By Chris Cluff
The NFC West, which just two years ago became the first division to send a sub-.500 team to the playoffs, suddenly has flipped the standings on their head and become the best division in the league through six games.
All four teams are driven by defense, which probably explains why all four are at least .500. They also are all in the top five in scoring defense. And they are a combined 12-2 at home.
The problem for every team is offense. San Francisco is the best of the bunch, ranking 16th in the league at 23.6 points per game. St. Louis and Arizona are tied for 26th at 18.3 ppg, and Seattle is 31st at 16.6 ppg.
Although Arizona started 4-0 and still can stay tied with San Francisco at 5-2 with a win over Minnesota today, the 49ers still seem to be the team to beat.
The Seahawks didn’t do that Thursday.
In fact, the Seahawks are 0-3 in the division, having lost on the road to every team. But it really does not matter right now. There is too much football to be played to be concerned with divisional records at this point. The Hawks host all three teams in the second half of the season, and if they play the Niners even the rest of the way and also beat them, then we can talk about tiebreakers.
As for the two other teams, Arizona appears to be fading after a surprising 4-0 start fueled by its defense while the Rams are 3-0 at home but 0-3 on the road. The Rams also have a jump in the division, having beaten the Seahawks and Cardinals.
The Rams and Cardinals both play NFC North foes this weekend. The Rams host the Packers, who lost to the Seahawks in the infamous Monday night game in Week 3. The Cardinals visit Minnesota, where the 49ers were stunned in Week 3.
Green Bay at St. Louis
Jeff Fisher’s club has a tall task in trying to stop a Packers offense that has suddenly become explosive again after a slow start.
Fisher has the Rams headed upward, but the Packers’ slumbering offense awoke last Monday as Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdown passes in a 42-24 win over the AFC’s best team, Houston.
The Rams’ offense might be starting to kick into gear, too. The unit had a season-high 462 yards — 162 rushing — in a 17-14 loss in Miami last weekend. The Rams scored just one touchdown on offense, though.
Steven Jackson has not scored this season and is averaging a mere 53.8 yards rushing, but he has averaged 113.5 yards in four games against the Packers. The Rams will have to lean on him if they are going to win.
Considering the Packers beat the Rams 24-3 last October, it might be tough for the Rams to stretch that home record to 4-0.
Arizona at Minnesota
The Cardinals, whose offense has been decimated this season, face a Vikings team that was just as surprising as Arizona in opening 4-0.
Arizona, which is already down to its third running back, will switch back to John Skelton at quarterback after Kevin Kolb was lost indefinitely with injured ribs last week. The Cardinals must figure out how to protect Skelton; they have given up a league-high 28 sacks, which explains why Kolb is out.
The Vikings (4-2) are 3-0 at home, and Adrian Peterson has come back impressively from a torn ACL. He has rushed for 499 yards, which has taken the pressure of second-year QB Christian Ponder, who has eight touchdown passes.
The Cardinals have had trouble stopping Peterson in the past; he had 122 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-10 victory over the Cardinals last season.
If Arizona can’t stop Peterson this time and can’t keep Skelton upright, it could be a long day.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Seahawks news, see CBS Sports Seattle.
Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.