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September 5, 1:00 PM ET
Chat with Mike Sando

Mike Sando
  (1:03 PM)

Greetings. Welcome to the first chat A.B. (After Blog). We've been holding NFC West chats since 2008, and now we're expanding the menu as I transition away from NFC West blog duties to a new role as NFL columnist for ESPN Insider. I imagine we'll be covering quite a bit of NFC West ground here in the beginning, and that is fine. I was blogging on the division as recently as a couple days ago. My first could Insider pieces covered Mark Sanchez and Robert Griffin III, plus the Ravens-Broncos opener. So those subjects are fresh, and I'm sure we'll discuss others, including recent predictions for the 2013 season.

Bryan (Springdale, AR)

What is the difference maker that separates the Cowboys from the Giants Sunday night?

Mike Sando
  (1:06 PM)

The NFC East was a really tough division for me to pick a favorite. For years I've felt as though Tony Romo was a good quarterback, one of the better ones in the league, and that his abilities would eventually translate to success in big games, including playoffs, on the belief that good players tend to be good most of the time, whether or not it's playoffs or regular season. And I still feel that way about Romo. However, I really prefer the way the Giants are set up organizationally, and there's a ton to like about Eli Manning. I do think Romo has to be the difference if the Cowboys win. He should like his matchups against the Giants' secondary, particularly with Miles Austin healthy. If the Cowboys win, perhaps they take advantage of the Giants' safeties in coverage. Dallas is so due to win one of these games against the Giants in Dallas.

Len (NY)

How do you see the Rams offense lining up? Will it be more 3 wide out sets or 2 TE sets?

Mike Sando
  (1:10 PM)

Jared Cook is basically going to be used the way wide receivers are used, even though he will be listed as a tight end. We know the team is going to feature him prominently; otherwise, the $19 million in guaranteed money they committed to Cook would not be money well spent. Last season, Cook made 25 receptions after lining up in the right slot and 11 after lining up in the left slot. He had eight receptions from other places in the formation. So, cook basically projects as a slot receiver. They will play wide receiver Chris Givens extensively. Tavon Austin is going to be a big part of the offense. I see the Rams spreading the field and going one-back a lot.

RolandDeschain (Kirkland, WA)

What do you believe the chances are that Seattle wins the NFC West?

Mike Sando
  (1:13 PM)

It's not going to be easy. I struggled predicting a division winner in the NFC West. Even if you think Seattle has closed the gap with San Francisco (and I do think that), there are some schedule dynamics that could favor the 49ers. San Francisco plays its tougher-looking games at home and has a lower bar to clear on the road. Seattle has it the other way around. So, if we figure both teams win nearly all their home games regardless, the 49ers could be in position to finish with a better overall record -- even if Seattle is just as good. I do think injuries could affect the 49ers a little bit more, however, and so I have picked Seattle to win the division without feeling all that strongly about it.

Adam (Flagstaff)

Better wr2 for week 1. Anquan Boldin or Steve Smith?

Mike Sando
  (1:13 PM)

Probably Anquan Boldin against the Packers becauseI think the Seahawks have a tremendous secondary even if Brandon Browner is limited or does not play (he has a potential hamstring injury).

Ananth (Louisville)

Mike, The 49ers are moving to more of a 4-3 scheme this year after 2 years of running a very good 3-4 scheme while the Seahawks are moving to a 3-4 after 2 years of running a very good 4-3. While players dictate the success of a defense more than scheme I am curious why both teams would be changing something that works?

Mike Sando
  (1:16 PM)

I think both teams will continue to run similar defenses. The 49ers will again be in a four-man line quite a bit because that is what San Francisco does on passing downs. And we should not confuse the 49ers' 3-4 with a traditional one featuring two-gapping linemen. I do expect the 49ers to take on some additional 4-3 type characteristics over time, and that is partly because it doesn't make sense for them to pay big money for a nose tackle limited to early downs. Seattle is going to continue running Pete Carroll's 4-3 defense, which does have some 3-4 tendencies.

