NFC West: NFL Uniforms 2012

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:00
AM ET
video
Catch us if you can.

That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.

It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.

By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.

It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.

So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?

The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.

Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.

The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.

First Down

The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?


Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.

Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.

Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.

Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.


Second Down

The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?


Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.

Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.

Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.

Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.


Third Down

Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?


Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.

Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.

Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.

Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.


Fourth Down

If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?


Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.

Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.

Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.

Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.

 
Jamison Hensley's piece on AFC North uniform changes alerted me to Paul Lukas' detailed look at subtle team-by-team changes.

And you thought the NFL uniform launch was a one-day story. Hey, so did I, but plans change.

Lukas mocks the drama associated with what were mostly minor changes, but he also acknowledges intense interest in the Nike launch -- interest that has pumped up his count of Twitter followers from 12,500 past 40,000 in a few days.

And some of his comments regarding NFC West uniforms carry strong language.

Lukas' quick takes on NFC West changes:
  • Cardinals: "Black outlining that used to completely encircle collar now just wraps around part of collar, which is addition by subtraction. ... Has to annoy Nike that they're manufacturing this Reebok-template design."
  • 49ers: "Press notes say, 'Sleeve stripes are now horizontal to the field of play.' Maybe so, but they're still a disaster. ... Gold pants are now more of a matte mustard."
  • Rams: "New two-tone collar ruins an otherwise fine jersey. … According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, no more gold pants. If so, that's a tragedy -- the Rams' white jersey with gold pants was one of the best looks in the league."
  • Seahawks: "Complete overhaul. Too much to deal with here. I'll provide a full assessment of it in a few days."

The 49ers' sleeve stripes have never struck me as disastrous or even noteworthy, but I'm not a uniform expert, either. I'll have to follow up with Paul at some point in the future.

New unis: Wrapping up the NFC West

April, 3, 2012
4/03/12
9:35
PM ET

Tying up loose ends on a Tuesday that began with the NFL and Nike unveiling new uniforms for the 2012 season:
  • Paul Lukas' column affirms that Seattle was the only team to completely redesign its uniforms. But he notes that pants for the San Francisco 49ers and some other teams might appear less metallic than in the past.
  • Rules prevent teams from redesigning their uniforms more frequently than every five seasons. The 49ers last redesigned their uniforms in April 2009. The Arizona Cardinals redesigned theirs in 2005. The Rams overhauled their uniforms in 2000.
  • The Rams have ditched their gold pants, according to Jim Thomas.
  • The Detroit Lions' equipment manager, Tim O’Neill, said the new uniforms are especially snug-fitting, which could make it tougher for opponents to grab onto jerseys. ESPN's Trent Dilfer and Marcellus Wiley touched on that aspect in the video above. O’Neill : "If we hung a jersey on a hanger, it would look like a medium T-shirt."

All for now. Enjoy your Tuesday night.
The Nike literature regarding the new "Elite 51" uniforms made available to NFL teams Tuesday includes the following terms: technology, Thermoregulation, hydrophobic, aircraft-grade, zonal, articulated and Hyperfuse.

Nike chairman Phil Knight's writers could have been describing spacesuits instead of football uniforms, except there's a lot more money to be made from the latter.

Nike saved some of its most descriptive writing for the Seattle Seahawks' total uniform redesign, which has so far trumped subtler styling tweaks for the other 31 teams.

"The new uniform colors are rooted in Seattle's own environmental hues -- the deep blue of the ocean water that tucks into the harbor near downtown and the Seahawks' stadium," Nike proclaims. "The new color addition called Action Green represents the green of the ubiquitous trees, ferns and moss literally covering the Pacific Northwest landscape."

While the Seahawks underwent the most dramatic uniform overhaul, including 12 markings on the pants and collar to honor the 12th Man, all teams' uniforms are functionally identical (check them out via Nike for Seattle, Arizona, San Francisco and St. Louis).

"The uniform is completely engineered from the inside out, focusing on creating a system where the baselayer, padding, jersey and pant work in concert," Nike said. "A few of the new innovations include increasing sleeve articulation for better range of motion and integrating new four-way stretch fabrication to provide a streamlined shrink-wrap fit."

The numbers on the jersey also stretch, according to Nike.

The 49ers made available a shot of their white away jersey. It looks similar to the ones we've seen the 49ers wear previously. While this shot of QB Alex Smith makes him look like a bad dude, the Seahawks are the ones calling their threads "the new look of intimidation," according to their website.

The comments section on our previous item shows a range of opinions on the Seattle redesign. I asked those leaving comments to disclose their ages, figuring younger fans might be more apt to welcome what Nike obviously considers to be a cutting-edge concept.

