- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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If only all three could play one another in the same week.
We'll have to settle for the 49ers and Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on Saturday. Various circumstances -- playoff implications, venue, strong defenses, limited offenses, X factors on special teams -- make this the most highly anticipated game of the season between NFC West opponents.
You've been offering your predictions in big numbers. Now, it's my turn. Let the guesswork begin. All NFC West games kick off Saturday.
Arizona Cardinals at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET. The Bengals struggled for much of their game against the Rams last week. Their top offensive threat, A.J. Green, suffered a shoulder injury. The Cardinals drafted Patrick Peterson for matchups such as this one. Both defenses should have the upper hand overall, but both offenses have shown a flair for the big play. The Bengals have lost four of their past six overall and two of their last three at home. I'm angling for a trip to Arizona in Week 17 and need the Cardinals to play along. Sando's best guess: Cardinals 20, Bengals 17
St. Louis Rams at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET. This could be the second Rams game in a row featuring backup quarterbacks for both teams. Kellen Clemens is expected to start for the Rams. The Steelers need a bounce-back game after struggling through a 20-3 defeat at San Fransicso. They're likely to get it here. Sando's best guess: Steelers 24, Rams 6.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks, 4:15 p.m. ET. Both offenses figure to have a tough time scoring even though the Seahawks, with assists from defense and special teams, have scored 99 points over their past three games. Both defenses have shown great ability to force turnovers. I'm picturing Tarvaris Jackson throwing the ball late, with Carlos Rogers jumping the route for an interception. I can see the Seahawks' big cornerbacks draped all over the 49ers' receivers, frustrating them and forcing Alex Smith to take sacks. How are the Seahawks going to block Aldon Smith without left tackle Russell Okung? Then again, the 49ers have lost their last two road games. They are coming off an emotional victory, followed by a short week. The stakes are higher for Seattle. Sando's best guess: Seahawks 13, 49ers 12.
I've been wrong on three of the last four 49ers' games. Picked them to win at Baltimore against the odds. Wrong. Thought they might struggle against Arizona, but figured their defense would let them prevail. Wrong. Thought they weren't playing well enough lately to trust them against the Steelers. Wrong again, and emphatically so.
Despite the recent carnage on 49ers predictions, my record for the season stands at 31-16 following a 3-1 showing in Week 15. All I want for Christmas is the NFC West to produce a wild-card entry and three teams with records of .500 or better. Is that too much to ask?