The timing of the 49ers bye week (was that not the longest week ever?) works fairly well for looking at the division as a whole. The Cardinals had their bye week in week 4, the 49ers this past week, and the Seahawks are this upcoming week. The Rams don't have a bye until week 9, but given how their season has gone so far, we'll overlook that for the purposes of this discussion. We're at a natural point in the schedule where one could say the division is through the first turn heading into the back stretch. We've got two teams tied for first, one team a game and a half back and another plotting their draft strategy at this point.
While we are only heading into week 7 of the season, the NFC West race appears to be turning into, at most, a 2-team race between San Francisco and Arizona. Seattle is only a game and a half back, but they showed yesterday that they are a team that is in serious trouble. Throw in the end of Lofa Tatupu's season and things are going south quickly. Of course the 49ers did not exactly inspire confidence last week against the Falcons, so maybe we should even wait before calling it a two-team race? Let the optimist onslaught begin!!!
Since we've got plenty of opportunities to discuss more specific stuff about the 49ers elsewhere, I thought we'd use this post to discuss the other three teams in the division and the 49ers place amongst them. Before the jump I start the discussion with the 49ers principal threat at this point, the Arizona Cardinals. After the jump we look at Seattle and St. Louis. I've also included a poll, and while I'm guessing this kind of poll on a 49ers fan site will be skewed, I'm still curious what people have to say on the topic.
Is it possible the Cardinals are officially the team to beat once again in the division? The Cardinals stumbled out of the gates against the 49ers, but for the most part seem to have regrouped rather nicely. I'm sure they'd like to have been more competitive with the Colts, but that loss certainly wasn't the end of the world. Instead, we've seen them bounce back with a pair of impressive wins. They held off a tough Houston Texans squad last week, and then went into Seattle and thoroughly dominated the Seahawks. The Seahawks have plenty of issues at this point, but that home field advantage is still supposed to be pretty solid. Maybe this bodes well for the 49ers road game up there in December.
I'd argue the Cardinals have the most momentum at this point, although that could conceivably come crashing to a halt at the Meadowlands this Sunday when they face the Giants. In the coming seven games leading up to their re-match with the 49ers, the Cardinals schedule is really not that imposing. They've got tough games at New York, at Chicago, and home against the Vikings. However, I'd expect them to be favorites in the other 4 games. If they can win those 4 and sneak out 1 or 2 wins in the other 3, they're suddenly in good shape coming down the final stretch. The 49ers on the other hand are entering an especially tough stretch of the schedule. They've got several must wins in there, but they have a few more tougher matchups to handle. I think the 49ers can handle their business, but it's not gonna be an easy road leading to Arizona.
The Seahawks season took a rather dramatic turn for the worse yesterday. The team was dominated at home and also found out they were losing defensive stalwart Lofa Tatupu for the season. For those that don't remember the 49ers-Seahawks game earlier this season, Frank Gore's big runs came once Tatupu left the game with another injury. It's safe to say, start running backs facing Seattle.
Although the Seahawks won their opener versus St. Louis, the season went off the deep end beginning the next week against the 49ers. Matt Hasselbeck was knocked out of the game and for three games the Seahawks could not really get much going. A win over Jacksonville seemed to be a chance to turn the corner, but it was more just proof that the Jaguars really aren't all that great. Following yesterday's loss, the Seahawks stand 2-4 and a game and a half out of first place in the NFC West. That's a very small margin given the level of play at times in the NFC West, and yet I can't imagine Seahawks fans have a ton of confidence at this point.
The birds of the northwest get a bye week this week, but things won't be all that easy coming out of the bye week. Home versus Detroit is certainly a game they could/should win, but if Matt Stafford is back, who knows what kind of trouble he could give the Seahawks. They should win at St. Louis, but even with those two games as wins, they could be looking at 4-7 heading into their home game with San Francisco in week 13. Home field advantage had always been their thing, but if their confidence is shaken at that point, who knows how they'll perform.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams season has more or less been a debacle. They've certainly gotten strong work from Steven Jackson and James Laurinaitis is showing some skills as a linebacker. However, the season is more or less lost at this point and they're playing for draft positioning. They had their chances week 2 against the Redskins and they certainly had a chance yesterday against the Jaguars, but they remain winless. Looking at the rest of their schedule, Detroit is certainly a winnable game, although I think Detroit is better than them. Tennessee might also be winnable but that's another one that I'm pretty sure the Rams will be underdogs.
The 49ers will be facing the Rams the final week of the season. The 49ers final four games are home against Arizona, on the road at Philly, home against Detroit and on the road at St. Louis. So if they're in this thing heading into the final month, the schedule is certainly somewhat favorable to them. The key of course is to not trip up on the must win games like the Rams road game. Road games are always tough in the NFL, but the Rams are at a level of awful-ness that it's just not the same. Of course we also don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves since there are a lot of weeks remaining between now and then.