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Tuesday, July 19, 2011
NFC West dominant team 2014-16

By Mike Sando

No team dominated the NFC West in 2010, but the St. Louis Rams are best positioned to control the division down the road.

They've got the franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford, and that separates them from the other teams in the division, at least for now. The San Francisco 49ers might have the answer in rookie second-round choice Colin Kaepernick, but it's too early to say. The Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks can improve their chances by addressing the position during free agency this offseason or in the 2012 draft.

The Rams have no such worries. Bradford showed them plenty last season as rookie, particularly with the way he commanded the offense and kept his poise. The stats were there for stretches -- 11 touchdowns against one pick over a six-game stretch in the middle of the season -- and the numbers should only improve. If all goes as planned, Bradford will be hitting full stride by the 2014 season, and probably before then.

St. Louis already has the most consistent defense in the division. Defensive end Chris Long and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis give coach Steve Spagnuolo young building blocks. Defensive end Robert Quinn, drafted 14th overall this year, should become one as well.

The Rams have more building to do, of course. They'll need to improve at receiver and find Steven Jackson's successor at running back. They must continue replenishing their defensive line while getting help for Laurinaitis at linebacker.

As much or more than other teams in the division, though, the Rams have shown an ability get things right in the draft. Long, Bradford, Laurinaitis and left tackle Rodger Saffold give St. Louis a strong core to build around. Right tackle Jason Smith hasn't been a big hit after being the No. 2 overall pick in 2009, but he's not a bust, either. Smith and Saffold should give the Rams bookend tackles for years to come.

Thanks to Bradford and billionaire owner Stan Kroenke, the Rams have the strongest foundation in the NFC West. That doesn't guarantee divisional dominance for the time period in question, but it certainly gives the Rams a head start.