History and the 49ers' three-game lead

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
11:31
AM ET
The San Francisco 49ers' 5-1 start and three-game NFC West lead entering Week 8 has led to some projecting.

For example, it's possible for the 49ers to clinch the division title as early as Week 11, should their division rivals cooperate.

With an assist from Elias Sports Bureau via ESPN Stats & Information, I can answer two additional questions some have posed.

Question: When was the last time San Francisco held a three-game lead in the division?

Answer: The end of the 2002 season. The 49ers were 10-6 in what was the first season following realignment into eight four-team divisions. The St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks finished 7-9 that season. That was the year Mike Holmgren nearly lost his job in Seattle, save for a strong finish from Matt Hasselbeck and Holmgren's willingness to step down as general manager. The Rams started that season 0-5 and began making the transition from Kurt Warner to Marc Bulger at quarterback.

Question: What is the largest division lead an NFL team has blown through Week 7 or later since realignment in 2002?

Answer: The 2003 Minnesota Vikings and 2008 Denver Broncos blew 3.5-game leads. The Vikings went from 6-0 to 9-7, allowing Green Bay to surpass them with a 10-6 record. The Broncos went from 6-0 to 8-8, losing a division tiebreaker when San Diego beat Denver in the final game of the regular season. Denver lost its final three games that season.

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