Final Word: NFC West

January, 1, 2010
1/01/10
4:00
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireAlex Smith can't afford a letdown against the Rams.
Eyes on the Vikings. The Cardinals' approach to their Week 17 game against the Packers could change if the Vikings beat the Giants earlier in the day. If the Vikings win, the Cardinals can no longer compete for the No. 2 seed in the NFC and the first-round playoff bye that comes with it. Every scenario featuring a Vikings victory over the Giants produces a Packers-Cardinals wild-card game at University of Phoenix Stadium. The No. 3 seed could still be at stake for Arizona.

Back on track at home. The Cardinals have rebounded after losing three of their first four home games of the season. It's all about matchups. Arizona struggled early against the 49ers and Colts, teams set up to play them tough. The Cardinals have scored 30 or 31 points in each of their past three home games, winning by double digits against the Seahawks, Vikings and Rams. That trend could continue against Green Bay in part because the Packers have little to gain in terms of playoff seeding. The Packers have allowed at least 30 points five times this season, although only once in their past seven games.

Huge stakes in St. Louis. Say what? The Rams are 1-14 and the 49ers are 7-8, but imagine how the offseason storyline in San Francisco might change if Alex Smith has a rough game and the 49ers lose to the Rams. The Rams do not have the offensive firepower to beat the 49ers if both teams play well. They have allowed at least 407 yards in each of their past three games. St. Louis did make the Texans sweat out a 16-13 victory in the Edward Jones Dome two weeks ago, however, and Houston was battling for a playoff spot at the time. Entering the season, I thought the Rams would win at least one division game. The 49ers cannot afford to let it happen against them. For San Francisco, anything less than their first non-losing season since 2002 is unacceptable.

Charitable contributions. Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has eight interceptions in his past two games. Week 17 opponent Tennessee has eight interceptions in three games against the NFC West this season (five against the Rams, three against the 49ers). The Titans' general manager, Mike Reinfeldt, was a high-ranking member of the Seahawks' front office when Seattle acquired Hasselbeck from the Packers in 2001. He might not recognize the quarterback he sees Sunday. A bounceback performance by Hasselbeck might ease the sting of a painful season.

History in the remaking? The Titans' Chris Johnson needs 128 yards rushing against Seattle to reach 2,000 for the season.The Seahawks have been on the wrong side of history before when trying to stop elite running backs. In 1998, the Broncos' Terrell Davis rushed for 208 yards against Seattle in the final regular-season game, giving him 2,008 for the season. The Seahawks fired coach Dennis Erickson a short time later. In 2002, Emmitt Smith passed Walter Payton as the NFL's all-time rushing leader with a 109-yard performance against Seattle. The Titans' Johnson has eight games this season with at least 128 yards.

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