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Friday, November 26, 2010
Final Word: NFC West

By Mike Sando

» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford is still searching for his first road win as an NFL starter.
Sam Bradford's road opportunity. The St. Louis Rams haven't won a road game all season. They've lost twice at home. The math is simple. The Rams must win twice on the road to reach .500 and at least once on the road, most likely, to win the NFC West title. They'll be facing a Denver Broncos defense that has allowed 20 touchdowns and a 100.8 rating to opposing passers. Bradford has three touchdowns and no interceptions in his past two road games. The Rams lost them by a combined four points. Time for a breakthrough? Denver is one of 11 teams with a losing record at home (2-3).

Bright young safeties. The Kansas City-Seattle game features rookie safeties drafted among the first 14 overall choices. These guys deserve our attention Sunday. The Seahawks' Earl Thomas has five interceptions, having picked off Philip Rivers (twice), Bradford and Drew Brees. The Chiefs' Eric Berry had two sacks and two interceptions during a three-game stretch ending in Week 9. Who stands out to Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck when he watches the Chiefs' defense? Hasselbeck: "Eric Berry. He’s sort of their Earl Thomas. He’s a very young free safety that can cover like a corner, he can play free safety, and as a quarterback that’s the guy that you really have to be aware of. ... He's dangerous."

Walking the walk on Monday night. The Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers have some big names. Some were high draft choices. Larry Fitzgerald, Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett, Joey Porter, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Michael Crabtree, etc. Which ones will show up on a national stage Monday night? Gore's the one to watch. He has 167, 112 and 99 yards rushing in his past three Monday night games (two against Arizona). Fitzgerald surprisingly hasn't finished a Monday night game with more than 46 yards receiving. Ex-Card Anquan Boldin (136) and current No. 2 wideout Steve Breaston (124) own the Cardinals' highest totals for receiving yardage on Monday nights since 2000.

Troy Smith the football eater. The 49ers' quarterback has taken 11 sacks in two games featuring 59 total pass attempts. That's too many. Former starter Alex Smith took 13 sacks in seven starts, including six sacks in his final four-plus games (spanning 131 attempts). Line issues are partly to blame. Left tackle Joe Staley played hurt for stretches against St. Louis and missed the Tampa Bay game entirely. Still, Troy Smith has held the ball too long. That could be a problem on the road against an Arizona defense with some talented pass-rushers in Dockett, Porter and Wilson.

Where did John Carlson go? Seattle's tight end made an important third-down catch as a bailout option against New Orleans last week, but overall, he hasn't factored much into the receiving game. Carlson has been spending time in the backfield as a lead blocker while fullback Michael Robinson recovers from injury. He has sometimes been needed to help in pass protection. And with 6-foot-5 receiver Mike Williams developing into a go-to target on third down, Seattle hasn't been hurting for a big target in the passing game. Twenty-five NFL tight ends have more receptions than Carlson, who has 25 and is on pace for a career-low 40 (down from 51 last season and 55 in 2008).