Now that week six is complete for the NFC West, our beloved niners finally have a win, and we have a pretty solid understanding of how good our divisional rivals are, we might as well take a look at what it'll take to win the division.
I think it's fair to say that we aren't as good as we'd hoped and our NFC West opponents are better than expected. So winning the division at 6-10, as many readers and pundits guessed, is unlikely. So let's take a look at each teams schedule and try to get a realistic goal other than winning all 11 games.
Every team has been soul-crushingly inconsistent and frustrating in their play. Let's start with Seattle, who I think is the most predictable.
Seattle (3-2) is always dangerous at home, crushing us and handling San Diego solidly, but has now beaten a solid team on the road with Chicago. Yet they lost to Denver and was embarrassed on the road at St. Louis. What to make of this team?
I think Hasselbeck is the most reliable QB in the division and their O-line is solidifying nicely. Their schedule though is fairly tough so their home-field advantage is going to mean a lot.
They have home games against Arizona, NYG, Kansas City, Carolina, Atlanta, and St. Louis. I think 4 wins is solid and 5 is certainly possible given how erratic the NYG have been. I think Atlanta is their most likely defeat. Then they have road games at Oakland, Arizona, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Tampa Bay. I can see them winning at Tampa Bay most likely but might also pick off Oakland and/or Arizona - I'll save the SF game for later.
That leaves Seattle with at least 8 but probably 9 or possibly 10. I think 9 is the most likely if the lose one they shouldn't but they may also pick up one unexpectedly.
Arizona (also 3-2) is next up and perhaps the hardest to predict. Except in their opener against St. Louis, they've looked awful on the road and their QB play is a complete unknown. Max Hall did little in their inexplicable win against NO but might develop - or not.
They have home games against Tampa Bay, Seattle, SF, Denver, St. Louis, and Dallas. They don't have quite the home-field advantage of Seattle but I think they can expect to win against Tampa Bay, Seattle, and St. Louis. Denver and Dallas are terribly unreliable but Dallas has proven tough at the end of the year while Denver has no pass-rush so I give this a split. I'll save the SF game for later and chalk up 4 wins here.
Then they have games at Seattle, Minnesota, Kansas City, Carolina, and in SF. Seattle and KC are two of the hardest places in the country to play (as we learned), and Minnesota is tough. Carolina can't move the ball but does play defense and the SF game is again, saved for later. I think it's possible that Arizona loses all of these games but if they win one, it'll be against Carolina. That's 1 win on the road.
That leaves Arizona with a solid 8 wins but with two critical ones against our niners.
Lastly is St. Louis (3-3) who is definitely the most unreliable with huge gaps in their talent and an immensely talented but still rookie QB. They've beaten some solid teams in SD and Washington and embarrassed Seattle at home but have also been humiliated by Detroit on the road.
They have the fewest remaining home games with only 4 at Carolina, Atlanta, Kansas City, and SF. I can only comfortably predict 1 win against Carolina but maybe another at KC. I just can't imagine them beating Atlanta and we'll save the niners game till later.
Lastly they have road games at Tampa Bay, SF, Denver, Arizona, New Orleans, and Seattle. I can't see them beating Denver, NO, or Seattle but they might pick up games against Tampa Bay and Arizona. I can only see 2 solid wins out of this tough schedule.
That gives St. Louis a solid 6 wins but with two games against our beloved niners.
We're missing a home game against a mediocre but still tough Denver team, we have a road game against Green Bay, and a road game against a likely desperate San Diego. Even with losses in all 3 games that'll leave us with 7 remaining (and 5 within our division) and a reasonable chance to win the division.
Basically, we can't afford to lay an egg. I believe that 9 victories will win the division straight out (winning the divisional record tie-breaker against Seattle) but 8 could do it if we run the tables with the rest of our divisional games and get a slight stumble from Seattle. We've got 10 games remaining so we don't need to win out but it's not going to be easy.