- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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1. Candlestick Park. Better make that Candlestick Dark, Candlelit Park or some other electricity-deprived variation. The 49ers' stadium, although steeped in tradition, already was notorious as an outdated, substandard NFL stadium. Having two power outages knock out the lights during "Monday Night Football" only reinforced perceptions. December was shaping up as a rough month for the old stadium even before Monday night. The 49ers recently secured funding for a new stadium in Santa Clara.
2. Top two wideouts from 2005 draft. San Francisco's Braylon Edwards (third overall) and Seattle's Mike Williams (10th) have struggled to make an impact lately. The 49ers made sure that would continue for Edwards when they named him inactive Monday night. The Seahawks placed Williams on injured reserve after their 2010 receiving leader suffered a broken ankle against the Chicago Bears in Week 15. With Sidney Rice aboard, Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate emerging and Kris Durham coming back as a potential Williams type, there are no assurances Williams will remain in the team's plans for next season.
3. NFC West draft status. All four division teams lost ground in the 2012 draft. The St. Louis Rams fell to 2-12 with a defeat to Cincinnati, but their strength of schedule improved relative to the Minnesota Vikings' strength of schedule. As a result, the Vikings overtook the Rams for second in the tentative order. Every other NFC West team won in Week 15. That was great for San Francisco, Arizona and Seattle as the regular season winds down. It won't help in the draft, of course.
1. 49ers' playoff credibility. Beating the previously 10-3 Pittsburgh Steelers on a national stage left the 49ers with surging confidence after a three-game stretch featuring two defeats. The 49ers improved to 11-3 and remained ahead of New Orleans in the race for the second seed in the NFC. They showed they could beat a playoff-caliber team through defense, special teams and improved play in the red zone. Alex Smith, Aldon Smith and various other 49ers played well enough to deserve mention here as well.
2. Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks quarterback. Jackson completed 15 of 19 passes after halftime to help the Seahawks turn a 14-7 deficit into a 38-14 victory at Soldier Field. Jackson has three touchdowns with no interceptions over Seattle's past three games. The Seahawks are 3-0 in those games and have reached 7-7 thanks largely to Jackson's improved play. Seattle now has every reason to bring back Jackson as its starter heading into next season. The plan would still remain for the Seahawks to draft or otherwise acquire a younger quarterback to begin developing in 2012. On a side note, lots of other Seahawks deserved consideration in this spot, from Red Bryant to K.J. Wright to Brandon Browner and others.
3. Cardinals' 2010 draft haul. Second-round pick Daryl Washington is an emerging star. Third-rounder Andre Roberts caught a touchdown pass for the second week in a row. Fourth-rounder O'Brien Schofield collected two sacks, forcing a game-altering fumble on one of them. Fifth-rounder John Skelton posted another comeback victory, improving his record to 4-1 as the Cardinals' starting quarterback this season. Even veteran safety Kerry Rhodes, acquired from the New York Jets for a 2010 fourth-round pick, played a strong game Sunday. First-round pick Dan Williams is on injured reserve. Nothing the Cardinals can do about that.
FALLING1. Candlestick Park. Better make that Candlestick Dark, Candlelit Park or some other electricity-deprived variation. The 49ers' stadium, although steeped in tradition, already was notorious as an outdated, substandard NFL stadium.