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Tuesday, December 4, 2012
NFC West Stock Watch

By Mike Sando

RISING

1. Russell Wilson, Seahawks QB. Wilson was shockingly effective while leading 97- and 80-yard touchdown drives to beat the Chicago Bears by a 23-17 score at Soldier Field. Said Bears receiver Brandon Marshall: "He's a born leader. I listened to the guy talk. I watch how he conducts himself, how he handles himself. That's a guy I can watch and learn from. Even as a rookie, a young guy, Russell Wilson is a guy that is going to be special. He is special already." Wilson has 14 touchdown passes and two interceptions in his past seven games. He led the NFL in Total QBR from Week 6 through Sunday. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Robert Griffin III ranked second through fifth, respectively.

2. Greg Zuerlein, Rams K. The Rams' rookie kicker forced overtime with a 53-yard field goal as regulation expired before hitting the game-winner from 54 yards with 26 seconds remaining in OT. He also recorded touchbacks on both kickoffs.

3. Kerry Rhodes, Cardinals S. Rhodes picked off two passes, defended three others and forced a fumble during another strong performance from the Cardinals' defense. This game against the New York Jets carried additional meaning for Rhodes after Jets coach Rex Ryan called Rhodes "selfish" in print.

4. Jeff Fisher, Rams coach. The Rams went 0-6 in the NFC West last season. They are 4-0-1 in the division since Fisher took over as head coach. The Rams have allowed one touchdown pass while collecting seven interceptions during those five games. Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco have combined for 60 touchdown passes with 30 interceptions against everyone else.

FALLING

1. Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals coach. Arizona's eight-game losing streak is the team's longest since 2006, the Cardinals' final season under Dennis Green. The Cardinals are the only team in the NFL with a losing streak of at least six games in each of the past three seasons. Whisenhunt's decision to play rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley has backfired so far. There's no excuse for managing only five first downs and failing to convert any of 15 third-down chances, as the case was for Arizona during its 7-6 defeat to the New York Jets. The Cardinals' current regime has not shown it can identify top talent at quarterback, acquire that talent, protect it and develop it. That reflects on Whisenhunt. Entering Week 14, defensive coordinator Ray Horton's side of the ball is about all the Cardinals have going for them at this point.

2. Jim Harbaugh, 49ers coach. Fisher has gotten the better of Harbaugh in each of the teams' two meetings this season. Harbaugh, perhaps covering for young quarterback Colin Kaepernick, took responsibility for the unfortunate decision to call a pitch play to Ted Ginn Jr. late in the 49ers' defeat at St. Louis. Harbaugh is also accountable for the decision to switch quarterbacks from Alex Smith to Kaepernick. Kaepernick wasn't horrible against the Rams, but he did make crucial mistakes, including on that errant pitch. Kaepernick also scrambled back into his end zone, risking intentional grounding and taking a safety.

3. David Akers, 49ers K. Akers had a chance to beat the Rams with a 51-yard field goal in overtime. Percentages are lower for longer field goals, but this one was indoors. It was also Akers' fourth miss from 50-plus yards in five attempts this season. He made 7-of-9 last season. Akers has been playing through an injury.

4. Seahawks pass-rush investment. The Seahawks used their 2012 first-round draft choice for pass-rusher Bruce Irvin. They signed interior pass-rusher Jason Jones to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. They rewarded Chris Clemons with a contract extension. Seattle has one sack in each of its past two games despite facing Jay Cutler, who entered Week 12 having taken 29 sacks, third-most in the NFL.