The Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks are the favorites to win the NFC West this season, with the Seahawks getting the slight edge. Both teams are coming off back-to-back seasons on top of the division, and there is no indication that will change in 2016.
Both teams are among the Super Bowl favorites, but playing in the same division makes it that much more difficult to get a shot at the Lombardi Trophy. Earlier this week, Bill Barnwell took a look at years when a given division had a lot of talent in the top two positions. He used point differential to compare the various teams dating back to 1970.
The 1997 AFC West race between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos was the top rivalry, but the 49ers made two appearances. He acknowledged the strong 49ers-Seahawks rivalry, but it was actually a pair of seasons involving the 49ers and Saints that showed up on this list.
San Francisco 49ers (14-2, +195 point differential, best in league)
New Orleans Saints (12-4, +128 point differential, third in league)
Here’s what Barnwell had to say about the 1992 rivalry between these two teams:
The Saints had the league's top-ranked defense, a fact that seems ancient given their defenses in recent years, and they played the Niners tough but lost both their games against San Francisco after winning the division the previous year, when the 49ers started Steve Bono at QB for six games. (To be fair, Bono went 5-1.) The 49ers were about to kick off their rivalry with the newly dominant Cowboys, who posted the league's second-best point differential at +166. Dallas beat San Francisco 30-20 in the NFC Championship Game, the first meaningful Cowboys-49ers matchup of the Jimmy Johnson era, and then promptly dispatched the Bills in the Super Bowl by 35 points. The Saints were beaten 36-20 at home by the Eagles in the wild-card round and didn't post another winning record until the 2000 season.
I’ll be honest, much of the early 90s were a blur for me with regard to the 49ers. I lived in Saudi Arabia from 1990 to 1994 (my dad worked for a Saudi hospital), so I wasn’t exactly watching games every Sunday. We did not have Armed Forces TV at that point, although I did listen to the 49ers-Giants NFC title game on Armed Forces radio.
San Francisco 49ers (13-2, +206 point differential, best in league)
New Orleans Saints (12-3, +139 point differential, third in league)
Here’s what Barnwell had to say about the 1987 rivalry between these two teams:
This was the year when Jerry Rice scored 22 touchdowns in 12 games and somehow didn't win league MVP (on the AP ballot), which went to John Elway instead. Again, the 49ers arguably had another larger rivalry brewing in the Northeast. This time, it was against the Giants, who had knocked the 49ers out of the playoffs in the two preceding postseasons. The Saints held their own, though: They handed the 49ers one of their two regular-season losses, knocking Steve Young out of the game with a concussion before seeing Morten Andersen atone for a missed field goal that would have beaten the 49ers earlier in the year by hitting a game-winning 40-yarder. The competition didn't help either team, and both lost their opening playoff games.
This was the year before I became a 49ers fan. I became a fan in 1988, hopping on the bandwagon that season leading up to the Super Bowl. I was nine years old, and my dad was not as big a football fan as he was a baseball fan. The 49ers were good, and I hopped on the bandwagon. How many folks here have thoughts on the 1987 and 1992 teams?