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NFC West Outlook
NFC East · NFC North · NFC South · NFC West
The Hall of Fame Game to open the NFL preseason is just around the corner, less than two months away. The NFL draft, free agency, and injury reports from mini-camps steal the spotlight in the summer but the April release of 2013 schedule can be a more telling factor in how a team will fare next season. Take a look at the four teams in the NFC West this season, a division that made a lot of noise in the NFC last season with the 49ers and Seahawks both among the final four in the conference. 
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals were 4-0 to start the 2012 season including wins over Seattle and New England. Arizona won just once the rest of the way, finishing 5-11 and featuring the second worst point production in the NFL. The collapse led to a coaching change with Bruce Arians taking over for Ken Whisenhunt despite Whisenhunt taking the Cardinals to their first ever Super Bowl just a few years prior. The quarterback situation has been a huge problem for the Cardinals in recent years and veteran Carson Palmer was acquired to address that need but there are still many question marks for this team.
Arizona will be the clear 4th place team in this division in most predictions with a lot of stability with the three other franchises. Arizona will face daunting travel this season with a 750 mile trip to San Francisco as the shortest journey of the season and the Cardinals will play four games in the Eastern Time zone including two of those games on the second of back-to-back road game sets. Drawing Philadelphia and Detroit with the 4th place schedule does not appear to be a great advantage for Arizona and with all four NFC South teams on the slate it will not be easy to improve on a 3-9 NFC mark from last season given how tough this division will be. The Cardinals along with the rest of the NFC West will face the four AFC South teams and even though that includes two 2012 playoff teams that is a relatively favorable draw and will present games with Jacksonville and Tennessee, though the Cardinals have the misfortune of both of those games being on the road. Arizona was just 1-7 on the road last season and this year the road schedule will provide the easier opportunities for wins as none of the five out of division road games will come against a team that had a winning record last season.
That means a challenging home slate however with Carolina, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Houston visiting Glendale. Arizona will open with three of the first four games of the season on the road and even through none of the first five opponents made the playoffs last season it will be a tough way to start the season for a team in transition. There are some positive pieces left behind on this roster but overall it does not appear that a quick turnaround season will be possible for the Cardinals through this schedule unless this team is ready for day 1 and can take advantage of a somewhat softer September slate on the road.
Arizona Cardinals 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .520
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 7 (five home, two away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 13,691
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 1 (one Thursday)
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers made it to the Super Bowl last season and this team should be one of the favorites in the NFC in 2013. The 49ers will face an unbelievable amount of travel miles but they do face only seven true road games with a game in London. San Francisco will also play the key division road games with Seattle and St. Louis early in the year, getting the home games in the second time around which is generally considered more favorable. There are tough games ahead with both Green Bay and Washington as part of the 1st place schedule along with all four NFC South teams on the slate but the Falcons and Packers both have to travel to San Francisco. Five of the seven games against 2012 playoff teams will be at home so while there are some very tough games ahead for this team, most of the toughest games are at home.
The schedule will open with a bang however with four of the first five opponents being playoff teams from last year and the one foe that was not is a short week Thursday night road game against St. Louis, a team that handled the 49ers well last season. San Francisco could definitely face a rough start to the season including games with Green Bay and Seattle in the first two weeks and with a still young quarterback that has never opened the season as a starter, there could be some early trouble. San Francisco does have a softer slate in the middle of the season but there are three games in the Eastern Time zone and the final three home games of the season will be challenging with division games with St. Louis and Seattle and then a big NFC Championship rematch with Atlanta in the second to last game of the regular season.
Overall the road schedule is favorable in terms of the caliber of opponents and even though the travel to London is substantial, the 49ers will face a Jacksonville team that they will be heavily favored over. It will not be shocking to see the 49ers take a few early losses but this is a team that could provide value in the middle of the season and still deserves to be considered among the elite teams in the league, though matching the records of the past two seasons is not a given and this will not be an easy division to win.
