- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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"Being a Niners fan, I think the Seahawks should thank the Cardinals 7-9 times for beating the 49ers last year," Brandon writes, taking a now-obligatory jab at Seattle's recent won-lost records. "If they had not, then the Niners would have been within one game of Green Bay at the end of the season, which means Aaron Rodgers would have played in Week 17, which means Matt Flynn never would have enjoyed the breakout game that made him the top free-agent quarterback, leaving Seattle with even more quarterback issues than the team has right now."
Mike Sando: Looks like we can call off our regularly scheduled afternoon stretch. This should cover us. I'm kidding, Brandon, but I wouldn't reach quite as far as you have here.
A 49ers victory over Arizona in Week 15 would have put them in position to take a 13-2 overall record into Week 17. The Packers were 14-1 at that point and would have needed a victory to maintain their seeding, based on my initial look at tiebreakers.
Flynn did help himself in that Week 17 game against Detroit. He completed 31 of 44 passes for 480 yards with six touchdowns, one interception and a 136.4 NFL passer rating.
However, I tend to think Seattle would have shown interest in him even without that performance.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider had ties to Flynn. There weren't any other viable quarterbacks for the Seahawks to pursue once it became clear Peyton Manning wasn't coming their way. I don't think San Francisco would have let Alex Smith get away to a division rival. And at that point, there were no assurances the Seahawks would land Russell Wilson or another quarterback they liked in the draft. Adding Flynn was going to make sense either way.
Flynn's asking price might have been lower without that Week 17 showing. But to hear the Seahawks tell it, Flynn won them over during a workout at their facility and in classroom work with the coaching staff. Those factors would have been even more important in the absence of Flynn's six-touchdown game against the Lions.
Andrew from Phoenix wants my take on offseason additions and subtractions for NFC West defenses.
"Who is getting better or worse?" he writes. "How do the NFC West defenses compare with others around the league?"
Mike Sando: Seattle and St. Louis made the biggest personnel additions on defense this offseason. First-round pick Bruce Irvin and free-agent defensive tackle Jason Jones should upgrade the Seahawks' pass rush. The Rams added defensive tackle Michael Brockers in the first round, plus free-agent cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
The 49ers re-signed their key players and added cornerback Perrish Cox, who could push for playing time in the nickel defense. But their offseason was more about sustaining what they've built on defense, not adding to it. Arizona also did little to help its defense in free agency, adding William Gay to replace Richard Marshall.
San Francisco and Arizona also used first-round picks for offense. The 49ers used their second-round and fourth-round choices for offense as well. They had no third-rounder. The Cardinals had no second-rounder. They used a third-round choice for cornerback Jamell Fleming, who has impressed them so far. Arizona did not use another pick for defense until the sixth round.
As for my thoughts on the best defensive divisions, I'll pass along a couple thoughts from a recent chat wrap:
"Pittsburgh and Baltimore are strong on defense every year, but all four teams from that division finished among the top 10 in fewest yards allowed last season. There are superior ways to measure a defense, but the best defenses tend to allow fewer yards. Teams still aspire to rank among the top 10. It's not a perfect measure, but it's a decent one. And it's readily accessible, plus widely understood.
"NFC West teams ranked fourth (San Francisco), ninth (Seattle), 18th (Arizona) and 22nd (St. Louis) last season. Arizona improved significantly late in the season. I do think this will be an increasingly physical and ferocious division on defense. Let's revisit this one as the 2012 season unfolds."
We saw increasingly physical and competitive division games late last season. I would expect that to intensify. Every NFC West defense has reason to expect improvement.