Niners Look to Remain Undefeated, Can Cards Keep Pace?
By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)
Thanks to the NFC West, four previously undefeated teams bit the dust in Week 2.
The 49ers and Seahawks each flexed their respective muscles in convincing wins, while the Rams and Cardinals needed a little help from the enemy to secure victory in the closing seconds.
Nonetheless, it was a significant reputation boost for a division once buried in mediocrity.
Led by the 2-0 Niners and Cardinals, the NFC West leads all divisions in total wins, with six. If they can emerge from Week 3 with another strong performance, we may be looking at the toughest division in football.
Let me rephrase that, we will be looking at the toughest division in football.
1. It'll Be Raining Turnovers In The Desert
Ready for some turnovers?
No, not the tasty pastry. I'm talking about interceptions, fumbles and blocked kicks. Just sloppy football in general, really. Tune into the Eagles-Cardinals slop-fest that will be on display at University of Phoenix Stadium this Sunday and you'll see what I mean.
Through two games:
Cards Defense: 2 Interceptions, 1 Fumble Recovery, 2 Blocked Kicks, 7 Sacks
Eagles Defense: 5 Interceptions, 1 Fumble Recovery, 4 Sacks
With defensive numbers like that, it's no surprise these birds are both 2-0.
Then, you look at the offenses. The Eagles were able to come away with wins against the Browns and Ravens, but only by a point each game. Michael Vick has connected with opponents twice as often (6 INT) as he's found teammates in the end zone (3 TD), and Philly's lost three fumbles, as well.
Yeah, that's nine turnovers in two games, and they won both. The Eagles should be sending a big shout out to their D for holding opposing QB's to a league-best 35.09 Defensive Passer Rating.
As for the Cardinals, the story reads the same.
Last week, RB Ryan Williams tried to hand the Patriots a victory by fumbling in the final minutes, but New England respectfully declined when Stephen Gostkowski flubbed a 42-yard FG to seal the win for Arizona.
Kevin Kolb hasn't thrown a pick since replacing John Skelton in the fourth quarter of Week 1, but the Cardinals have to avoid adding to their total of three fumbles or this one's going down to the wire, too.
2. Randy Moss Returns to Metrodome, 49ers Continue Picking On NFC North
So, the future Hall of Fame WR makes his way back to where it all began, but will it be for the last time?
The real question, is what do the red and gold have in store for us this week? After thumping the Pack at Lambeau Field in the season opener and topping the Lions in convincing fashion last week, it'd be a shock to see the 49ers do anything other than dominate the rebuilding Vikings for 60 minutes.
Minnesota went 0-6 against Quality Teams in 2011 (teams with a winning record), and it will likely take a miracle for them to notch their first noteworthy win against a team who is 15-3 in their last 18 regular season games and 7-2 on the road—as Jim Harbaugh's 49ers are.
Alex Smith will bring his second-ranked passer rating of 115.9 into the Metrodome, a number that should strike fear into a Vikings' secondary that ranks 24th in the NFL with a Defensive Passer Rating of 101.1.
Slice it any way you want, the Vikes don't stand a chance in this one.
3. Seahawks shine on Monday Night Football, Packers Not So Much
The Packers head to Seattle for a MNF matchup between two 1-1 teams. While the Hawks' are 5-0 on Mondays since 2005, Green Bays is a paltry 1-8 in road games played on Mondays during that same span.
CenturyLink Field is not a friendly venue for opposing teams, and the Cheeseheads haven't played a road game since losing 19-14 to the Chiefs Week 15 of the 2011 season.
Luckily for Green Bay, they've got Clay Matthews. The "Claymaker" has six, yes six, sacks after two games this season. The defense as a whole looked more effective against the Bears last week, frustrating Jay Cutler with seven sacks while forcing him to toss up four interceptions.
The Packers may be the favorites, but they can't win without defense in this game. Aaron Rodgers hasn't been his MVP-like self and he'll be going up against the Seahawks vaunted "12th man" in addition to having to shake the Packers 1-8 road record on MNF since 2005.
