alex smith frank gore 49ERS NFC West Preview: Division belongs to the 49ers

After being mired in years of mediocrity and being laughed at for being one of the worst divisions in football, the NFC West finally snapped out of its funk in 2011. Well, one team did, anyway. The San Francisco 49ers shattered the mold and rose above the 8-8 expectations of NFC West teams, going 13-3 and making it to the NFC Championship before falling short to the NY Giants. The 2012 season will see the division’s four teams – the 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and St Louis Rams – face off against each other, as well as teams from the NFC North and AFC East.

With that said, there’s no mystery as to what the 2012 season will bring. The division belongs to San Francisco for the foreseeable future, and there’s really no need to explain beyond that. First-year head coach Jim Harbaugh immediately made his mark on San Francisco. Not only did he and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio turn the defense into one of the top-performing units in the NFL, but he also might have saved Alex Smith’s career. Smith was on the verge of being completely written off by fans and critics as a total bust, but put together a very solid campaign in 2011.

Not only is every core piece returning to the team, but the addition of Randy Moss is expected to bolster the offense even further. Whether Moss can play or not is irrelevant; he’s formed a close relationship with Michael Crabtree and should be able to help him improve his game. Crabtree has been an average receiver so far in his career. If he turns it around in 2012, the 49ers could be contending for a Super Bowl by the time the playoffs come around.

No one is going to be challenging the 49ers for the division crown, but one team in the NFC West that might make some noise is the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals went 8-8 last year, although the team has become a shell of the squad that made the Super Bowl just three years ago. There are a few issues from last season that are going to have to be resolved in 2012. Read more here…