It was just a short three seasons ago that the NFC West was a laughingstock.
At 7-9, the Seattle Seahawks were the first team in NFL history to earn a playoff berth with a losing record, winning a tiebreaker after tying the St. Louis Rams for first place in the West. The Niners finished 6-10 and fired coach Mike Singletary before the season was over. Thanks to an influx of young quarterbacks who unexpectedly grabbed the reins from veterans, the NFC West might be the most exciting division in the NFL.
Here is a look at the NFC:WEST
Biggest question: Will the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick and Seattle's Russell Wilson be able to duplicate or improve upon their success as second-year starting quarterbacks?
• Kaepernick is physically gifted but needs to cut out the mental miscues. Defenses have also had a full offseason to scheme for him. Wilson has the intangibles, but he might not have enough weapons after the season-ending injury to new receiver Percy Harvin.
Team to watch: St. Louis Rams
• Significant signings on offense left tackle Jake Long, tight end Jared Cook) as well as drafting running back Zac Stacy and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey should give QB Sam Bradford the tools he needs for a dynamic offense.
Wild card: Arizona Cardinals
• Bruce Arians, who guided Indianapolis to a surprising playoff berth as an interim coach, is bringing his offensive wizardry to the desert.NORTH
Biggest question: Can the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions turn into legitimate contenders?
• New Bears coach Marc Trestman is known for being an offensive mastermind and if he can make QB Jay Cutler a consistent threat, Chicago could be dangerous. Meanwhile, the Lions added running back Reggie Bush to take the pressure off QB Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson.
Team to watch: Green Bay Packers
• Top receiver Greg Jennings is now in Minnesota, but the Packers invested draft picks in running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, which could make a dangerous offense more balanced.
Wild card: Minnesota Vikings
• Adrian Peterson is a beast, having rushed for 2,097 yards just months after tearing an ACL. QB Christian Ponder is a solid game manager and having a weapon like Jennings can only help.
Biggest question: Can New Orleans return to prominence and challenge Atlanta?
• With coach Sean Payton back to provide stability, the Saints can put a year of turmoil behind them. But does that mean they can be a powerhouse (if their defense stops being a sieve) and challenge the Falcons, who have some questions on the offensive line?
Team to watch: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
• Coach Greg Schiano begins his second season needing to fill gaps on defense, but there seem to be some pieces elsewhere that could make the Bucs somewhat dangerous.
Wild card: Carolina Panthers
• A true stock market team, you never know when the Panthers are going to put a great stretch together or go into the cellar Cam Newton needs to reprise his rookie year and be the threat that made him dangerous.EAST
Biggest question: Will Washington remain a legit challenger to the New York Giants?
• With quarterback Robert Griffin III coming back from a knee injury, the Redskins could start the season slow, but the East always seems to come down to the last week or two. The Giants lost some key cogs, but have young replacements ready.
Team to watch: Dallas Cowboys
• Probably more than any other recent year, the Cowboys are at a pivotal point Coach Jason Garrett is on the hot seat, Tony Romo has a big new contract yet has many doubters and owner Jerry Jones can have an itchy trigger finger.
Wild card: Philadelphia Eagles
• Chip Kelly left the cushness of college and powerhouse Oregon to jump to the Eagles, but will his up-tempo offense translate to the NFL?