Last season, it was pretty clear that the NFL (and most everybody, really) thought that the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals would be battling for the NFC West division crown. They had been giving them the Monday Night Football games for a couple seasons, and they were trying to make a rivalry culminate into something big near the end of the season, when they matched the two teams up for week seventeen in 2010. Obviously, things didn't quite work out that way. The 49ers went on a losing streak that had the majority of us shaking our heads and probably crying.
The matchups on Monday Night Football were always good ones, and the week seventeen matchup was at least a semi-entertaining blowout when it all came down to it. But at this point, it's all about storylines for the NFL - they want each and every game that they can to have relevance on more than one level. Both Vegas and the NFL had the 49ers and Cardinals squaring off for it last season, what about this next season?
It's just accepted now that week seventeen is a divisional matchup, but which divisional matchups are important. The NFL is going to put the two teams they feel will be in it the most right there, and in week seventeen, the 49ers and St. Louis Rams square off, which is in line with everything that most people are saying. Almost nobody thinks that the Seattle Seahawks are going to win the division again, and the Cardinals aren't even in the discussion for most folks. Even Vegas agrees, as the 49ers and Rams opened as co-favorites to win the division, with the Seahawks finishing in third and the Cardinals in the basement.
The only caveat is one of primetime games: the 49ers play two of them, but against non-NFC West opponents in the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. Then you've got the Rams, who do play the Seahawks on Monday Night Football. There's no scenario like last season where it was clearly the 49ers and Cardinals, because the two telling factors are split this time.
My personal opinion is that the NFL feels that they can build on the Monday night game with the whole "these teams were battling it out in week seventeen last year," kind of thing with the chance that it's got divisional relevance, but that they arranged week seventeen in such a way as to tip their hat in the 49ers-Rams direction. Also, it's simply possible that they have no idea who they think is going to win, and have only served to eliminate the Cardinals at this point. So we'll see, what do you think?