NFC West: Seahawks-Rams

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:00
AM ET
video
Catch us if you can.

That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.

It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.

By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.

It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.

So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?

The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.

Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.

The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.

First Down

The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?


Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.

Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.

Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.

Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.


Second Down

The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?


Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.

Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.

Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.

Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.


Third Down

Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?


Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.

Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.

Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.

Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.


Fourth Down

If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?


Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.

Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.

Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.

Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.

 

Rams' Jackson calls out Seahawks' Curry

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
9:58
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Rams running back Steven Jackson is an elite player, a team leader and someone who commands respect throughout the NFL.

It's significant when someone of his stature calls out another player.

Jackson, speaking during his weekly show on 101 ESPN St. Louis, had harsh words for Seahawks rookie linebacker Aaron Curry. The two clashed during the regular-season opener at Seattle. The NFL fined Curry for going after Rams rookie Jason Smith's knee, the first of several fines against Curry early in the season. Jackson and Curry clashed again Sunday.

"Some guys don’t know how to be pros and I feel he has not learned that yet," Jackson told 101 ESPN St. Louis. "Someone is over there not teaching him what it means to be a pro. It’s all right to jaw jack but unnecessary hits and taking shots at guys that are defenseless, or going after guys because they are high-profile guys and he is trying to make a name for himself, it’s not professional."

Jackson said he made it clear to Curry that he would not back down.

"You don’t get your name based on that because you’re going after another high-profile guy," Jackson said. "You get your name and your status because of your work and your play in it. I’m just sitting there jaw-jacking a guy and letting him know that I’m not backing down. It’s obvious I’m injured, it’s obvious that I haven’t practiced all week and if we want to go head-to-head for 60 or 70 plays in a row, I’m willing to do so. I’m not going to back down. I’m going to let him know there’s a whole another monster, a whole another level in the NFL and this is not Wake Forest or the ACC."

The Seahawks selected Curry from Wake Forest with the fourth overall choice. Jackson shot down the idea that Curry was trying to play a certain way to fulfill his high draft status.

"I don’t see our rookie, No. 2 pick overall, going out and doing that," Jackson said of Smith. "It's easier to make a name in other ways than going out there jaw-jacking and trying to draw attention to yourself. It’s a professional game and this is a livelihood and I don’t intentionally go out there and trying to -- I’m a pro about it. I would hope that he learns that."

We'll probably hear Curry's side of the story when players become available for interviews Wednesday.

Seahawks, Rams pretty much even?

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
6:20
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The Seahawks have defeated the Rams 10 times in a row, but the gap is apparently closing.

"It's always a tough one to swallow when you feel like it's two even opponents playing a tough football game," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo told reporters Monday.

Do you see the Seahawks and Rams as pretty much even?

"If you would have said that our defense was going to hold Seattle to 265 (yards) total, a quarterback rating of 65 (percent), and 95 yards passing, I would have said that was going to be pretty good," Spagnuolo said, "but you got to stop them from running the football. I credit Seattle in that regard."

I thought the Rams were going to win one of their last couple games, but that was before they lost Marc Bulger, Mike Karney, Jason Brown and Jason Smith, with Steven Jackson playing through back trouble. The Seahawks will almost certainly finish this season stronger, in my view.

Fourth-down decisions pivotal in division

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
10:54
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All four NFC West head coaches made critical fourth-down decisions Sunday, with mixed results:

Rams

The situation: The Rams faced fourth-and-4 from the Seattle 34 with 1:50 remaining in the first half of a tie game.

The decision: Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo decided to go for it.

Potential reasoning: Josh Brown had already missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt. The Rams had gained 33 yards on a third-and-4 play earlier in the drive. The Rams entered the game 1-9. What did they have to lose?

What happened: Quarterback Kyle Boller threw to receiver Donnie Avery. Seattle cornerback Kelly Jennings made an aggressive play on the ball, batting it away. Seahawks cornerback Josh Wilson picked off the pass and ran 65 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 Seattle lead.

My take: This one is tough to justify because 4 yards is a relatively long way to go. Running the ball isn't much of an option in that situation. The Rams were playing the Seahawks tough to that point. The game got away from them a bit after the interception.