San Francisco 49ers 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .520
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 7 (five home, two away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 19,428 (includes 5,354 miles for a game in London)
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2 (includes a neutral site game in London)
Primetime Games: 5 (one Thursday, two Sunday night, two Monday)
Seattle Seahawks: Seattle ended up as one of the top statistical teams in the NFL last season and the Seahawks were very close to making it to the NFC Championship game led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. The race in this division is expected to come down to Seattle and San Francisco and while the Seahawks snag a schedule with a slightly lower 2012 win percentage than San Francisco, it is likely a tougher overall slate. Seattle will play a very difficult set of road games and historically the Seahawks are not the same team on the road, including going just 3-5 last season while a perfect 8-0 at home. Seattle faces four 2012 playoff teams on the road but also draws tough road games against the Panthers, Rams, and Giants and the toughest games from the NFC South and AFC South draws will be on the road. Seattle also has to play three separate sets of back-to-back road games which can be especially daunting considering there are no short trips from Seattle. In each of those three instances the second of the two games is the longer trip and could be a spot to fade the Seahawks.
Seattle opens the home schedule with its biggest game, hosting the 49ers and the home slate from there on is pretty favorable with Minnesota as the only winning team from 2012 faced in the final seven home games of the season. Another perfect record at home is very possible for this squad but even matching the 3-5 mark on the road from last season would be a solid accomplishment. Seattle certainly has the potential to meet last year’s 11-5 mark and considering this team was +167 in point differential last year the sky is the limit. The road slate is challenging however and if San Francisco can withstand its first month gauntlet the 49ers may be in a better position to take the division title again, forcing Seattle to another road-heavy path in the playoffs should they get there.
Seattle Seahawks 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .516
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 6 (two home, four away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 17,548
Back-to-Back road game sets: 3
Primetime Games: 4 (one Thursday, one Sunday night, two Monday)
St. Louis Rams: While the Rams face long travel for all three division venues their central location does provide an edge in this division, facing far less travel overall than the other three foes. St. Louis was a bit of a surprise team last season with a 7-8-1 mark following up a league-worst 2-14 mark in 2011. One thing most forget that in this division that produced two of the final four teams left standing in the NFC, the Rams featured the best division record going 4-1-1, getting wins against both Seattle and San Francisco at home. The Rams were much less impressive statistically and incredibly this team won four times without scoring 20 points last season as the defense was sharp at times but overall not consistent.
St. Louis is a team that some will view as a possible breakthrough team in 2013 but the schedule is not overly favorable, particularly with a very tough road slate. Five of eight road games are against 2012 playoff teams and games at Dallas and at Carolina are not exactly cupcakes. Drawing Dallas and Chicago in the 3rd place draw illustrates how tough and deep the NFC is right now and the Rams have not displayed an overly tough home field edge, going just 4-4 last year. The big home game with San Francisco will come on a short week after two marquee road games and the home game with Seattle also comes after back-to-back road games which will make it tough to deliver a division sweep at home again this season. The Rams play three sets of back-to-back road games this season which will be a great challenge and they also play the top two AFC South teams Houston and Indianapolis on the road.
St. Louis does have a few favorable early season home games with Arizona, Jacksonville, and Tennessee visiting but overall this is a very tough schedule that is tied for the second toughest in the NFL according to 2012 win percentage. The Rams look like a competitive team that is capable of a few upsets but it will not be easy to take another step forward this season and finishing around .500 is likely the destination for the Rams. The early season schedule with four brutal road games and home contests with the 49ers and Seahawks in the first eight weeks may make a slow start likely and a step back season certainly a possibility if there are any unforeseen setbacks with injuries.
St. Louis Rams 2013 Schedule Numbers:
2013 Opponents Win Percentage in 2012: .539
Games vs. 2012 Playoff Teams: 7 (two home, five away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 8,698
Back-to-Back road game sets: 3
Primetime Games: 2 (one Thursday, one Monday)

· Future Bets - NFC North
· BetDSI: Handicapping L.A. Rams (9)
· BetDSI: NFC South Odds Outlook
· Future Bets - AFC East
· BetDSI: NFC North Odds Outlook
· Nelson: NFC Schedule Analysis
· Nelson: AFC Schedule Analysis
· Another Patriot Pinched
· Future Bets - NFC South
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