While the big news for us is that the San Francisco 49ers emerged victorious over the Lions on Sunday Night Football, Sunday was a banner day for the NFC West. We want to see the 49ers roll through the division and clinch a playoff berth as soon as possible, but once in a while it is nice to see the division have some success. In spite of sending the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl over the last decade, during much of that time the division has been considered the bottom of barrel in the NFL.
For one week, that is not the case. It remains how well the division will be able to sustain this success, but for one week, the NFC West boasts the best record in the league, with the four teams sitting at 6-2. More importantly, after the 49ers, the NFC West claimed three victories in which they were underdogs, one of which by two touchdowns.
Cardinals 20 - Patriots 18
The Arizona Cardinals shook things up early as they shocked the New England Patriots 20-18. In spite of entering the game as 14-point underdogs, the Cardinals handed the Patriots their first home opener loss since moving into Gillette Stadium. The game was about as ugly as could be, and that boosted the Cardinals. The two teams exchanged field goals throughout the first half, before the Cardinals finally broke through with an Andre Roberts touchdown in the third quarter.
This turned into a wild finish as the Cardinals looked fully prepared to blow a 20-9 lead. After a Stephen Gostkowski 53-yard field goal and Rob Gronkowski touchdown, the Patriots trailed 20-18 with two minutes remaining. The Cardinals simply had to run out the clock and they would emerge victorious. Of course, it is never going to be that simple with these Cardinals. The team ran a pitch play to Ryan Williams, who proceeded to cough up the ball in Cardinals territory.
The Patriots followed that by appearing to get into the end zone fairly quickly, only to see it called by a holding call of dubious distinction. The Patriots followed that by getting into field goal range, but Gostkowski shanked the potential game-winning field goal and the Cardinals were able to take a knee and leave with the monster victory.
The Cardinals head into a two-game homestand in which they will welcome the 2-0 Philadelphia Eagles and the 1-1 Miami Dolphins. This next game will give us a bit more insight into the Cardinals. The win over the Patriots was huge, but can they build on their momentum? I don't know if the Eagles or Patriots are better at this point, but both are strong squads. If the Cardinals can pull out a home win over the Eagles this Sunday, no matter how ugly it might be, I would imagine the media starts looking at them as the potential Cinderella story of 2012. Yes it is incredibly early in the season, but that won't stop the pushing of this potential storyline.
Seahawks 27 - Cowboys 7
The Seattle Seahawks welcomed the Dallas Cowboys to the C-Link and were not the most hospitable of hosts. The Seahawks climbed on top 10-0 in the first quarter thanks to a field goal and a blocked punt returned for a score. The Cowboys cut the lead to three on a Miles Austin touchdown, but that was as close as they would get. I had a hunch about this game and actually picked the Seahawks to win outright. Coming off a huge win, this seemed like the perfect time for the Cowboys to lay an egg. And boy did they lay an egg.
For Seattle, this was a huge bounce-back win after laying their own egg in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals. I could see the Seahawks struggling with consistency, but they still strike me as the second best team in the NFC West. Of course, if the Cardinals somehow keep figuring out ways to win crazy games, maybe that changes.
The Seahawks get another huge challenge as they host the Green Bay Packers in Week 3 on Monday Night Football. This not a must-win for Seattle, but it would certainly be a huge momentum-builder heading into a potentially make-or-break portion of the schedule. After hosting the Packers, the Seahawks travel to face the Rams in a pretty sizable divisional showdown early in the season. After that they travel to Carolina, then host New England, then travel to San Francisco and Detroit.
I would say that qualifies as a pretty huge stretch of the season. The next six games will determine what this team is capable of in 2012. 3-3 would be a pretty great run through this stretch, although 2-4 would not destroy their chances at a strong season.
Rams 31 - Redskins 28
The St. Louis Rams welcomed the RGIII-led Washington Redskins in a game many were penciling in as a victory for the apparently resurgent Redskins. It looked like Washington was going to run away with the game as they jumped out to a 21-6 lead in the second quarter, but the Rams were not to be denied. In spite of another solid game from Robert Griffin III, the Rams climbed back in to this one behind a big day from the Sam Bradford-Danny Amendola connection.
At some point, one would imagine that defenses will recognize that Danny Amendola is Sam Bradford's security blanket. Bradford completed 26 passes and 15 of them were to Amendola, who hauled in 160 receiving yards and one touchdown. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers game-plan around this as the season moves along.
The Rams will wrap up a tough slate for the 49ers division-mates as they travel to face the Chicago Bears. The Bears looked solid in Week 1 against the Colts and then seemed to forget they were playing on Thursday as they struggled against the Green Bay Packers. The Bears will be favorites in this game, and I would argue have the best chance of victory against an NFC West opponent. Who would have thought that would even be a discussion a year or two ago?
The Rams follow that up with back-to-back home games against the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. The division will not be decided this early in the season, but the Rams will be putting themselves in a better position if they can claim those two divisional home matchups.