With apologies to the NFC North, welcome to the NFC West, the NFL’s black-and-blue division.
This is the place where the coaches of the top two teams plain don’t feel the love for one another, a 10-6 team failed to make the playoffs and a 7-9 team is on the rise and capable of knocking any of the top three off.
In short, this is where the fun is.
Top story line – Despite a 10-6 record last season, the Cardinals were shut out of postseason play. Such is the burden of playing in the NFC West.
Key acquisition – Left tackle Jared Veldheer may have missed 11 games with a triceps injury in 2013, but he’s a big upgrade for Coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer.
Biggest loss – Karlos Dansby, one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL, left for Cleveland.
St. Louis Rams
Top story line – Finally, they’re finished taking the draft picks they amassed in the trade that brought Robert Griffin III to Washington. Now all they have to do is convert and make sure their quarterback remains on the field.
Key acquisition – Keeping Sam Bradford healthy is the Rams’ priority and lineman Greg Robinson, the No. 2 pick (from Washington), will be tasked with that duty.
Biggest loss – Safety Darian Stewart departed for Baltimore.
San Francisco 49ers
Top story line – Nothing much has changed, really. The 49ers just want to get back to the Super Bowl and have many of the same pieces that have taken them deep into the postseason still in place.
Key acquisition – Cornerback/safety Jimmie Ward will help the team make up for a lack of depth.
Biggest loss – Safety Donte Whitner heads for Cleveland.
Top story line – Seriously, doesn’t it seem as if Seattle’s team is set up to be the first repeat Super Bowl champion since the 2005 New England Patriots, even if it does play in this division?
Key acquisition – The Seahawks traded their first-round draft pick and took wide receiver Paul Richardson with their second-round pick.
Biggest loss – Wide receiver Golden Tate motored off to Detroit.