Jack (AZ)

Why the fascination of ESPN with the Hawks? Who is Wilson going to be throwing to? Rice and Tate? Good QB, good RB medicore WRs.

Mike Sando
  (1:18 PM)

Sidney Rice and Golden Tate became productive players as Russell Wilson gained momentum during the season. The receivers in Seattle showed enough this summer, even without Percy Harvin, for the team to release the wideout it picked in the fourth round, Chris Harper. And Harper was appealing enough for the 49ers to sign.

Karyn (NJ)

Everyone is speaking about how explosive the Cardinals passing game will be but will the Cardinals O-Line be able to keep Carson Palmer on his feet to complete these passes?

Mike Sando
  (1:19 PM)

Arizona will have some issues with protection this season, for sure. Carson Palmer will have to get the ball out. He does rank tied for ninth in lowest sack rate over the past couple season. QBs do influence sack numbers. But there will be some protection issues as long as Levi Brown is the starting left tackle.

4949Centennial (San Jose)

How do you see this whole hitting of the ReadOption/Pistol QB thing working out?

Mike Sando
  (1:21 PM)

Jim Harbaugh is trying to influence officiating by raising awareness during the week. He is not the first coach to do this. Kevin Gilbride, the Giants' offensive coordinator, publicly discussed alleged holding tactics used by 49ers defensive end Justin Smith. ON the read-option thing, I see defenses testing officials to see what they can get away with when it comes to hitting quarterbacks.

Jason (Zona)

Waited too long in the draft for a QB, Bradford, Cutler or Manuel? Not much but I gotta have one

Mike Sando
  (1:22 PM)

The order you listed them in could be about right. You could flop Cutler and Bradford, but I do think Bradford is going to throw it a lot behind an improved line and with a young, talented cast of pass catchers.

Kyle (St. Louis)

So the Rams basically have two slot WR's, a fast TE, and a speedster-type. Will they be on the field at the same time? So whoever lines up in the slot postiton will be determined by what package the defense puts on the field?

Mike Sando
  (1:24 PM)

Jared Cook is not the only option from the slot. Austin Pettis made 25 of his 30 receptions from the slot last season. He could factor. Tavon Austin definitely has appeal as an option from there. We mentioned Cook. We really don't know how the team is going to deploy these players or in what configurations, but there is flexibility.

James (England)

Do you think that there is a legitimate chance that the Raiders go 0-16?

Mike Sando
  (1:25 PM)

Let's figure their best chances for winning are at home. The Raiders' home schedule features: Jacksonville, Washington, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Tennessee, Kansas City and Denver. If the Raiders lose the opener, let's see how they fare against the Jaguars in Week 2 before making any bold statements. It's tough to lose 'em all. This does look like a horrible team, however.

Jay (MIchigan)

Biggest upset in week 1?

Mike Sando
  (1:28 PM)

In looking at the schedule, I'm not seeing many games where an underdog winning would be a huge shock. Seattle is getting lots of hype, but winning at Carolina in a 10 a.m. PT kickoff is not assured. It's easy to write off the Jets, but they could win at home against Tampa Bay without it being a huge shock. Some have anointed Kansas City as a likely playoff team, and the Chiefs are favored at Jacksonville. Those are some games I might watch to see if an underdog prevails.

NK (Queens NY)

Just curious Mike, what are your Super Bowl predictions for this year? Maybe Green Bay comes back or maybe an Underdog like the Bears can come and take the trophy?

Mike Sando
  (1:29 PM)

We made the predictions recently and I had gone back and forth. Someone pointed on via Twitter yesterday that I had picked the Texans to represent the AFC. I went back to check just to make sure that had been the case. The point is, I've done this long enough to know that with predictions, you need some luck. I've picked Green Bay and New England more than once recently, based on what I think about their quarterbacks. This year I went with the Texans and Seahawks, with Seattle prevailing. But if Atlanta gets home-field edge, that's a tough place for someone to play. The 49ers were the other team I strongly considered. On the Texans, I don't feel strongly about them. It was a surprise-type pick. I like the fact that ownership has stood by a good head coach for a long time, and sometimes that produces the desired results, as it did with the Giants. Maybe this is the year in the AFC when the bar is low enough for Houston.

