Cornerback Patrick Peterson and the Cardinals would like to leave an impression in St. Louis Sunday.
ST. LOUIS – The only way to look at it, Yeremiah Bell said, is as a good thing.
Sure, the NFC West can turn into a meat grinder for the teams residing within, and a gauntlet for a Cardinals team trying to re-start with a new head coach. Many believe it's the best division in football, in large part of what the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers have built. The other two NFC West teams play each other Sunday – with the Cardinals visiting the Rams – with the first steps in showing why they too are part of this best-division-in-the-league talk.
"That's what we play this game for, competition," Bell said. "There's talk about this team being the best or
that team, but you still have to go out and prove it. In a division like we have, the games mean that much more, and they are that much more fun."
The division is a far cry from 2010, when Seattle won with an embarrassing 7-9 record (although the Seahawks, with a home game as a division winner, did beat the Saints in a playoff game). Those were the days when the NFC West was called the worst in the NFL.
No one would blink if, by the end of this season, every West team eclipsed Seattle's 2010 record.
"It was tough my first few years when the NFC West was kind of a laughingstock and everyone said that we were the worst division in football," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said. "So it's great to see things turn around. Obviously it makes it tough for us and for all the teams in the division – the fact it's so competitive – but I think it's fun to be a part of that."
There is a flip side. By now, most Cardinals have tired of hearing how the Seahawks or 49ers are going to be the NFC Super Bowl representative or walk away with a playoff berth. Coach Bruce Arians mentioned in training camp how he didn't see the dominance necessarily – not that those teams couldn't be very good, but that it was still early to be proclaiming the end game.
That's been the constant message Arians and his staff have been preaching, too. No one has played yet, so nothing has been determined.
"I've been playing football long enough in this division and in the National Football League to understand one thing, that every Sunday, people can talk about who's going to win, who's going to lose, but at the end of the day, you have to go play ball," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "As far as critics and all that, they are only going by what they did last year. Everybody is zero-and-zero and games have to be played."
The Rams, in the second year of coach Jeff Fisher's regime, made some inroads in his first year, something Arians is counting on with his team now. St. Louis finished behind the Seahawks and Rams in the division but had a division-best 3-1-1 record.
That doesn't mean anything now – "You can't escrow your success from one year to the next," Fisher said – but it underscores the ability every team has to control its own divisional destiny.
The Cardinals are looking forward to that chance.
"You know nobody's going to go undefeated in the division and every game is so important," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "I think we're a lot better than the rest of the league thinks, and I think St. Louis is a lot better than the rest of the league thinks. Just because everybody is talking so much about Seattle and San Francisco … our two teams have a lot to prove of ourselves."