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Sunday, November 30, 2008
Mailbag: Yes, 49ers technically alive in division

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Octavio from Los Angeles writes: Hi Sando! I had a dream that the Arizona Cardinals lost the remaining games of the season and the San Francisco 49ers won every one of them, thus getting into the playoffs with a 7-9 record. Is it possible or can I still dream?

Mike Sando: The 49ers would be 8-8 if they won the remainder of their games. If that happened and the Cardinals lost out, San Francisco would indeed win the division.

Of course, the Cardinals would have to lose three times at home, including twice against division teams. Not likely.

The 49ers could not win the division with a 7-9 record. Arizona's sweep against the 49ers, met with skepticism when predicted here, severely diminished the odds for San Francisco.


Chris from Richmond, Va., writes: I'm a Cards fan and like a lot of the things Pendergast does with our D, but I simply cannot wrap my head around what he was attempting to do the other night vs the Eagles. I need the Sando Report to help me out on this one. Mike, what were those schemes and why, why, why?

Mike Sando: My initial thought was that the Cardinals might have been protecting Adrian Wilson's injured shoulder on a short week. But it's also clear the Cardinals were concerned about their cornerback situation without Rod Hood, and for good reason. Eric Green and Ralph Brown can be vulnerable. We covered this pretty thoroughly in an item Friday, with an assist from tespy321.


Drew in Fife, Wash., writes: Hey Sando, just curious on your thoughts as of now for NFC West next season. I know the Hawks had injuries but they have looked bad all around. To me it appears they may be in for a season or two of suffering with a new coach coming in and Hasselbeck starting to show signs of age. With all of Arizona's offensive weapons, do they have a chance to get better on defense and rule this division for the next few years?

Mike Sando: Before this season, I thought Seattle would hold it together for 2008, then possibly watch Arizona win the division in 2009. The Seahawks' injuries and Kurt Warner's strong play changed the dynamics this season. Also, Seattle has not handled adversity well and I think the impending coaching transition did not help.

The Cardinals' quarterback situation will determine whether Arizona can rule the division for the next few years. It's tough to know what the future holds for Warner or Matt Leinart. I give the Cardinals as good a chance as anyone, but fortunes turn quickly -- particularly for teams with long-term questions at quarterback.


Cam from Kelowna, B.C., writes: Hey Mike Do you know the extent of Hill's injury? And since were on the topic of LeRoy, what are the odds of the Hawks resigning him next year? Also, how do you feel about Baraka Atkins' play so far? I really think he's starting to show some promise, and a little more experience will help him turn into a good player.

Mike Sando: Leroy Hill has been one of the two or three best players on that defense this season, in my view. Brandon Mebane has also played well, and Marcus Trufant is a good player. I see the Seahawks finding a way to keep Hill next season, even if it means naming him the franchise player. Hill suffered a stinger injury against the Cowboys. The extended period between games should give him a decent chance of playing in Week 14, although we won't know more until Mike Holmgren addresses reporters Monday.

As for Atkins, we've certainly seen more from him than Lawrence Jackson. Atkins has done more than expected from a guy considered a potential bubble player coming out of camp. I would play him extensively down the stretch to see if he projects as a starter next season. Seattle needs one of its ends to step up and Atkins has come closer than the others recently.


Leesters from parts unknown writes: Sando- Has any division ever been clinched by someone with 7 wins by the 12th week in the season in NFL history? Basically ... is this the worst division in the history of the league? What's the worst record ever by non-division winners? Just a thought. Could you be covering the worst division in history? You would be immortal, and what a headline. Can you prove this is the worst division in NFL history?

Mike Sando: The AFC West isn't exactly hot right now, but no question, the NFC West is brutally bad. The Cardinals could have clinched at 8-3. Since 1998, no team with fewer than 10 victories has clinched a division that early. We touched on this recently.


James from Denver writes: Hey Mike, Great work on this blog so far but here is my questions. With the NFL considering adding a team in LA and likely making a division with 5 teams wouldn't be better for the NFL to go like the NBA and divide into 2 conferences with the top 6 teams from each making the playoffs? The reason I bring this up is because the cards and Broncos the likely division winners will end with a record of 9-7 or worst. while teams finishing with a 10-6 11-5 record will sit at home. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: Thanks, James. I could see adopting a safeguard that allows a non-division champion with a great record to earn a playoff spot against any division winner with a record worse than 8-8. Let's be honest here. I'm going to favor the current setup because it allows for eight ESPN.com divisional bloggers.