As our midseason analysis continues, we examine the most competitive division in the NFC and arguably the NFL, the NFC West.
Seattle Seahawks: 9-1, 265 points for, 159 points allowed, +106 point differential
With all due respect to the Chiefs and 49ers, the Seahawks get my vote for the NFL's best defense.
Their secondary features physical athletes, with the ability to stay with any receiver and the size to make a play on the ball at its highest point. Even better, they love to hit. Seattle's run defense could stand to be better but there have been injuries up front and Bruce Irvin missed the first four games of the season due to suspension.
The run defense is in for a major challenge Sunday, when they must try and contain Adrian Peterson. Down the road lyes a rematch with Frank Gore, who the defense held to 16 yards on 1.8 yards per carry.
Offensively, a banged up line has made life difficult for Russell Wilson, but the quarterbacks ability to keep plays alive with his legs and buy time for his receivers to get open, have spurred multiple come from behind victories, and are a large reason why Seattle is 9-1.
The team has also relied heavily on Marshawn Lynch and "Beast Mode" has delivered. Lynch is second in the league in carries, 191, second in yards and touchdowns, 871 and seven, respectively. He is also fourth in yards per game, rushing for 87.1 yards per contest.
San Francisco 49ers: 6-3, 227 points for, 155 points allowed, +72 point differential
Without Mario Manningham and MIchael Crabtree, the Niners offense struggled and the defending NFC Champions quickly found themselves 1-2.
Since then, Colin Kaepernick has developed a lethal chemistry with Vernon Davis. Last season, as the Kaepernick-Crabtree connection grew, it did so at the neglect of one of the game's best receiving tight ends. Now, the challenge is for the Sophomore quarterback to balance his new favorite weapon with his go-to-receiver. Crabtree, who has been practicing, is expected to return in week 13, in a divisional matchup against the Rams. After the team released wide receiver Kyle Williams, there is growing speculation that he may return ahead of schedule. Manningham made his season debut last Sunday against Carolina, where he caught three passes for 30 yards.
Defensively, injuries and the absence of Aldon Smith, who could also be returning soon, have not slowed this unit down one bit. NaVorro Bowman has been one of the best linebackers in football and despite a groin injury, Patrick Willis continues to play at a pro bowl level. San Francisco has the third-most take-away fumbles and fourth-most interceptions in the NFL. This is largely due to a secondary that has consistently made big plays as well as used its physicality to wear down opponents over the course of game's.
Arizona Cardinals: 5-4, 187 points for, 198 points allowed, -11 point differential
After divisional losses to San Francisco and Seattle, the Cardinals have won two-straight games and are playing their best football of the season.
Defensively, the group has thrived in Todd Bowles' variation of the 3-4 scheme. The line has been the star of this unit, generating pressure for all four quarters, each-and-every week. Once Darryl Washington returned from suspension, the linebackers have excelled at stuffing the run. This includes holding the Falcons to 27 TOTAL yards rushing.
Offensively, Carson Palmer has been up-and-down this season, but did complete 20-32 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns last week against Houston. Nine games into the season, Larry Fitzgerald has more touchdowns than he did last season, five to four. Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts possess more talent than they've displayed but that is largely due to Palmer and a struggling offensive line. Still, the two have been solid.
As far as the running game is concerned, Rashard Mendenhall is fighting through injuries and has struggled. The team hopes that Andre Ellington's breakout performance against Atlanta, in which he rushed for 154 yards and a touchdown, is a sign of things to come for the rest of the season. Stepfan Taylor has also showed flashes and has helped take the burden off of an injured Mendenhall.St. Louis Rams: 4-6, 224 points for, 234 points allowed, -10 point differential The Rams entered the season expecting to take signifcant strides forward, but a season-ending knee injury to quarterback Sam Bradford has derailed most hope for that. Offensively, Zac Stacy has rushed for over 100 yards in two of the past three games. Ironically, last week's 38-8 win against Indianapolis, where Stacy ran for just 2.4 yards per carry, was the only one of these games St. Louis won. The receiving core has failed to progress at the rate that was expected and have dropped far too many passes. Having Kellen Clemens at the helm will do little to help this young group. Tavon Austin did have 138 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the win against the Colts but this came on just two catches. While they were big plays, the first round pick needs to remain consistently involved in the offense. Defensively, the line has done an excellent job of getting to the quarterback. The lineman are responisble for 29 of the Rams 32 sacks, including all three against Indianapolis. Beyond this level, it has been a nightmare. The linebackers are easily blocked and miss tackles, while the cornerbacks fail to contain and the safeties are late to help out. Too many high draft picks have been used on this unit for them to be such a letdown. *all stats courtesy of espn.com