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Thursday, December 30, 2010
Around the NFC West: No shame in West

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says there's no shame in the NFC West's matchup Sunday night. Miklasz: "If Seattle beats the Rams, then I'll let everyone else stew over the consequences. I don't think it's a big deal. The four-team NFC West is in a collective state of rebuilding, and this is a fluke occurrence. I don't see much difference between the 2010 NFC West and the 2008 AFC West. The 2008 AFC West had a combined record of 23-41. Going into Sunday's final regular-season day, the 2010 NFC West is 23-37. The NFC West has done OK for itself since the start of the 2000 season, with three different teams making it to the Super Bowl. Only one other division, the NFC South, has had three different Super Bowl representatives since 2000. So this is a down year, yes. Well, get over it." The San Francisco 49ers let down the division this season. They were the one team not in a transition or rebuilding year. The likelihood of having an entire division in flux has increased now that each division has only four teams. There have surely been four down teams in a division at the same time in years past, but one or two teams were probably more competitive.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams guard Adam Goldberg, who will start 16 games in a season for the first time. Goldberg's versatility and preparedness made him highly valuable in a backup role. He's also probably been a calming influence next to young right tackle Jason Smith. Purely from a personnel standpoint, however, the Rams could stand to get physically stronger at guard.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Sam Bradford is putting the finishing touches on one of the best rookies seasons for a quarterback in NFL history. Bradford is most proud of taking every snap for the Rams on offense this season, particularly after analysts expressed concerns about his durability. Thomas: "If Bradford does it for one more game this Sunday in Seattle, he will become only the fourth NFL quarterback to take every snap as a rookie since the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978. The others? Matt Ryan of Atlanta in 2008, David Carr of Houston in 2002 and Peyton Manning of Indianapolis in 1998."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams practiced outside Wednesday in preparation for visiting Seattle. Bradford: "From what I’ve heard, that’s what the weather in Seattle is going to be like, so I guess it was good to go outside. If it were up to me, we’d be inside all the time, but I think it was good for us to go outside. We haven’t gone outside in a couple of weeks now. We’ve played in domes for the past couple of weeks, so to go out there and practice in the cold and in the wet, I think it was good for us today."

Also from Wagoner: The Rams are not changing their approach now that the stakes are higher. Fred Robbins: "I’m excited. I’m excited for the team, excited for the guys to have this opportunity to be on prime time and fighting to win the division, get a chance to be in the playoffs. I’m definitely excited but guys still have to be focused on this one. If you look past this one, things happen. You still have to hone in and look at it like an ordinary game for us."

More from Wagoner: Bradford in big games.

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis looks at Bradford's big-game history.

Mindi Bach of CSNBayArea.com cites a a source as saying Trent Baalke will be the next general manager of the 49ers, a move whose timing would suggest the team wasn't serious about looking at outside candidates, or that outside candidates weren't interested in the 49ers, or a combination of both.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com updates the 49ers' search for a general manager without saying Baalke will definitely get the job. Maiocco: "Mike Lombardi is the second person known to interview. Former St. Louis Rams executive Tony Softli interviewed in person Monday in San Francisco. Niners vice president of player personnel Trent Baalke, Ted Sundquist and Rick Mueller are also scheduled for interviews later in the week."

Also from Maiocco: 49ers president Jed York says the team will continue interviewing candidates through Sunday, and then it's unclear what will happen next. Maiocco: "Either he'll make a hire among the candidates he interviewed or he'll continue the search to include individuals currently employed by NFL teams. That would seem to indicate York has not targeted a specific general manager candidate from the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles or any other NFL teams. He might already have his guy. And his guy might be vice president of player personnel Trent Baalke. If York promotes Baalke to the position of general manager, it is bound to be met with a lot of skepticism. But there is a firm belief among NFL insiders -- and some folks at Stanford -- that Baalke will be able to deliver Jim Harbaugh to be the 49ers' head coach."

