimm and Todd Haley, Cardinals assistants. Arizona's 2-4 record to close the regular season hurt their short-term standing as head coaching candidates. But with the Cardinals in the Super Bowl, Grimm and Haley should have more opportunities in the future.

8. Jim Mora, head coach, Seahawks. He goes from being virtually invisible as an assistant coach to the top spot.

9. Adrian Wilson, safety, Cardinals. Seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in the NFC Championship Game affirmed his status as one of the game's top safeties.

10. Deuce Lutui, guard, Cardinals. We've pointed out his penalty-prone ways in the past, but Lutui has stepped up his game. He made a key block on the Eagles' Chris Gocong during a critical fourth-and-1 pickup on the winning drive. Lutui took then took out Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, allowing Tim Hightower to score the go-ahead touchdown.