Final Word: NFC West

September, 24, 2010
9/24/10
4:00
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

[+] EnlargeDarnell Dockett
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesDarnell Dockett and the Cardinals have a chance to be the early leaders in the division.
Big opportunity for Arizona. Yes, the Cardinals looked horrible in Week 2, but of all the NFC West teams, Arizona appears most likely to win in Week 3. The Cardinals are better than the Oakland Raiders and they're playing at home with much to prove. If San Diego beats Seattle and the Cardinals beat the Raiders, Arizona would stand atop the division with a 2-1 record heading into Week 4. Just another reminder that this division race could be close and the Cardinals, for all their struggles, figure to remain a part of it. I think San Francisco will be there in the end, but Arizona has a chance to buy some breathing room while the 49ers play road games against Kansas City and Atlanta (the 49ers have a 2-21 road record since 2005 in early games against teams other than the St. Louis Rams).

One week late on Chris Long hype. Rams defensive end Chris Long was supposed to break through in Oakland a week ago, but Raiders tackle Langston Walker played better than I anticipated. Long and fellow Rams defensive end James Hall should have a better opportunity in Week 3 because they're playing at home and their opponent, Washington, has issues on the offensive line. Rookie left tackle Trent Williams suffered knee and toe injuries while allowing a sack to Houston's Mario Williams last week (Williams had three sacks in the game).

Barometer game for Seattle. Beating the Chargers at Qwest Field could reveal plenty about the Seahawks' prospects this season. The team appears to lack the pure pass rush and overall talent to claim many victories away from home. Coach Pete Carroll has been hopeful that crowd noise at home can make his pass-rush more effective. It happened in Week 1 against San Francisco. Beating the 49ers and Chargers to go 2-0 at home would make it easier to envision the Seahawks going, say, 6-2 or 7-1 at home season. And if that happened, the team could get into the .500 range by winning one or two games on a road schedule featuring the Rams, Raiders and Tampa Bay Bucs.

Alex Smith needs help. The 49ers' quarterback made strides by leading the fourth-quarter drive to a tying touchdown and two-point conversion against New Orleans on Monday night. Smith was effective largely because the Saints had to worry about the 49ers' running game. Smith will need more of the same from Frank Gore and his offensive line against Kansas City in Week 3. The Chiefs have allowed 3.8 and 2.8 yards per carry in their victories over San Diego and Cleveland, respectively. They haven't faced a running back with Gore's credentials, however. Smith and the 49ers have won three road games with fourth-quarter comebacks over the years. They had a 100-yard rusher in two of those games.

About those Cardinals. They lost three of their first four home games last season and needed an interception return for a touchdown, plus a goal-line stand, to beat Houston in the one home game Arizona won during that stretch. Arizona plays its 2010 home opener against the Raiders on Sunday and I've seen nothing from Oakland suggesting an upset is coming. But the Cardinals seemed to lack fight and urgency against the Falcons last week. The Raiders improbably won at Denver and Pittsburgh during the final month of the 2009 season. Arizona needs to win this game before facing San Diego (road) and New Orleans (home).

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NFC WEST SCOREBOARD