49ers

The situation: The 49ers faced fourth-and-1 from the Jacksonville 37 with 1:58 remaining in the second quarter of a game they led, 10-0.

The decision: 49ers coach Mike Singletary decided to go for it.

Potential reasoning: Quarterback Alex Smith was functioning efficiently. The defense was pitching a shutout. Putting the hammer down in this situation could help break open the game.

What happened: Smith threw deep to tight end Vernon Davis for a 30-yard gain. The play sustained a touchdown drive as the 49ers built a 17-0 lead.

My take: Attempting a 55-yard field goal at Candlestick Park wouldn't have been a safe decision, and a punt might have netted only 17 yards on a touchback. Going deep down the field was a gutsy call.


Seahawks

The situation: The Seahawks faced fourth-and-1 from the St. Louis 18 while leading 17-10 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

The decision: Seahawks coach Jim Mora decided to go for it.

Potential reasoning: The running game was functioning effectively and this was a chance to potentially blow open a close game.

What happened: Matt Hasselbeck handed off to Justin Forsett for an 11-yard gain. The Seahawks scored on the drive to take a 24-10 lead, all but putting away the game.

My take: This was a high-risk, high-reward play. Kicking a 35-yard field goal would have produced a two-score differential that the Rams probably would have had a hard time overcoming. The play worked, so Mora comes out OK, but this was a gamble that could have backfired in a big way.


Cardinals

The situation: The Cardinals faced fourth-and-1 from the Tennessee 45 with 6:07 remaining in the fourth quarter of a game Arizona was leading, 17-13.

The decision: Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to punt.

Potential reasoning: Punter Ben Graham is playing at a high level this season. This was a chance to pin the Titans deep in their territory. Failing on fourth-and-1 would have changed field position in a close, relatively low-scoring game.

What happened: LaRod Stephens-Howling downed Graham's punt at the Tennessee 2. The Cardinals forced a turnover on the ensuing Titans drive.

My take: The Cardinals' ground game has improved, but a failed fourth-and-1 in this situation would have ceded momentum and field position at a critical point in the game. For the Cardinals, taking their chances against Vince Young seemed like the right call at the time.

Scare for Rams rookie Smith

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
8:09
PM ET
Rams right tackle Jason Smith went to the hospital in an ambulance after suffering more concussion-related symptoms during the game against Seattle.

Smith wasn't even playing. He was inactive.

The second player chosen in the 2009 NFL draft watched the game from the sideline until experiencing those symptoms.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo did not immediately have details.

Sitting in a loud stadium wouldn't seem like the best way to recover from a concussion. Noise sensitivity is known to accompany concussions. But it's tough to know what might be bothering Smith, or the cause, without more information from medical professionals.

A play from Seattle's secondary? Yes

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
2:32
PM ET
Kelly Jennings gets credit for making a physical play on the ball and setting up fellow Seattle cornerback Josh Wilson for a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Opponents have exploited Jennings' lack of size over the years. He outmuscled Donnie Avery on this play.

Wilson again showed his playmaking ability in picking off the ball and taking it all the way back. He now has two touchdowns this season, one more than Deion Branch.

Seattle safety Jordan Babineaux appeared to be shaken up late in the half. He has been showing improvement in recent weeks.

Also on the injury front, the Rams had to feel relief upon seeing center Jason Brown walk to the locker room. Brown appeared to suffer a painful leg injury late in the half. The team is calling the injury a sprained knee, listing Brown's return as questionable.

That suggests the injury is not as serious as it appeared.

Bad teams, bad game in St. Louis

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
2:13
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What a horrible, lifeless game between the Seahawks and Rams to this point.

Seattle cornerback Marcus Trufant has two more penalties, giving him seven this season even though he opened the season on the physically unable to perform list.

Everyone knows the Rams are weak at receiver, but they are going to four-receiver packages in this game -- and having success. Ruvell Martin has a 33-yard reception. Enough said.

Cameras showed Seattle coach Jim Mora screaming something on the sideline.

It was the first sign of life from either team, as far as I could tell. What a snoozer.

