A new Westside Story

Brent Atkinson | Evergreen columnist

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  Most would agree that throughout the history of the big three professional sports in the United States – MLB, NFL and NBA – the balance of power in terms of competitiveness has pretty consistently tilted in favor of teams located in the eastern half of the U.S. 

With historically dominant powers such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Green Bay Packers, the Eastern half of the U.S. has seen plenty of success in terms of professional sports.

            That is not to say that the West hasn’t seen its share of success in the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Lakers, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, and San Francisco 49ers among other that have been successful throughout history.  Still, collectively, a fairly consistent theme has seen the eastern half of the U.S. experience more success than the West.

            In today’s new world of professional sports it appears that a massive power shift may be tilting the scales in favor of those here in the “wild west.”  It appears the West’s takeover has officially begun, starting with this year’s Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

            In baseball, neither the National League West nor the American League West were outright dominant divisions in 2013, but both of these divisions have improved over the offseason, particularly the AL West. 

With the Oakland Athletics returning the majority of their starters, they should once again compete for the division title. The Seattle Mariners are expected to be much improved since last season after landing Robinson Cano in free agency. The Texas Rangers also added super slugger Prince Fielder. It appears the AL West could be primed to send two teams to the playoffs this season.

The NFL is where things get interesting out west. No NFL expert or analyst would argue with the statement that the NFC West and AFC West were hands down the best two divisions in football in 2013.  The NFC Championship Game featured the two best teams in the NFC, maybe the NFL, with a division rival showdown between the 13-3 Seahawks and the 49ers. 

Third place in the NFC West were the Arizona Cardinals, finishing at 10-6 and narrowly missing the playoffs. The Cardinals would have competed for the division title in any other division in the NFC.  In the cellar of the NFC West was the St. Louis Rams finishing at 7-9, with a 6-4 record outside of their division.  With two first round picks in this year’s NFL Draft and a slew of young talent already on the team, the Rams will be a much improved team in 2014 making the NFC West a daunting division indeed for the upcoming NFL season.

The AFC West featured three playoff teams this past season, including the AFC Champion 13-3 Broncos.  In second place were Andy Reid’s vastly improved 11-5 Kansas City Chiefs who look to have what it takes to compete for the division next year against the Broncos. 

The San Diego Chargers were another surprisingly good team out of the AFC West and saw an outstanding season of resurgence from veteran quarterback Philip Rivers.  The Chargers upset the heavily favored Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wild-Card Round as well. Even though they sent three teams to the playoffs, the AFC West wasn’t quite as dominant as the NFC West; however, they will once again enter 2014 as debatably the best division in the AFC.

Finally, we come to the NBA. While the Miami Heat may still be the favorite to win the NBA Finals thanks to the king himself, LeBron James, the Western conference is without a doubt head and shoulders above the Eastern Conference collectively in terms of talent and performance.

Currently, the Western Conference features nine teams with 32 or more victories on the season.  In the Eastern Conference, just three teams have won 32 or more games.  To put this into perspective, the 32-26 Toronto Raptors represent the third seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Memphis Grizzlies have a two game advantage over the Raptors with a record of 32-24, and are currently sitting just outside the playoff picture in the West as the ninth seed. 

It appears the power pendulum has swung to the West in the NFL and NBA, and debatably the MLB as well. This could represent the first time the West has experienced dominance in all three major professional sports leagues at the same time.  For the time being, it’s good to be in the wild west.