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Tuesday, December 25, 2012
NFC West Stock Watch

By Mike Sando

FALLING

1. 49ers' health. The team doesn't know when Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith will return from an elbow injury. The defense isn't the same without him. Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis suffered a concussion against Seattle on Sunday night. Receiver Mario Manningham will require season-ending surgery after suffering a knee injury against the Seahawks. Running back Kendall Hunter, receiver Kyle Williams and tight end/defensive end Demarcus Dobbs have landed on injured reserve in recent weeks.

2. Carlos Rogers, 49ers CB. Rogers was rising after generally faring well against New England's Wes Welker last week. He was the closest man in coverage for too many plays against Seattle. Doug Baldwin beat him deep with no safety help early in the game. Sidney Rice made a leaping catch too.

3. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers QB. Kaepernick had been as good or better than anyone since 2008 through five regular-season starts. He completed only 52.8 percent of his passes and threw an interception in the end zone against Seattle. Kaepernick struggled handling crowd noise, leading to timeouts and penalties.

4. Another Cards QB. The Cardinals benched another quarterback, this one rookie Ryan Lindley. The team has now benched or otherwise replaced Lindley, Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson, Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Max Hall in recent seasons. Lindley has zero touchdown passes with seven interceptions. Lindley might not be finished in the NFL, so it's premature to list him among the five players in the last 50-plus years to finish their careers with no scoring passes and at least seven picks. But with the Cardinals' pass protection improving in recent weeks (Sunday excluded) and with Larry Fitzgerald on the roster, a quarterback with any staying power should have a touchdown pass after 171 attempts.

RISING

1. Seahawks' coach/GM. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are looking better all the time. Their 2012 draft has transformed the team. First-round pick Bruce Irvin has eight sacks. Second-rounder Bobby Wagner, an every-down linebacker, deserves mention as a candidate for defensive rookie of the year. Third-rounder Russell Wilson has become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Fourth-rounder Robert Turbin backs up Marshawn Lynch and has had a 100-yard game this season. Sixth-rounder Jeremy Lane is starting at cornerback while the team deals with injuries and a suspension at the position. Seventh-rounder J.R. Sweezy started at right guard Sunday night and made a key block on Patrick Willis to spring Lynch's 24-yard touchdown run. Another seventh-rounder, Greg Scruggs, is part of the nickel rotation on the defensive line. The Wilson selection alone should get Schneider mentioned as the NFL's executive of the year.

2. Rams' rookie corners. Janoris Jenkins had another pick-six for St. Louis, this one helping the Rams beat Tampa Bay. Teammate and fellow rookie Trumaine Johnson also collected an interception. Both appeared to play good coverage much of the time. They had the upper hand against Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman when it mattered. The Bucs did pile up some yardage through the air, but much of it was meaningless.

3. Seahawks' receivers. Dropped passes doomed Seattle's offense during a 13-6 defeat at San Francisco in Week 7. Outstanding catches played an important role in Seattle sprinting to a big lead against the 49ers in the rematch Sunday night. Baldwin's juggling catch in the rain for a 43-yard gain was the longest play for either team. Baldwin added two scoring receptions. Rice made a leaping grab along the sideline. Seattle converted 11 of 12 times on third down while Wilson was in the game.

4. Kam Chancellor, Seahawks SS. There were other candidates on defense in the NFC West, including Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis. Chancellor gets the call for the impact his big hits made against the 49ers. He knocked out Davis with a concussion while separating the 49ers tight end from the football deep in Seattle territory. He forced Frank Gore to fumble. He tagged 49ers fullback Bruce Miller. Chancellor has had some injury issues this season. He hasn't punished opponents as consistently as he did previously. That changed Sunday night.