4. The Befuddled Bears Look For Clarity With St. Louis Coming To Town, But Will They Find Any?
Jay Cutler takes his job seriously. His play on Thursday Night Football didn't quite show it, but he told us that much during his post-game press conference, so it must be true.
Something we at Cold, Hard Football Facts take seriously is Real Quarterback Rating, another one of our fine Quality Stats. CHFF's QBR is a measure of passing effectiveness. Passer Rating only includes plays where the QB actually releases the ball, but Real Quarterback Rating takes into account rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing TDs, fumbles and sacks as a way to quantify all aspects of QB play.
This Quality Stat directly correlates to winning, and the proof is in the pudding. In 2011, teams who were better in Real QB Rating went a remarkable 222-33 (.871).
Moving forward, Cutler's Bears are dead last in this stat, with a Real QB Rating of 50.11. Of course, Cutler was a different QB in Week 1 than he was in that sloppy 23-10 loss to the Packers, but the number is strikingly low.
On the other hand, you have third-year QB Sam Bradford, fresh off a 310-yard, three TD performance in the win over Washington last week. Bradford seems to have shaken off his sophomore slump and has the Rams ranked fourth in Real QB Rating (101.1) after two games.
That said, it's only two games. The Bears are still a potential playoff contender and St. Louis, although impressive thus far, has a new coach and an extremely young roster.
Plus, the Rams haven't won a road game since early December of 2010. They're also 1-8 against NFC North opponents dating back to 2007, with that one win coming against the 2-14 Lions in 2009.
5. Just How Good is The NFC West?
At this point, we know what the 49ers are made of. They've got excellent quarterback play, an elite ball-carrier in Frank Gore (who's showing no sign of aging) and an All-Pro defense that can stand toe-to-toe with the NFL's most potent offenses.
The Seahawks finished 2011 on a good note behind a strong running game and a physical defense led by one of the league's top secondaries. It's always risky to expect too much from a team with a rookie at QB, but Russell Wilson is no doubt a step up from Tarvaris Jackson, and the defense is even better than it was last year. If not for a late-game meltdown in Week 1, they'd be 2-0 instead of the Cardinals.
As for those Cards, the 2-0 record is nice. Drawing Miami, St. Louis and Minnesota three out of the next five weeks is even nicer. But the second half will send them to Green Bay and Atlanta, and their last four games are brutal. At Seattle, followed by home games against Detroit and Chicago with a trip to San Fran to close the season. That's when this team is going to have to hold it together most.
The Rams are no slouches, either. Jeff Fisher has this team playing tough and a healthy Danny Amendola at wide receiver has made life easier for Bradford on offense. A win at Soldier Field on Sunday, and they've got to be taken seriously.
6. Predicting Post-Week 3 NFC West Standings (2-2 in Week 2)
1. San Francisco 49ers (3-0)
Adrian Peterson looks like his old self and that has potential to give the Niners D fits, but they'll have little else to worry about. San Fran's improved and versatile offense will have a field day against Minnesota.
2. Arizona Cardinals (3-0)
I underestimated this Cards' D once, but it won't happen again. The Eagles were already without Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters for the season, and now center Jason Kelce is gone, too. Vick proved last week he can't protect the ball by instead choosing to make numerous ill-advised throws. Arizona will force him into that same type of game on Sunday.
3. Seattle Seahawks (2-1)
That's right. Seahawks over the Packers. Why? Rodgers has looked a bit shaky in two home games, and Monday Night Football in Seattle isn't the best place to get back on track. Green Bay can still win in plenty of ways, but it'll be the Hawks on top in this one.
4. St. Louis Rams (1-2)
CB Cortland Finnegan has a unique ability to fluster his opponents. His antics, though, have helped his team in consecutive weeks. How bad can he get under Brandon Marshall's skin? Maybe enough to draw another personal foul, but not enough for the Rams to win.