NFC West: NFC West
A .500 finish would be a positive step forward for the Rams heading into 2014. Of course, any positive traction gained from that record would have to be tempered by the fact that an 8-8 finish would land the Rams squarely in last place in the NFC West division.
That's right, the same division which Seattle won in 2010 with a 7-9 record could theoretically have a last place finisher with eight victories. We already know the Rams will finish last, a development clinched by Arizona's win against Tennessee last week.
It's safe to say the division once derided as the "NFC Worst" can now be called the "NFC Best." Through 14 weeks, the NFC West is 37-19 overall, the best performance of any division in football. That record is even more impressive when you look at the performance of the Rams, Cardinals, 49ers and Seahawks outside of the division. The NFC West is 28-10 in those games with Seattle (9-1) and Arizona (8-2) leading the way.
As Seahawks reporter Terry Blount pointed out Wednesday, the number of division games left means the NFC West can fare no worse than 40-24 (excluding possible ties).
The AFC West is the only division even sniffing what the NFC West has done so far this year with a record of 33-23.
Like with most things in the NFL, divisional upticks are a cyclical thing that fluctuate from year to year. But given the relative youth and talent piling up in all four NFC West cities, it looks like a good bet the NFC West will maintain its position for at least the next few years.
A roundup of Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com Wednesday. ... In yesterday's Ram-blings, we looked at the Rams' loss of defensive end Gerald Rivers on waivers to Jacksonville. ... This week's buzz provided a video look at what the Rams have in front of them in the final two weeks. ... We then reacted to ESPN draft expert Todd McShay's selection of Jake Matthews for the Rams at No. 2. ... We then evaluated the actual chances of end Robert Quinn winning the defensive player of the year award. ... Finally, we finished the day with an update on the status of injured receiver Tavon Austin.
Over at Grantland, Bill Barnwell offers his process for making the Rams into contenders.
At stltoday.com, Jim Thomas explores the efforts of tight end/fullback Cory Harkey.
Thomas also participated in his weekly chat with readers.
Turf Show Times discusses some of the early draft options for the Rams with about five months to spare.
CBSSports.com speculates on the Rams and quarterback Sam Bradford. Well, sort of.
The 12-2 Seahawks lead the best division in the league with two weeks remaining in the regular season. The combined record for the four NFC West teams is 37-19, a .661 winning percentage.
The NFC West is the only division that has three teams with at least nine victories -- Seattle, San Francisco (10-4) and Arizona (9-5). It's also the only division where the worst team has six wins. The St. Louis Rams are 6-8.
And the NFC West is going to stay on top this season. Factoring in games against each other, the worst the division can do is 40-24. No other division can reach that win total.
It's quite a turnaround in three years. The Seahawks won the division in 2010 with a 7-9 record. The combined record of the NFC West that season was 25-39, a .390 winning percentage.
Second best on that division list in 2013 is the AFC West, thanks to the top two teams at 11-3 -- Denver and Kansas City. San Diego is 7-7, and Oakland has the only losing record in the division at 4-10. But the AFC West is 33-23, a .589 winning percentage.
No other division in the NFL is better than two games over .500 entering this weekend's games. The AFC East is 29-27 and the NFC South is 28-28.
However, statistically speaking, the 11-1 Seahawks are better than the 8-4 49ers in most categories, as the table shows:
A few other tidbits entering Sunday's game:
In only the 13th game of the season, the Seahawks will go to San Francisco this weekend with a chance to clinch in the NFC West title at Candlestick Park against their bitter rivals. And the 49ers are just trying to stay in the playoff picture.
"This is fun for everybody," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Monday on his 710 ESPN Seattle radio show. "We've been preparing for this moment the whole time.”
Most fans of both teams thought this game would have title implications, but only the most optimistic Seahawks fans envisioned this game would have a clinch scenario for 11-1 Seattle and title elimination for the 8-4 49ers.
But it won't be easy. Seattle has lost the last four times it has played in San Francisco. And the 49ers feel like they have something to prove after losing 29-3 at Seattle in the second game of the season.
It's extra special for Carroll, who grew up in the Bay Area. This will be the last time he will be involved in a game at Candlestick. The 49ers move to their new stadium in Santa Clara next year.
"It's a big deal for me, growing up there and going to all those games there," Carroll said. "I go all the way back Seals Stadium and Kezar Stadium, so I can't believe [the 49ers] are going to play in Santa Clara."
