Can it be argued that the NFC West isn't the best division in the NFL right now? It houses three 10-win teams and two Super Bowl favorites on NFL odds in Seattle and San Francisco. The Seahawks are slight favorites to repeat as division champions.
1. San Francisco 49ers (+150 on NFL odds to win)
Yep, you read this right. The Niners are ranked ahead of the Super Bowl champions. There's a reason that the Super Bowl hangover is a cliché: It's often true. Plus the Niners have to be the hungriest team in the league at this point. Think about how their past three seasons have ended. In 2011, a devastating loss to Giants in NFC Championship Game, which San Francisco probably deserved to win, thanks to two fumbles; in 2012, a near-comeback win over Baltimore in the Super Bowl that came up just short; and last year, outplaying the Seahawks in their house for three quarters in the NFC title game, only for Colin Kaepernick to throw a late interception in the end zone with a chance to win.
San Francisco will have top receiver Michael Crabtree presumably from Week 1 this season and the Niners didn't lose a regular-season game once he debuted off a serious injury last year. Running back Frank Gore is getting up there in age, but the Niners were able to land the top-rated back in the 2014 draft in Ohio State's Carlos Hyde. And they still have Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James there. The defense is about as good as Seattle's, although it's important to see how linebacker NaVorro Bowman makes it back from a devastating injury in the NFC title game loss.
2. Seattle Seahawks (+115 on NFL odds to win )
Not only do reigning Super Bowl champions not repeat these days, they don't even win playoff games the following season. Last year the Ravens didn't make the postseason. Would I bet against Seattle making the playoffs? Certainly not. But winning Super Bowls can change players. Richard Sherman became the highest-paid cornerback -- briefly -- in NFL history. Russell Wilson now is all over the TV with national commercials. Sometimes it take another full season to get the hunger back and that's going to be Pete Carroll's biggest challenge. The entire key to Seattle's season might be winning this division. The Seahawks can probably win on the road in the playoffs everywhere but San Francisco. The two teams play Week 13 and Week 15 in Seattle. Already the Niners are posted as 2.5-point favorites on NFL odds for that Thanksgiving Night first matchup in their new Levi's Stadium.
3. St. Louis Rams (+800 on NFL odds to win)
It's too bad the Rams are stuck in this division because they could potentially win, say, the AFC South. St. Louis has a terrific defense that should only get better with the drafting of Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald with their second first-round pick in this year's draft. I suppose I am obligated to mention Michael Sam, but he's far from a lock to make the team and probably doesn't get many snaps if he does. No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson should fortify the offensive line right away at right tackle. Auburn running back Tre Mason might have been a third-round steal and could push starter Zac Stacy. The questions are if Sam Bradford can stay healthy and the receivers. Tavon Austin must do more than in his rookie season, and maybe Kenny Britt can revive his troubled career now that he's back playing for Jeff Fisher. It was rather shocking the Rams didn't draft a receiver or go hard after DeSean Jackson.
4. Arizona Cardinals (+1000 on NFL odds to win)
Did Arizona overachieve in winning 10 games last season? Probably. But the Cardinals also beat Carolina, Indianapolis and ended Seattle's long home winning streak. Carson Palmer did get better as last season went on. I also believe the Cards will have one of the breakout offensive stars of 2014 in running back Andre Ellington. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry last year, largely as the backup to Rashard Mendenhall, while adding 39 catches. Ellington is going to get a ton of touches this season. The offensive line wasn't good last year but adds former Raiders tackle Jared Veldheer and gets left guard Jonathan Cooper back after he missed all of his rookie year due to injury. The Cardinals are just in the wrong division too.
Free NFL Picks: The 49ers win the division by a game because Seattle loses its final three road games: at the Niners, Eagles and Cardinals. San Francisco, meanwhile, drops only one of its final six games overall (at Seattle) with four of those at home.