Notebook 12/5: Rams, Cardinals Part of NFC West Resurgence

Posted Dec 5, 2013

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Calais Campbell chuckled before pondering his team’s recent fortunes against NFC West opponents. By nearly any measure, Campbell and his teammates are in the midst of their best season since winning the division four years ago. At 7-5, the Cardinals are in position to make a postseason push, though are seeing that success in this division may come more difficult than anywhere else.

“Yeah, I guess I was listening, according to some statistics out there, our record against opponents out our division and our record in our division, so it really is the best division in football, in my opinion, and it’s tough. Everybody in this division knows that every win comes with a hard fought battle. Nothing comes easy in this division, and that’s what makes it special, though, but it’s been too long. It’s something that we’re really hoping to get now going almost two years without a division win, that’s unheard of. This is the NFL. It isn’t supposed to be that way, so we’ve got to find a way to be competitive in our division.”

In what is perhaps the most telling figure in judging the collective strength of the division, the Cardinals are without a victory against an NFC West opponent this year, and boast a 7-2 mark against the rest of the league. The Cardinals’ only home loss came to division-leading Seattle. Despite entering this week with a record of 5-7, the Rams have proven one of the Cardinals’ most difficult draws recently, winning the last three meetings between the two teams.

The ascension of the NFC West has come rather swiftly. From 2006-2011, no member of the division surpassed 10 victories.  Last season, the San Francisco 49ers represented the division in the Super Bowl, and Seattle boasts the NFL’s top record through Week 13. Though neither are in prime position to challenge Seattle for the division crown, the Rams and Cardinals are also now showing the division’s considerable depth. The Rams posted a record of 4-1-1 within the NFC West last year, despite a 7-8-1 overall record, and the Cardinals have become a postseason contender in head coach Bruce Arians’ first season.

While stating that nothing comes easily in any division, Rams QB Kellen Clemens acknowledged the challenge of playing in the NFC West has its unique qualities.

“At this point in December, every win is a good win,” QB Kellen Clemens said. I don’t care if you’re playing a team that’s 10-1, 1-10, but obviously, this is probably the best division in football, I think at this point. So, if you can get a win within the division you’re doing some good things.”

Arians, who is no stranger to competitive division races from his days as the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach in Pittsburgh from 2004-2011, sees parallels of those experiences with today’s NFC West.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt, it makes it extremely tough. It’s very hard on young quarterbacks when you have to go against those kinds of defenses twice a year, but it’s fun. It reminds me a lot of the AFC North four or five years ago. Everybody was extremely physical, all had great young quarterbacks. It’s a great division.”