This past Thursday, the 49ers and Seahawks had an opportunity to put the NFC West on display on national television, thanks to Thursday Night Football. It was not a pretty game, but a lot of it was very much what the NFC West is about. Tough, hard-hitting defense (some of which certainly pushes the lines of the rules) is becoming the defining characteristic of the 2012 NFC West.
The NFC West has been the butt of league jokes for much of its existence. Bill Barnwell took a look at the division in light of the 49ers-Seahawks game, and just how bad it has been at times. For the first time since early in its inception, the division appears to be taking a big step forward. Whether it will be in the "best division" discussion at the end of the season remains to be seen.
This weekend marks a pretty big one for the division. Arizona travels to Minnesota to face the Vikings, while the St. Louis Rams host a potentially resurgent Green Bay Packers squad. The Cardinals are a touchdown
favorite underdog on the road, while the Rams are a six point favorite underdog at home. As 49ers fans, we want losses by both teams to clear the path for a division title. At the same time, there is a certain amount of division pride with wins. I'm not here to say you need to root for either team, but obviously the NFC West is showing it's no joke.
As the season wears on, it is hard to tell just what will happen with this divisional race. Arizona has lost two straight and has a good chance of turning it into three straight, sapping all of their early season momentum. The Rams are sort of treading water. Losing Danny Amendola was a tough blow, but given how things have gone in recent years, they are closing in on playing with house money.
My money is on this division ending up as a two-horse race between the 49ers and Seahawks. I have a hunch that Week 16 matchup will be significant in the division race. The 49ers hold an edge at this point thanks to the Seahawks 0-3 start in division play. The Seahawks are guaranteed no better than 3-3 in division, while the 49ers still have all their road games to potentially gain some critical wins. Even though San Francisco has only played on divisional game, the numbers simply favor them at this point for pertinent tie-breakers.
As the season moves on, the league is allowed to flex some of their games into Sunday Night Football. Giants-Ravens and Vikings-Texans could challenge as potential Sunday Night matchups, but given the inter-conference nature of those games, there likely is less at stake. They are big matchups, but they have a much smaller chance of impacting important tie-breakers. If the Seahawks and 49ers both can continue with their strong play, we could see an NFC West showdown on Sunday Night Football. It could make for an exciting Week 16.
All hail the NFC West.