NFC West: Kenny Irons

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt McMahon from San Francisco writes: I have a question for you on scheduling. I have always thought the end of the regular season is anticlimactic. Whereas in other sports the tension increases as the regular season draws to a close, in the NFL, more often than not everything is locked in by the time the 15th and 16th games are played.

What are your thoughts on ending the season with head-to-head division games like baseball? Wouldn't teams playing their last three games of the season against division opponents increase league-wide tension and excitement at the end of the season, not to mention ensure that the division winner is always validated?

For 2009, here are the last five opponents for each NFC West team (with number of division games in parenthesis):

49ers (3): Seahawks, Cardinals, Eagles, Lions, Rams

Cardinals (2): Vikings, 49ers, Lions, Rams, Packers

Rams (2): Bears, Titans, Texans, Cardinals, 49ers

Seahawks (1): 49ers, Texans, Bucs, Packers, Titans

As a result of the scheduling, aren't the Seahawks in an interesting position to either have a serious run or flop at the end of the season -- based on events completely out of the control of their division opponents?

Wouldn't this be better for the last four games (one geographically close rival three division opponents):

49ers: Raiders, Cardinals, Seahawks, Rams

Cardinals: Chargers, 49ers, Rams, Seahawks

Rams: Chiefs, Seahawks, Cardinals, 49ers

Seahawks: Broncos, Rams, 49ers, Cardinals

Mike Sando: There are only 12 division games in a season (per division). That's one product of having four-team divisions. There simply aren't enough of these games to go around. I like having some division games early in the season. We get 49ers-Cardinals and Rams-Seahawks in Week 1 this season. I'm looking forward to those games. At the same time, sure, I'd like to see more division games at the end of the season.

Last season, NFC West teams played one NFC West-only game per week over the first three weeks of the season, then none until Week 8. Week 11 was the only week with more than one NFC West-only game (Rams at 49ers, Cardinals at Seahawks). The schedule featured one such game per week in Weeks 14, 15, 16 and 17 to close the season.

Even those late-season division games wound up being largely meaningless: Rams at Cardinals in Week 14, Seahawks at Rams in Week 15, 49ers at Rams in Week 16 and Seahawks at Cardinals in Week 17.

I think it's important to distribute these division games throughout the season. In some ways, they have a higher chance of feeling relevant if they're played earlier in the season.

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