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NFC West division preview: The best division in football?

Steve Merril
The road to the Super Bowl goes through the NFC West, with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks among the favorites to capture the conference crown. But while all eyes are on those two teams, the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals could hold added betting value, especially when it comes to divisional matchups.

Arizona Cardinals (2012: 5-11 SU, 7-8-1 ATS)

Odds to win division:
Season win total: 5.5

Why to bet the Cardinals: Not much is expected from Arizona in 2013. And because of that, the Cardinals will be undervalued in the pointspread all season. The Cardinals’ defense was decent enough to keep them in games last season and if they’re able to improve, Arizona may get some unexpected wins.

Why not to bet the Cardinals:
This team has major question marks from top to bottom and significant holes on both sides of the ball. The Cardinals will hand the starting quarterback role over to Carson Palmer and he will get good coaching from Bruce Arians and Tom Moore. But unless Arizona’s awful offensive line improves significantly, all of the coaching won’t do Palmer any good. Arizona is in a very tough division and we can’t envision them having a good win/loss record in 2013.

Season win total pick: Under 5.5

San Francisco 49ers (2012: 11-4-1 SU, 9-7 ATS)

Odds to win division: +110
Season win total: 11.5

Why to bet the 49ers: We spoke highly of the San Francisco 49ers and their coaching staff last year. They are one of the best in the NFL and we saw that when they made a trip to the Super Bowl with a young Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. San Francisco is loaded on both sides of the ball, especially its defense. The 49ers are in position to be the best team in the NFC once again and they are a certified Super Bowl contender in 2013.

Why not to bet the 49ers: They were exposed last season. San Francisco was flying well under the radar until it exploded and made its Super Bowl run. Everybody knows the 49ers are a good team now and they’ll be popular with the public. The oddsmakers will have to put an extra tax on their lines, which will create negative pointspread value for the 49ers.

Season win total pick: Over 11.5

Seattle Seahawks (2012: 11-5 SU, 11-5 ATS)

Odds to win division: +110
Season win total: 10.5

Why to bet the Seahawks:
Seattle is a youthful team with 87 percent of its 2012 players boasting three years or less of NFL experience. That youth is extremely talented and they take well to Pete Carroll’s style of coaching. Seattle’s offense is dynamic with QB Russell Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch, and its No. 1 ranked defense held opponents to just 15.3 points per game in 2012. The Seahawks’ foundation is solid, so they will be another good team representing the NFC West in 2013.

Why not to bet the Seahawks: Their lone issue remains on the offensive line as they’ve had a hard time filling their right tackle spot. Wilson was pressured on 39.2 percent of his plays, which was the second highest rate in the league. That was mainly because of the leaky guard spot. And like the 49ers, the Seahawks will be a public favorite so they will hold negative value in the pointspread.

Season win total pick: Over 10.5

St. Louis Rams (2012: 7-8-1 SU, 11-5 ATS)

Odds to win division: +720
Season win total: 7.0

Why to bet the Rams:
St. Louis will be much improved in 2013. Head coach Jeff Fisher is an excellent game planner and he makes his team competitive even when they are out-classed. The Rams are led by a strong defense that tied for the league lead with 52 sacks. They held teams to a respectable 21.8 points per game and with nine starters back, they will be even better this year.

Why not to bet the Rams: The Rams’ offense needs to score more points and quarterback Sam Bradford needs a healthy group of receivers to work with. Unfortunately for St. Louis, it plays in a tough division with four games coming against the 49ers and Seahawks. Overall, the Rams play a brutal schedule: Sixth toughest according to my rankings. Their win/loss record may not reflect improvement in 2013.

Season win total pick: Under 7.0

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