Just like that, people no longer are making fun of the NFC West by calling it the NFC Worst.

Yes, the times, they are a changing, for the NFC West suddenly has emerged as a division that few teams want anything to do with.

The Arizona Cardinals are off to their first 3-0 start since 1974 -- they are a league-best 10-2 the past 12 regular-season games -- when Jim Hart, Mel Gray and Terry Metcalf were household names.

So far, they defeated the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots and previously unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles.

Seattle owns victories over the 2-1 Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, a popular preseason pick to represent the NFC in this season's Super Bowl. Its lone loss came in a down-to-the-final-play game against the Cardinals.

The 49ers dominated the Packers in their regular-season opener, and then manhandled the Detroit Lions before stubbing their toes against the Vikings last Sunday.

Hey, even the rebuilding St. Louis Rams are showing signs of resurgence, as evidenced by their victory over the Washington Redskins.

The key to the dramatic turnaround by NFC West teams is defense. The Seahawks and Cardinals are first and second, respectively, in fewest points allowed. The 49ers, Seahawks and Cardinals are ranked in the top 11 in terms of average yards allowed per game.

Last season, the 49ers were the only NFC West team with a winning record. The AFC South quartet was the lone division with a worse overall record than the NFC West and NFC East.

In 2010, the Seahawks won the division with a 7-9 record, for crying out loud. At this rate, it might take at least 10 victories to have a shot at the title, with most of the contenders' losses coming in games against each other.

  • As if we need further evidence why players and coaches despise playing four exhibition games, take a look at the slow start by Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

    Witten averaged 83 receptions the past eight seasons. So far, he has eight for 76 yards through three games.

    A large part of his drop in production stems from a spleen injury he suffered on a hit from Raiders middle linebacker Rolando McClain in an exhibition game Aug. 13.

    Help might be on the way. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and owners finally seem open to adopting a format that would reduce the number of exhibition games from four to two.

    That can't come too soon for players such as Witten and the numerous others hurt during meaningless games.

  • Wonder why teams are hesitant to dole out big money to running backs? Chris Johnson has become the poster boy.

    Johnson rushed for 4,598 yards (5.0-yard average) and 34 touchdowns his first three seasons with the Tennessee Titans, including a 2,006-yard campaign in 2009.

    Johnson held out last training camp, forcing the Titans' hand. The Titans responded by giving Johnson a four-year extension that guaranteed him $30 million.

    It wasn't long before the Titans suffered buyer's remorse. In the 19 games since the reworked deal, Johnson has rushed for 1,092 yards (3.7). He has 45 yards on 33 carries (1.4) this season.

  • Twenty seven teams sported 1-2 or 2-1 records through the first three weeks of the season. That is the highest figure since the league realigned in 2002.

    The Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons and Cardinals are the only undefeated teams.

    Who would have thought that the Nov. 18 matchup between the Cardinals and Falcons might be considered a big game?

    Also, 75.7 percent of teams that started 3-0 since 1990 went on to make the playoffs.

  • Former Raiders and Patriots player Mike Haynes retired from the NFL with impressive stats as one of the best all-around cornerbacks of his era.

    Now, Haynes is spearheading an effort for people to keep tabs on their own stats as part of an education program by the NFL and the American Urological Association.

    The program called "Know Your Stats" encourages men 40 and older to talk regularly with their doctors about their prostate health. Haynes is a prostate cancer survivor.

    For more information, check out www.knowyourstats.org