A sampling, with listed ages:
  • dizzog22 (age 24): "LOVE them. Gives the hawks a tougher look... Much better than the shiny blue... That was ridiculous."
  • luckier_12thman (no age listed): "I love these jerseys! The Hawks and Nike are just setting the tone, everyone outside the NW will hate the hawks look as always, but all the more reason to love them."
  • J3ffro19 (31): "I think they all look pretty good, the blue on blue or white on white especially."
  • Willy2535 (22): "LOVE THEM!!!!!!!"
  • nwdave (28): "At first I was like 'ugh,' then I was like 'meh,' and now they're growing on me. I like the gray alternates, and I like the helmet design. The overall look is pretty busy, though."
  • shorne25 (29): "Why do I think Arena Football League?"
  • SirDro (26): "I'm in the minority, but these look like MLS uniforms circa 1996. To each their own, I guess. Just glad my Niners aren't wearing anything like that."
  • NickMinnott (24): "Horrible, just awful. I'm embarrassed."
  • linemanmax64 (22): "I'm really digging the away and alternate jerseys. The home might take a bit more getting used to; I feel like it'll look good in the sunlight."
  • usceahawk (29): "Initially a little shocked, I think I like them."
  • bkbailey76 (36): "I had bigger hopes for the unis. I'm glad the Seahawks are doing something different, but not sure if this was the way to go."
  • Stormballa1986 (25): "We are in an ever changing world. NASCAR couldn't use 1934 Ford Coupes forever. Point is, the new uniforms are going to be something that when they change them again in 10 years, I am going to be the one saying, 'They were fine the way they were' about these new ones. They have to change, we can't wear the same uniforms we wore in 1992. Whether you like it or not, it is going to happen. Might as well be optimistic about how much of a beast Money Lynch looks in them."
  • crus9041 (no age): "Awesome of them to remember the 12th Man!"
  • Flynnsane in the Membrane (23): "I would have liked the home one more, if it wasn't for the neon green patch on the shoulder. I did like the grey ones the best. Might be getting a kam or lynch grey jersey."
  • ser4ph1m (26): "I completely agree, the neon green patch is distracting."
  • daveb_dc (32): "I think it'll take a while to get used to the new 'Nike' look, rather than the classic NFL look. I like the gray as the alternate, and I like the all whites. I hate the name across the back."
  • BaneDaBakBreakah (30): "These are the ugliest uniforms in the history of the NFL. The Nike logo is on the uniform more times that our own. If the jersey didn't have the actual word 'Seahawks' on it, then I wouldn't be able to discern it from a generic high school jersey. I think I'll save my money and skip buying a Matt Flynn jersey and stick with my retro Jim Zorn one."
  • Charbonneau85 (18): "Seahawks are so close to having perfect uniforms. The helmet is absolutely beautiful. The green should be darker, but otherwise the design is fantastic."
  • Battles 4 Seattle (26): "The helmet exceeded my expectations. Think it looks so sleek and yet very cool. The uniforms did not meet my expectations. I dislike the green and some of the other detail pieces."
  • SFC_12thMan (32): "At first I was bothered, but then I remembered that they were showing three uniforms, and not just one. The new dark jerseys look AWFUL when worn with the new dark pants, but are actually kinda cool with the gray or white pants. I LOVE the all-gray look. The helmets were the best change by far!!"
  • cubicalhabitation (no age): "So if the Seahawks are joining the XFL, who is going to replace them in the NFC West?"

Thanks for sharing. We haven't heard the last on this subject, I'm sure. Most of the reviews I read seemed positive.

New unis: First look at Seahawks

April, 3, 2012
4/03/12
11:52
AM ET
The new Seattle Seahawks uniforms from Nike are ... different.

If Nike gets this right, younger players will love the changes right away, with others realizing at some point that Nike was simply ahead of the game.

2012 Seattle Seahawks Nike uniform
NikeThe new Seahawks uniforms were unveiled on Tuesday.
And let's face it: Reebok didn't exactly set the bar high with some of its offerings. Take this jacket, for instance. Take it into a time machine and give it back to 1991.

"How many Reebok uniform reveals did you follow?" @robertlong asked.

Point taken.

Those wanting to check out Seattle's full redesign can do so on the team's website.

The fit is definitely trimmer, the look cleaner. They're showing blue-on-blue, white-on-white and other combinations.

"New unis are nice!" Richard Sherman, 24-year-old Seahawks cornerback, tweeted. "Glad I'm on the team that is spearheading the movement.

One unrelated observation: Marshawn Lynch appears to be in fighting shape. His weight climbed late during the 2010 season, but he reported in top condition last season and apparently took this modeling opportunity seriously.

Your thoughts? And please give your age range when opining. Bet we'll see a split by age demographic.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFC WEST SCOREBOARD