Jay (MIchigan)

How do you see the Eagles/Skins game going? A lot of running the football from the Skins?

Mike Sando
  (1:33 PM)

We've heard so much about Chip Kelly this offseason, and for good reason. I think the last thing Mike Shanahan wants to hear about after the game (besids a negative injury report on his QB) might be even more questions about how Kelly could revolutionize the league. Shanahan has a dynamic run scheme that has worked everywhere he has installed it. He has a good enough offensive line, a good enough running back, a healthy Fred Davis and a quarterback coming off injury. To me, this does set up as a game where the Shanahan-type run scheme prevails against an opponent in its formative stages.

4949Centennial (San Jose)

Everybody is talking about GB defense against Kaep. Don't you think the real story is Packers O-line against Niners D-line? If Niners can put pressure on Rodgers without blitzing, advantage Niners right?

Mike Sando
  (1:35 PM)

Man, did Justin Smith appear possessed during preseason? That guy is beastly and even if we question his ability to hold up for a full season at his age, we have to like what he is going to offer in Week 1. I'd say the story could be on both lines of scrimmage, and that the 49ers have the edge in those areas. I also am curious to see how Colin Kaepernick plays this game. All those rushing yards he gained against the Packers reinforced a stereotype he is looking to shake: that is is most dangerous as a runner. Kaepernick badly wants to be seen as a quarterback who can run, not a runner first. Does he force the passing game?

Bryan (Springdale, AR)

Do you see Eddie Lacy having as big of a rookie campaign as Trent Richardson? Do you see Lacy being a top 15 back by the end of the year?

Mike Sando
  (1:36 PM)

That seems unlikely because Aaron Rodgers will remain the focal point of that Packers offense for good reason. They will be a team that throws primarily.

Mike p (Greater KC)

Now that Sean Payton is back, will there be growing pains for the saints this year or are they a lock at 10 wins and the playoffs.... I agree that the Chiefs have been anointed early as a playoff team but is that due to the roster or the Indy effect of last year and their quick turn around

Mike Sando
  (1:38 PM)

I really struggled to analyze the Saints' trajectory because of questions about their defense. The Saints were a true outlier last season as a team that scored tons of points but didn't get the victories that usually correlate. I like the offense despite the tackle situation. I do think Sean Payton's return will help Drew Brees pick up where he left off last season. And I'll probably regret in the end coming off the Saints as a wild-card team or even division winner. I just had a hard time sorting out the NFC South because Carolina is a team that intrigues me as well.

4949Centennial (San Jose)

Mike, good point but remember how the playoff game started? With a Kaep's pick 6. Kaep also made tremendous throws to VD and Crabtree. IMO it would be foolish to abandon the running aspect just because Packers say they are prepared. Its one thing to be prepared on paper and another thing to execute. They also need to pay attention to Gore/Hunter, otherwise it will be a long day for Packers D

Mike Sando
  (1:40 PM)

I'd be interested in seeing the 49ers develop a play-action element off the read-option. However, they should also just try some traditional runs with Frank Gore. Mix it up. Don't make the Packers seem like they've won a tremendous victory if they stuff Kaepernick on an early read option.

Scott (ID)

Liked your pick for SEA to win it all, but the bold move would have them doing it as the Wild-Card team because of schedule, SEA with bad pass rush first 4 weeks and Harvin set to return.

Mike Sando
  (1:41 PM)

Yeah, I had a hard time thinking Seattle would get to the Super Bowl as a wild card. At the same time, I think the 49ers could have an easier path to winning the division. So, I went back and forth between picking the 49ers or Seahawks, and in the end, I had some additional questions about the injury situation in San Francisco.

Enzo (TX)

Whats your take on Mark Sanchez? No More Playing time for him?

