Friday, December 30, 2011
Final Word: NFC West
By Mike Sando
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:
Draft order disorder. Every NFC West team but San Francisco faces a potential significant shift in draft order based on Week 17 results. The St. Louis Rams will emerge with the No. 1 overall pick if they lose to the 49ers while Indianapolis defeats Jacksonville. The Colts will pick first if they lose, or if the Rams win. The winner between the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks will finish 8-8 instead of 7-9, producing likely a swing of several spots in the order. The 7-9 team with the easiest strength of schedule will pick ninth. The 8-8 team with the strongest strength of schedule would pick 20th.
Alex Smith has had quite a 2011 season, including a passer rating that could eclipse some of Joe Montana's seasons.
Gunning for the record. Two of the NFL's sack leaders will stand on opposite sidelines at the Edward Jones Dome. San Francisco's Aldon Smith has 14 sacks, one more than St. Louis' Chris Long. The NFC West in its current form has never produced two players with as many combined sacks in the same season. Smith needs one more to break the NFL rookie record Jevon Kearse set in 1999 (records kept since 1982). Smith and Long are both close to setting an NFC West single-season record since realignment in 2002. Bertrand Berry had 14.5 sacks for Arizona in 2004. Patrick Kerney had the same total for Seattle in 2007.
Alex Smith's improbable rating. The 49ers must be pleased to know that Smith, with a 90.1 NFL passer rating through 15 games, has a chance to finish with a better single-season mark than Joe Montana posted with the team in 1981, 1982, 1986, 1988 or 1990. Passer rating is but one tool for measuring quarterback performance. No one is saying it's perfect, or even that Smith has played better this season than Montana did during those five seasons. Still pretty tough to believe, though, right?
Battle of the backs.Frank Gore leads NFC West running backs with 1,202 yards even though his production has trailed off late in the season. Marshawn Lynch would have to outgain Gore by 85 yards to overtake him for most rushing yards in the division. That is unlikely, but Lynch has set a furious pace lately. He leads the NFL in rushing since Week 9, gaining 855 yards over that eight-game period. The Rams' Steven Jackson ranks eighth in the league with 620 yards during that time. Arizona's Beanie Wells is 15th (541 yards), one spot ahead of Gore (527). All four primary backs in the division have topped 1,000 yards.
Spagnuolo's last stand? The Rams started the season with an 0-6 record. They're in danger of finishing it with seven consecutive defeats. No team in the NFL has a worse record than the Rams since Steve Spagnuolo became head coach in 2009. St. Louis, shut out by the 49ers earlier this season, needs 10 points to avoid becoming the lowest-scoring Rams team since the franchise left Los Angeles. The 49ers, meanwhile, are allowing a franchise-best 13.46 points per game. The 1946 team, which played in the AAFC, allowed 13.5. The current team can break that record by allowing 13 or fewer points. The 1976 team holds the NFL-era franchise record at 13.57 points per game allowed. The current 49ers could break that record by allowing no more than 15 points to the Rams.