Julius Jones inactive for Seahawks

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
12:01
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Starting running back Julius Jones is among the players Seattle named inactive against the Rams in Week 12.

The Seahawks have become a passing team. They have favored quite a few three-receiver personnel groupings.

Backup Justin Forsett is pretty well suited to those groupings.

Also inactive for Seattle: Jamar Adams, Mike Gibson, Mansfield Wrotto, Red Bryant, Cameron Morrah and Derek Walker. Mike Teel is the third quarterback.

Jackson active for Rams against Seattle

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
11:51
AM ET
The Rams have declared their inactive players for Week 12 and Steven Jackson's name was not on the list.

Their inactive players include quarterback Marc Bulger, defensive back Danny Gorrer, fullback Mike Karney, offensive lineman Roger Allen III, guard Richie Incognito, tackle Jason Smith, receiver Jordan Kent and running back Chris Ogbonnaya.

Not having Karney hurts the running game. I would expect more reps for third receiver Danny Amendola and second tight end Daniel Fells.

Adam Goldberg starts for Smith at right tackle. Mark Setterstrom starts at right guard.

Thanks to Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com for passing along the info.

Around the NFC West: Loss hurts Haslett

December, 15, 2008
12/15/08
10:46
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' late implosion might have put a "dagger" in Jim Haslett's bid to remain head coach in 2009.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Edward Jones Dome resembled a mausoleum before kickoff, never a good sign. He thinks the team needs a new head coach to complete a franchise makeover.

More from Miklasz: The Rams aren't getting enough from their money players.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch encourages the Rams to keep losing to help their draft position. The team would pick second overall at present.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says Haslett's plan for the future could use a few short-term victories for validation.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams got a huge half-game from cornerback Jason Craft, let go by the Saints earlier this season.

Also from Coats: A report card with a B-minus grade for Marc Bulger and a C-plus for coaching.

Norm Sanders of the Belleville News-Democrat quotes Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe as saying he didn't get deep enough on the pass from Seneca Wallace to Deion Branch.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Bulger can relate better to receivers after making an 11-yard reception from the Wildcat offense. Bulger: "I take for granted what those guys do. When that ball is in the air, it seems like it is in the air for a long time." 

Also from Korte: A report card with a B-minus grade for the offensive line and more high marks for linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa.

More from Korte: Bulger gives a vote of confidence to Haslett.

VanRam of Turf Show Times says the blame should go beyond the big-money players. Others, from Joe Klopfenstein to Derek Stanley, must also be held accountable.

Around the NFC West: Wallace rallies Hawks

December, 15, 2008
12/15/08
10:27
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks needed an inspired second half to edge the Rams, but they'll take it.

Also from Farnsworth: Seneca Wallace bounced back from the pounding he took in the first half.

More from Farnsworth: Rookie John Carlson moved into the Seattle record books with more catches in a season than any tight end in Seahawks history. Also, tackle Sean Locklear suffered a dislocated toe late in the game. Finally, Jordan Babineaux scored his second touchdown of the season.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks were more relieved than celebratory following their first victory since October.

Also from O'Neil: Steven Jackson was the Rams' player of the game with 107 yards, but Seattle held him to 20 after halftime.

More from O'Neil: Carlson downplays his individual achievements.

More still from O'Neil: Winning this game was more important than moving up in the 2009 draft, in his view.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says Deion Branch predicted his big reception late in the game, even though the Rams apparently thought he was joking.

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune was there when Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren began his postgame news conference by suggesting he'd forgotten how to analyze a victory.

Also from Hughes: A detailed explanation for how the Seahawks set up the pivotal pass to Branch late in the game. Getting safety Oshiomogho Atogwe out of position was key.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says an impassioned Wallace rallied the Seahawks after ripping into them at halftime.

Also from Boling: Carlson has become adept at finding openings in coverage when plays break down.

Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 23, Rams 20

December, 14, 2008
12/14/08
4:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

This game figures to have long-term implications for both franchises.

The Rams' inability to beat a 2-11 opponent at home -- with thousands of empty seats in the Edward Jones Dome -- deals a potentially severe blow to Jim Haslett's chances for a return as head coach.