Mike Sando
  (1:44 PM)

I would imagine the organization is excited to see what Geno Smith can do, on the theory that Mark Sanchez's time has passed. I'm wary against making blanket statements about struggling players never panning out in the future. Sometimes players come on strong. Eli Manning did this after quite a few analysts said negative things about him. So, I'm not going to just say Sanchez will never become a good player. I just think the evidence suggests he has real limitations. The coaches and scouting types I've consulted think he has a hard time making the right decisions consistently in game situations.

James (England)

Would you agree that Steven Ridley is one of the most underrated running backs in the league. I saw an article recently that listed many backs ahead of him, including Ryan Matthews and Eddie Lacy. People seem to think that the only reason for his success is Tom Brady, but I believe that he is a much better runner than that, and I think that he could be a very good player with most teams. Do you agree?

Mike Sando
  (1:47 PM)

I do think there is a Brady syndrome at work to some extent. No question, too, that Brady's presence is going to help a running back. No one is going to load the box against Brady and live to tell about it (I'd have to look up numbers on that, but the good QBs command respect). One thing about Ridley is that his production for the 2012 season was even over home and road games.

josh (redlands)

should I start Michael Vick over aaron Rodgers? only reason I ask is Rodgers will be facing that niners d. and I'm hoping Vick will have a solid start against the Washington's d. please help!!!

Mike Sando
  (1:49 PM)

Rodgers had 22 fantasy points against the 49ers in the regular-season opener last season and 18 in the playoff game. Those were not optimum games for Rodgers but do we really trust Michael Vick to do better than that? If I used a high pick on Rodgers, I'm playing him every week and living with the consequences if he has an off game.

Bryan (Springdale, AR)

Besides any pass to Calvin Johnson, is the endzone corner fade to Dez Bryant the most unguardable throw/catch in the NFL?

Mike Sando
  (1:52 PM)

After watching Larry Fitzgerald last season, I'm reminded of the role quarterbacks play in these situations. The fade to Dez Bryant is a tough one, though!

Tim (Seattle)

Who is healthy on the Seahawks D-Line? Can they get a pass rush sending 4 guys? Thats what they thrived on last year right? I am just worried they will have to blitz to rattle Cam, who may then take off.

Mike Sando
  (1:54 PM)

Yeah, I will not trust the Seahawks' pass-rush early in the season and I wonder how much it will cost them. They will not have Bruce Irvin for the first four games. They will not have Chris Clemons for at least the opener. We could see this defense struggle to close out games -- the same thing that happened at times last season.

Roger (LA)

Do u think "Johnny Football" is ready for the big leagues, or do you see him being another "Vince Young" in the making?

Mike Sando
  (1:56 PM)

One thing in Manziel's favor is the fact that drafting a QB early doesn't carry the same risk financially. Still, I cannot see a team building around him. Instead, I would anticipate a team taking a chance on him with a lower pick. Also think the off-field stuff would make it tougher for NFL people to overlook any physical concerns they had. Look how far Russell Wilson fell in the draft as a player who hit home runs in all the off-field categories.

Mike P (Greater KC)

What effect, if any, does the Vonn Miller suspension have on the broncos?

Mike Sando
  (1:57 PM)

I question their ability to generate sufficient pass-rush without Von Miller or Elvis Dumervil. I know they like some other players, including Derek Wolfe, but there is no clear outside rush threat right now. That has to hurt the team.

Michael (Cincinnati) [via mobile]

I guess you like Miami on the road this wknd in Cleveland?

Mike Sando
  (1:58 PM)

Seeing the Dolphins win that game would not surprise me at all. Do like Ryan Tannehill. Still do have some questions, and do acknowledge Cleveland has some talent and has shown some good signs this summer.

Sylas (Seattle)

Congrats on the new gig! How easy will it be for SF to run the ball against GB? I have a feeling it will be like a warm knife through butter.

Mike Sando
  (1:59 PM)

I'd be surprised if the 49ers finished the game with less than 150 yards rushing.

Mike Sando
  (1:59 PM)

Thanks for dropping by the chat. Looking forward to more of these. Have a great Thursday.