ST. LOUIS -- Quick thoughts on the St. Louis Rams’ 27-24 season-opening win against the Arizona Cardinals at the Edward Jones Dome:
What it means: Those expecting a big offensive explosion from the Rams didn’t exactly get what they wanted, though the Rams did do most of their offensive damage through the air. Still, quarterback Sam Bradford got the job done with a late scoring drive and started an important season for him by leading his team to a comeback victory. This team is his team without Steven Jackson, and Bradford led it when it needed him most.
Stock Watch: Up -- tight end Jared Cook had a tough start with his early fumble on what looked like it would have been a touchdown, but he bounced back and gave the Cardinals fits all day. He was the one weapon the Rams had been waiting to “unleash” who actually was unveiled Sunday. He finished with seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
Down -- cornerback Cortland Finnegan is supposed to be the reliable, veteran linchpin of the Rams secondary, but he had a rough day at the office. Larry Fitzgerald makes plenty of corners look bad, and he did it to Finnegan on a third-quarter touchdown. But Finnegan also racked up a pair of costly unnecessary roughness penalties.
Something’s “off”: The Rams spent large chunks of last season playing soft coverage with their outside corners. Many believed it was a product of having young corners like Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson playing a lot of snaps. Not much changed in Week 1, though. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer got the ball out quickly and efficiently for most of the day.
Quinn’s big day: Rams defensive end Robert Quinn made life miserable for Arizona left tackle Levi Brown by beating him for three sacks and forcing two fumbles, one of which the Rams recovered late before tying it up. Chris Long is the more established of the two ends but Quinn’s upside is that of an elite pass rusher.
What’s next: The Rams will be off for the next two days to regroup from a dramatic win before beginning a difficult stretch of schedule with back-to-back road trips to Atlanta and Dallas.
How odd would it be if the 49ers were the one team failing to hold up its end? They hold a 14-6 halftime lead and are controlling the game overall, but they haven't been as crisp as they were against Green Bay last week.
All four NFC West teams won in Week 10 last season. St. Louis defeated Cleveland, 13-12; Arizona defeated Philadelphia, 21-17; Seattle defeated Baltimore, 22-17; and the 49ers defeated the New York Giants, 27-20.
So far Sunday, Arizona has defeated New England, St. Louis has defeated Washington and Seattle has defeated Dallas. All three of those opponents had been 1-0 entering Week 2. The Lions were 1-0 entering this game at San Francisco.
Enjoy the second half.
Note: Some apparently thought I was kidding earlier Sunday when I suggested all four NFC West teams would win. In retrospect, I've decided I was serious at the time.
Offer expires 60 minutes after 1 p.m. ET. Those using the terms Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals and 49ers in their comments/questions could get priority treatment based on Sando in-chat search optimization tactics.
Dave Levinthal of OpenSecrets.org has the skinny on how NFL teams have allocated their political contributions since 1989. The chart breaks down the contributions for NFC West teams, including the Rams before and after they moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
A few quick NFC West-related notes from the recently completed 2009 NFL draft, based on information I tracked during the draft:
- The 49ers were among four teams that did not select an offensive lineman, along with the Raiders, Redskins and Saints.
- Twelve teams drafted quarterbacks, including every NFC West team but Arizona.
- The Cardinals were among three teams to draft two running backs. The Seahawks were one of 12 teams not to select one, a bit of a surprise to me.
- Every NFC West team but Arizona drafted one receiver and one linebacker.
- The Cardinals were among nine teams to draft two defensive backs. Seven teams drafted three. The Jets and Jaguars did not draft one.
- The Seahawks and Rams were among 14 teams to draft an offensive lineman in the first three rounds. The Jaguars and Bills drafted two apiece.
- The Cardinals and 49ers were among six teams to draft a running back in the first three rounds.
- The Seahawks and 49ers were among 13 teams to draft a receiver in the first three rounds. The Browns and Eagles drafted two. The other 11 teams drafted one apiece.
- The NFC West held three of the top 10 overall choices, but a league-low 16 in the first two-thirds of the draft (top 170 choices). Every other division had at least 20. The AFC East, AFC North, AFC South and AFC West each had 23.
