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Tyrann Mathieu injury, Chris Long return could shake up the NFC West race

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers currently sit in third place, two games back of the Arizona Cardinals, one game back of the Seattle Seahawks, and two games up on the St. Louis Rams. The 49ers have a lot of work to do to get back into this thing, but they are potentially getting some benefits as we enter the final quarter of the season.

The big news today is that Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu will miss three weeks after having surgery on a broken thumb. He suffered the injury on Sunday, and three weeks would mean he will miss the Cardinals matchups with the Chiefs (home), Rams (road), and Seahawks (home). Mathieu has not had a monster year, but he has done some solid work for the Cardinals. He will be replaced in the secondary by Tony Jefferson, marking yet another injury replacement on a team dealing with a ton of them.

On the other side of things, the Rams welcomed back defensive end Chris Long this past week. Long suffered an ankle injury in Week 1, and spent 11 weeks on injured reserve with the return designation. Long played 40 of 81 defensive snaps, and secured his first sack of the season. The Rams defensive front did solid work without him, but adding him back into the mix adds even more talent to that group.

The Rams final four games include Washington (road), the Cardinals and Giants (home), and then the Seahawks (road). The Cardinals and Seahawks are the only games that matter as far as we are concerned. Given the Cardinals injury issues, the Rams are going to be a tough task for them. The Cardinals could settle down and hang on to the division, but I'm just not seeing it at this point. As for the Seahawks? Seattle is playing some good football, and if they can keep it up, the division is there's for the taking. The Rams will probably give them a fight in Week 17, but a road win in Seattle is no gimme (as we might very well find out next week!).