Week 10 is hardly the proving ground for contenders, but in this weekly edition of the Wild NFC West, it surely will help elevate the team(s) looking to win the division crown, and might topple any team(s) still clinging to false hopes. As San Francisco no longer boasts a .500 record following their loss a week ago, this is no longer the only division in football with all teams holding a winning record, but they’re close, and that says something. Every other team in the bottom of their division is at least two games back from a winning record, while the 49ers are hanging around just one game back – and just 2-½ games back from the leader. That’s not a good amount of breathing room for any team, that’s called a logjam.
Seattle spent the first few weeks of the season with the look of an offensive juggernaut, with the defense doing just enough to keep their opponent from outscoring them. And then they spent the last couple of weeks looking like a team struggling to find an identity, losing two games on the road (one was not even close) and their win in between those two losses was not exactly convincing given the talent of their opponent. Yes they have been dealing with issues, but honestly, what team hasn’t?
The trouble with giving the Seahawks the benefit of the doubt there, is that just about every team is dealing with adversity this year. The lone undefeated team in the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers, had to move their bye week and have had a revolving door of players testing positive for Covid-19 or getting injured. Their answer has been eight victories in eight games. Could they take a stumble or two down the stretch? Absolutely. But the key takeaway here is that they are winning and not making excuses – and they have the same amount of players active every week that Seattle has.
After losing in depressing fashion to the Bills last Sunday (you can count on one hand how many times Russell Wilson has been responsible for four turnovers in a single game), Seattle now gets a shot to advance their division record as they go back on the road to LA to take on the Rams with a chance to pick up their second division victory – and to keep the Rams winless in the division.
The Rams were on their bye last week, and we’ll see if that is what they needed to jumpstart an offense that has not had many flashy plays and were picked apart by the Dolphins two weeks ago. Their defense has been good, but despite some great statistics they just are not playing at an elite level. Perhaps they are playing elite for 2020, but in a season where there is perhaps an historic lack of defense, that’s not saying much. Put this Rams defense against elite units from the last few years, and there wouldn’t be much to say. Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey are playing at all-pro levels, but the rest of the team simply is not. Two players cannot carry nine others, I don’t care how good they are.
The 49ers put essentially a junior varsity lineup on the field last Thursday night, and it showed in the box score and the stat sheet. Nick Mullens has a lot of gifts, but winning football games does not appear to be one of them. Perhaps this week when he has a nearly full compliment of players he might fare better, but that was pretty brutal for three quarters against a lower-tier defense. The week before, even when they still had a mostly healthy Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle it was not much better, so fans of this team might have to prepare themselves for the very likely truth that this team is closer in talent to 2018 than 2019. It’s a little scary that they could get a top 10 pick in the draft to add to an already loaded roster when they are healthy/not playing in Metlife Stadium, so don’t count on them being down for very long.
Arizona followed up their thrilling win over Seattle with a bye week and then hosted Miami in what turned out to be a disaster. With a chance to take the division lead, the Cardinals became the third and final NFC West team to lose to the Dolphins, and Seattle was very close to being the 4th. This week Arizona gets the Bills, who have beaten two of the division roommates so far, although both victories have come in Buffalo, and this game will be in the Cardinals home dome, so perhaps that is where their streak will end.
As of this week, the NFC West is far from decided. Seattle is now 6-2, the Rams are 5-3, with a shot to take at least a share of the division lead this week. Arizona is also 5-3 and just a half a game out of 1st place, while the 49ers sit at 4-5 and are looking to get back to .500 but it will come at a high price – they have to travel to New Orleans to take on the conference leading Saints, who absolutely destroyed Tampa Bay last weekend, and they were the hottest team in the league until that savage takedown in the national spotlight.
So what can we possibly expect this week?
San Francisco At New Orleans, Sunday 1:25pm on FOX
Most people probably expect this game to be a blowout, but don’t be surprised if the Saints let the 49ers be perhaps a little more competitive in this one than they ought to. Drew Brees and the offense played lights out last week, but you can’t always carry a divisional beat down over to a conference showdown. Last year, this was one of the best games of the year, but this is a much different version of the 49ers, and let’s be honest, other than last week, the Saints have not been exactly inspiring to watch. While the 49ers do get some key players back from what seemed like a team-wide outbreak of Covid-19, there won’t be enough playmakers in the lineup to beat the Saints on their home turf. Nick Mullens is a capable athlete, but we haven’t seen him respond well in high pressure moments, especially when the game is on the line against a superior opponent. While I don’t expect the Saints to let this game stay in doubt very long, I also don’t expect a blowout from start to finish. New Orleans wins it, but San Francisco will keep the score closer than they have a right to.
Arizona At Buffalo, Sunday 1:05pm on CBS
If Kyler Murray and the offense can get rolling against the Bills and avoid a slow start, they will have a much better shot at winning than the Rams or Seahawks did. Both got into an early hole, and despite admirable attempts at a comeback, both lost. Will the Cardinals run and shoot offense be the difference? Or that Buffalo will be the team being asked to fly across the country this time? Or that the Cardinals will be at home? Could be any of the above, but I expect it to be a combination of all three. Bills star cornerback Tre’Davious White possibly missing the game due to an ankle injury sustained late in their win over Seattle could be brutal for Buffalo, and a huge boost for Arizona and their star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is as about as close to “uncoverable” as it gets in the league today. White would have been a good option against Hopkins, and with Josh Norman still not healthy, the Bills may not have another option other than sending safety help to cover Hopkins and living with what secondary receiver Christian Kirk accomplishes. Kirk has been lighting up secondaries as they focus on Hopkins, in what is becoming a weekly “pick your poison” in this offense. Chase Edmonds is also a great threat out of the backfield, and Murrary is considered one of the best dual threat QBs in the NFL. So how do you defend one of the best mobile QBs, one of the best WRs, a really talented WR, and a really talented RB? So far, not many teams have – at least not for four quarters. The Bills defense had better have a good gameplan, as Arizona definitely has the offense to keep up and win a shootout if that’s what it comes down to.
Seattle At Los Angeles, Sunday 1:25pm on FOX
This game really deserves to be on Sunday Night Football, but I suppose Baltimore-New England is just as deserving … **sigh**
Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett, and DK Metcalf versus Jared Goff, Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey for the division lead – or at least a share of it. If Seattle wins, they will keep the outright division lead, and keep pace with New Orleans and Green Bay for lead in the conference. If the Rams win, they will have at least a share of the division lead, and if the Cardinals lose, the Rams would have the lead outright. It should be a good game too, as the Rams had the last week off to lick their wounds after a disaster in Miami exposed probably more flaws in their team than they would have liked. Seattle had the same problem last week in Buffalo, so perhaps both teams playing on the west coast will be the solution? Who knows. Seattle has seen some improvements to their pass rush, but their secondary continued their season-long hunt to be the unit to give up the most passing yards over an entire season, and shows no signs of slowing down. Jamal Adams being in game shape soon should help, as should newly acquired Carlos Dunlap being up to speed in the defense, and the addition of Damon Harrison, assuming he joins the active roster soon. The Rams don’t have a playbook full of splash plays anymore, and the Seahawks don’t have an active defense, so this should be a high scoring shootout even if the eye test tells you otherwise. I’ll take Seattle as they have more playmakers across the board, but the talent level is probably closer overall than the average person thinks. Seattle should head into week 11 at 7-2 and staring at the possibility of finally putting some real distance between themselves and their division rivals.