Ray Ratto of CSNBayArea.com tries to make sense of news reports on the 49ers' GM search, noting that a quick hire of Baalke without due diligence would prove particularly revealing. Ratto: "That is the way to insure that what the owner wants will never be questioned or challenged, and that everyone in the room will understand that. Trent Baalke will not have complete control of the football operation after all because when Jed gives in to temptation and wants to do a little dabbling as all owners do, Baalke won’t be the guy to point to the contract and say, 'Sorry, Boss, you need to do something else now. We’re busy.' "

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Baalke looks like the favorite.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Alex Smith will start at quarterback for the 49ers, but Patrick Willis will not play after undergoing surgery on his hand.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' Takeo Spikes won the Len Eshmont Award for courage. Spikes: "Since I was a rookie in Cincinnati and throughout my career, regardless of what our record showed, I always prided myself in coming to work every day and giving everything I had for the team. Now to win an award like this that is voted on by your teammates, it carries so much weight with me because it comes from the guys that I'm fighting with every day. They understand the work and sacrifice you have to put in to be successful in this league, and for them to see me in that light, that means the world to me." Spikes played quite well this season, particularly in the second half of the season, I thought.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says Harbaugh could be the "all-or-nothing" candidate for the 49ers.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks could cost themselves about 10 spots in the NFL draft by beating the Rams.

Also from O'Neil: Seattle is on the verge of posting its worst rushing totals in a season. O'Neil: "Seattle doesn't have a single 100-yard rushing performance this season. Not one. That's bad even by the meager standards of Seattle's recent rushing history. Shaun Alexander managed two triple-digit performances in 2007, his final year as a Seahawk. Justin Forsett had a couple a year ago. But unless someone hits triple digits in Sunday's regular-season finale, Seattle will finish without a 100-yard rushing game for the first time since the strike-shortened season of 1982 when the season consisted of nine games."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says it's clear Charlie Whitehurst is excited about possibly starting the team's final regular-season game with the NFC West title on the line. Matt Hasselbeck's status remains in question. Receiver Mike Williams: "After plays, Charlie was coming over to the wide-outs and talking about the routes and the adjustments. Similar stuff to how Matt is. You could tell Charlie is ready to go. You could tell he’s had his opportunities here and there, and he’s ready to seize the moment."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks rookie Russell Okung is fighting through his rookie season on two bad ankles.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune looks at the opportunity before Whitehurst against St. Louis. Also: "In the past nine games, the Seahawks have gone 2-7 and were outscored by 123 points. For some historical perspective, let’s look at the very first nine games in franchise history, in 1976. In those nine games, the brand-new baby Seahawks were 2-7 and were outscored by only 108 points. Yes, we were told that the Pete Carroll/John Schneider regime would provide a new start. It’s just that nobody expected it to go all the way back to Square One."

John Morgan of Field Gulls says Okung's presence in Seattle's offense makes a significant difference.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' and 49ers' struggles has taken the edge off their rivalry heading into Week 17. Somers: "Compared to the 49ers, however, the Cardinals are a stable organization. The 49ers fired coach Mike Singletary last Sunday after a loss to the Rams. They started interviewing general manager candidates this week as former defensive line assistant Jim Tomsula took over as interim coach."

Also from Somers, with Bob McManaman: The Cardianls are facing a team with an interim head coach for the third time in four weeks. That means Arizona has played an exceptionally easy schedule, as predicted.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says it's somewhat surprising to see Alex Smith in the lineup at quarterback for the 49ers after San Francisco beat Arizona decisively with Troy Smith in the lineup earlier this season. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "We’ve played each other enough times to have an idea of how they’re going to play us. It comes down to being able to execute."

Also from Urban: Andre Roberts' big game against Dallas puts more distance between the rookie receiver and a tough training camp. Whisenhunt: "Anytime you are a draft pick, especially one of those higher ones, there’s always pressure and expectations and he didn’t feel like he was living up to those. Other players are looking at you. It’s a tough deal."