Seattle receiver Deion Branch's strong performance, including a pivotal reception to set up the winning field goal, makes his continued employment more palatable. Branch has 16 receptions for 244 yards and three touchdowns for Seattle in three road games against the Rams. A strong finish to this season enhances Branch's role in the Seahawks' future plans.

This game also figures to affect draft order for 2009. We can now expect the Rams to select ahead of the Seahawks near the top of the draft.

Action favors 49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks

December, 14, 2008
12/14/08
12:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The predictions for games involving NFC West teams are rolling in at a record pace. I've been inputting predictions as part of the "You called it" feature for Week 15.

Based on the first 106 people to make predictions, the average predicted scores look like this:

  • 49ers 21, Dolphins 20
  • Cardinals 29, Vikings 23
  • Seahawks 23, Rams 16
We've had 60 percent of people picking the 49ers (63 to 42). We've had 73 percent picking the Cardinals (73 to 27). We've had 76 percent picking the Seahawks (76 to 24). We'll keep taking predictions up until kickoff.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

We're back with another chance to join Elion 245, Leesters and habitat730 as the only forecasters to predict NFC West scores and outcomes exactly.

Simply use the comments section of this entry to predict a predict a final score for the NFC West teams and their opponents in Week 15.

Will the 49ers knock off the Dolphins? Can Arizona take the third seed in the NFC by beating the Vikings? And what about that Seahawks-Rams game? 

A quick look at our three Wall of Fame members and their spot-on predictions:
  • Elion245. Forecast the Redskins' 20-17 victory over the Seahawks in Week 12.
  • Leesters. Forecast the Bears' 27-3 victory over the Rams in Week 12.
  • habitat730. Forecast the Cardinals' 34-10 victory over the Rams in We 12.
The fine print: Those submitting predictions for "You called it" must pick the winner correctly for their scores to be considered. Scoring is easy to calculate. The difference between a 20-17 prediction and a 31-14 outcome would be 14 points. We would calculate this by adding the difference between 20 and 31 to the difference between 17 and 14.

Audibles: NFC West Week 15 preview

December, 12, 2008
12/12/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Minnesota Vikings (8-5) at Arizona Cardinals (8-5), 4:05 p.m. ET

Kurt Warner has five touchdown passes, one interception and a 3-0 record in three career starts against the Vikings.

For all the talk about Arizona needing to establish a ground game, Warner continues to carry the offense. Arizona almost certainly isn't going to run the ball effectively against the Vikings' usually stout run defense.

MVP honors might be his to lose after the Saints' Drew Brees failed to put up impressive numbers while fading from the playoff picture during a Thursday night defeat. Warner needs 313 yards passing to move past Brees for the NFL lead after 13 games.

And with a division title already in hand, Warner could be on his way -- unless the Vikings' Adrian Peterson upstages him, always a possibility.

Seattle Seahawks (2-11) at St. Louis Rams (2-11), 1 p.m. ET

The loser moves up in the 2009 draft order, no consolation for a couple of coaches with uncertain futures.

While Seattle's Mike Holmgren plans to coach again in 2010, the Rams' Jim Haslett needs a late push to make his case for coming back next season. The Seahawks haven't won since Oct. 26. The Rams haven't won since Oct. 19. Together, the teams have lost their past 13 games.

The Seahawks have looked better recently, particularly with a healthy Seneca Wallace leading the offense in Week 14. Neither team is good enough to trust as a favorite, however.

San Francisco 49ers (5-8) at Miami Dolphins (8-5), 1 p.m. ET

The 49ers' chances took a hit when Frank Gore suffered a sprained ankle against the Jets. His expected absence could put more pressure on Shaun Hill, not necessarily a bad thing as the 49ers continue to evaluate their quarterback situation.

If Hill leads the 49ers to victory without support from Gore, ownership might have a hard time replacing interim coach Mike Singletary and possibly Hill. But after winning their last two games despite suffering nine fumbles, losing only two, it's fair to wonder if this is when the breaks even out.

Click here to access the NFL Pick Center, a service for ESPN Insiders where fans can view two different simulation models for every NFL game. 

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