Sifting through the NFC West rubble
November, 7, 2010
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesDespite getting crushed by the Giants Sunday, Charlie Whitehurst and the Seahawks are still very much in the NFC West race.SEATTLE -- The NFC West can't even get a good quarterback controversy going.
Derek Anderson or Max Hall in Arizona?
Troy Smith or Alex Smith in San Francisco?
Charlie Whitehurst or Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle?
"It don't matter who was in there," NFC West alumnus Antrel Rolle said Sunday after his New York Giants hung a 41-7 humiliation on Whitehurst and the division-leading Seahawks at Qwest Field.
Rolle spoke without a hint of braggadocio. He could have been reading aloud from the box score.
Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks. Forty-six yards and a touchdown. Thirty first downs for the Giants, eight for the Seahawks. Giants with 487 yards, Seahawks with 162. Time of possession, 42:34 to 17:26.
"It could have been Hasselbeck, it could have been whoever," Rolle said. "It was going to be the same outcome."
Care to argue?
Rolle won back-to-back NFC West titles with the Arizona Cardinals before getting out of the division as the roof was caving. He refused to predict which team would emerge from the current NFC West rubble. One of his Giants teammates, ex-Seahawk Deon Grant, offered some insight on the San Francisco 49ers' thinking. They're still alive at 2-6, relatively speaking.
"I got a couple friends over in San Fran and they are talking like they're still going to win it, so I guess don't count them boys out," Grant said.
The 49ers, largely written off at 1-6, can move within one game of first place in the NFC West by beating the division co-leading St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park in Week 10, provided Arizona beats Seattle.
"That's how they're looking at it, too," Grant said. "I talked to one of my buddies, Takeo Spikes, and that is exactly what the way they are looking at it, like they're still in it."
They are still in it.
Every team in the division is still in it.
The Cardinals have lost three in a row, but they've beaten the Rams in St. Louis and they'll probably beat Seattle at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Unlike the Rams and 49ers, the Seahawks and Cardinals can get to 8-8 by winning their remaining games at home.
"Is there hope? Of course there is," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We have leadership in that [locker] room. It breaks your heart, all of us, to have to look at that [blowout defeat], but these guys will respond."
It's not happening for Seattle unless the team gets healthier and recaptures its shattered confidence.
Carroll has gone from USC god to NCAA target to Pacific Northwest curiosity to Seahawks savior to getting outscored 74-10 in his last two games as head coach.
Always compete? Carroll's mantra has taken a few hits recently.
"I don't think we ever gave up," veteran safety Lawyer Milloy said. "I think that's what he's talking about."
I asked Carroll flatly whether he had the talent to rebound.
"We'll find out," the Seahawks' first-year coach said. "We'll get better up front [on offense when left tackle Russell Okung returns]. We have to get our QB back and get Matt back going again and put things back in order and see if we can start to make some progress."
Seattle was naturally more competitive before losing three-fourths of its defensive line, the left side of its offensive line, its only experienced quarterback and several others. Every other team in the division is healthier.
"It's amazing how we've seen the whole spectrum in half a year," Carroll said.
My updated team-by-team look at what should happen next in the NFC West, subject to change hourly:
Current record: 3-5
My projected record: 8-8, first place
Why they should win the division: Three consecutive defeats have exposed the Cardinals' shortcomings at quarterback and on defense. They still have five home games on the schedule, however, and none of those five teams has a winning record through Week 9. The Cardinals' Week 1 victory at St. Louis could prove pivotal unless the Rams can win at Arizona. The Cardinals have allowed more than 900 yards in their last two games. Somehow, the Seahawks have allowed more.
St. Louis Rams
Current record: 4-4
My projected record: 7-9
My reasoning: The Rams claimed a share of first place in the division when the Seahawks lost to the Giants. Their second-half schedule appears tough. The Rams play four of their next five on the road and they haven't won away from the Edward Jones Dome all season. This is a tough, resilient team, however, and better luck with injuries could improve the Rams' chances quite a bit. This is the steadiest team in the division. The Rams can become my favorite if they can break through on the road. A trip to San Francisco could be telling.
Current record: 4-4
My projected record: 6-10
My reasoning: The challenge here is making sure the last two games don't unduly influence long-term thinking. The Seahawks had a good thing going until their injury situation spiraled out of control. Seattle has suddenly become the team I expected to see coming out of training camp. Its depth is shot. Arizona is much healthier and facing a more navigable schedule. Carroll is right when he says Okung's return could restore the offensive line. Seattle does have four home games remaining. Two of those home games are against Kansas City and Atlanta. Seattle must improve along both lines and get some breaks.
San Francisco 49ers
Current record: 2-6
My projected record: 6-10
My reasoning: The 49ers are such a difficult team to trust. Their head coach, Mike Singletary, hasn't had the answers. Their quarterback situation remains unsettled. My opinion will change some if the 49ers beat the Rams and Tampa Bay at Candlestick Park over the next two weeks. That could happen, but the 49ers' opponents will have the better quarterbacks in both games. I'm thinking a split appears more likely, and from there the 49ers play four of their final six games on the road, including games against Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers.
Not that anyone can accurately predict the NFL standings, or even whether, say, the New England Patriots can stay within two touchdowns of the Cleveland Browns. If your favorite team plays in the NFC West, your favorite team has a shot at hosting a playoff game this season.
"Our division is still up in the air," Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons said. "Even though we are leading right now, we still don't have a clear-cut division leader."