The latest NFC West chat covered a good mix of in-season and offseason questions/comments. I'll touch on some highlights here and conclude by following up with an additional thought or two:
Phil from Connecticut asks about the Arizona Cardinals' chances against San Francisco, specifically whether the Cardinals can minimize turnovers.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals have a decent shot at winning this game because their defense is playing better and should keep them competitive. Kevin Kolb borrowed a page from the Alex Smith playbook by taking a couple sacks instead of risking interceptions. He also protected the ball pretty well when hit. The 49ers have matched up well with Arizona, though. I'm favoring the 49ers to win the game.
Jordan from Boise suspects the NFL's new rookie pay scale might bail out the Rams from a salary-cap standpoint now that the team will be picking early once again. He wonders whether the Rams might have been forced to trade their first-round pick if the old system had carried over.
Mike Sando: Great, perceptive question, Jordan. I think they would have -- and will -- find relief through reworking or eliminating Jason Smith's rookie deal. There is just no way the team will pay him $10 million next season, the price called for in the deal Smith signed as the second overall choice in 2009. The team actually reworked Chris Long's deal this year to help with cap considerations.
Zack from Monterey asks how I expect the 49ers to finish their season and whether resting Patrick Willis could cost them the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
Mike Sando: The Saints have a very good shot at running the table to finish 13-3. That is where I would expect the 49ers to finish, but I think the 49ers have a tougher road, even with a one-game head start. They have the Steelers in a prime-time game. They visit Seattle on a shorter week. Tough place to play. Arizona has won four of its past five. Jim Harbaugh doesn't seem like the type to rest guys unless the team were in control during its Week 17 visit to the Rams, a possibility. The 49ers are unestablished as a playoff team. They need to keep getting better.
Manhands from New Jersey asks whether the Seattle Seahawks can move forward without three-fifths of their starting offensive line. Specifically, he asks whether scheme can mask personnel issues.
Mike Sando: The offensive line became better in the short term, I think, when Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan replaced James Carpenter and John Moffitt on the right side. The only drop there was in building for the future. Carpenter and Moffitt needed the work. Losing left tackle Russell Okung is totally different -- a bigger loss. This probably won't show up fully until the team plays the Bears and 49ers. Julius Peppers and Justin Smith are going to give Seattle problems.
Following up on that final question, Seattle actually faces tough matchups for McQuistan, its new let tackle, each week to finish the season. The Rams' James Hall has a sack in three of the team's past five games, including against the Seahawks. After facing Peppers and the Smiths (Justin and Aldon), the Seahawks close the season on the road against Arizona. The Cardinals' Calais Campbell and Sam Acho have been getting pressure from that side as well.