Thanks for coming along for the ride this weekend. A special thanks to Damon for relaying all first-round picks in real time on my Facebook page so Darren and others away from their TVs could follow the first round on their cell phones. Much appreciated.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Team needs: Running back, outside linebacker, offensive line, tight end
|Charles LeClaire/Getty Images|
|If available, it would be difficult for the Cardinals to pass on Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy.|
Dream scenario: The Cardinals need a franchise running back. Finding one with the 31st overall choice would help Arizona at quarterback, along the offensive line and on defense. Ohio State's Chris Wells, Georgia's Knowshon Moreno or Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy would be logical candidates if they remained available at No. 31. The Cardinals are undergoing a makeover at the position. Edgerrin James appears on his way out. J.J. Arrington is already gone. Tim Hightower showed some ability as a rookie, but he did not distinguish himself as the answer. A renewed commitment to the ground game helped the Cardinals advance through the NFC playoffs last season. A more dynamic threat in the backfield would take that running game to a higher level.
Plan B: The Cardinals are in good position to help their roster even if one of the top running backs isn't available to them in the first round. They could use a young outside linebacker. This draft appears strong in that area. They could use help at tight end, another position considered to have depth. And if one of the top centers is on the board -- California's Alex Mack comes to mind -- Arizona could always go in that direction.
Scouts Inc.'s take: "It all depends on what happens with Anquan Boldin. If they do deal him by draft day, that would yield a first-round pick or more. I think Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm deep down have their Steeler roots and they would love to be more balanced. They are good coaches. They realize their strengths. Their running backs are atrocious, so they go with what they do well. But if they deal Boldin, that might give them the resources to become a balanced offense. At the minimum, they are taking a back and they probably do that regardless. If you have more picks, you take a back and a center or tackle. Grimm is a great coach. Give him someone to mold. [Left tackle] Mike Gandy got destroyed in the Super Bowl and you are not going to have a power running game with Lyle Sendlein at center." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: Team president Michael Bidwill and general manager Rod Graves make the call in consultation with Whisenhunt. Steve Keim heads the college scouting department.
Now on the clock: The Tennessee Titans, March 17.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The power rankings released Tuesday weren't kind to the NFC West even though Arizona landed in the top 10. A quick look at average rankings for each division (and which voters favored or frowned upon which divisions):
- NFC East (7.4 average ranking): Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. ranked this division's teams fifth on average, higher than any panelist. NFC East blogger Matt Mosley ranked them ninth on average, lower than any panelist.
- AFC South (12.2): AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky and I ranked AFC South teams 9.5 on average, higher than anyone else. NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert ranked them 15.5 on average, more than two spots lower on average, than any voter.
- NFC South (12.6): Seifert ranked NFC South teams ninth on average, higher than any voter. I ranked them 15.25 on average, lower than anyone else.
- AFC East (15.1): AFC West blogger Bill Williamson ranked AFC East teams 12.25 on average, higher than any panelist. Kuharsky and Matt Williamson ranked them 17.75 on average, lower than anyone else.
- AFC North (19.3): NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas ranked AFC North teams 18th overall on average, higher than anyone else. Seifert ranked them 20.25 on average (only .25 higher than Bill Williamson, John Clayton, Jeremy Green and Mosley).
- AFC West (20.4): AFC North blogger James Walker ranked AFC West teams 19th overall on average, higher than any other voters. AFC East blogger Tim Graham ranked them 21.75 on average, lower than anyone else.
- NFC North (22.1): Matt Williamson ranked NFC North teams 20.75 on average, higher than the others. Yasinskas provided the lowest average votes at 23.25.
- NFC West (22.8): Mosley ranked NFC West teams 21.25 on average. Yasinskas provided the lowest rankings for the division at 25th on average.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Geography is an unyielding opponent. The Seahawks know this better than any team in the league. The NFC West knows this better than any division.
Seattle will log a league-high 34,766 air and ground miles over the course of two exhibition road games and eight regular-season road games. At the other end, Cleveland is scheduled to cover only 6,416 miles this season. The numbers come from the NFL's information guide for 2008.
NFC West teams are scheduled to travel 114,616 miles, up from 113,620 last season. Both figures were league highs.
The Seahawks are scheduled to travel more miles this season than AFC North teams combined. Seattle has traveled 68,622 miles over the last two seasons, most in the league. Pittsburgh has traveled a league-low 18,636 miles over the same period.
The travel has seemed to catch up with Seattle during East Coast games that kick off at 10 a.m. PT. Coach Mike Holmgren has changed up travel plans to compensate, but body and mind can be tough to fool. Getting ready for an early kickoff means waking up around 5 in the morning Pacific time.