The NFC West has struck (out) again.
For the fourth time this season, the division went winless, meaning that despite their woeful 5-9 record, the 49ers are - stunningly, absurdly, undeservingly -- only one game out of first place with a reasonable shot at winning the division with a 7-9 record. For that to happen, they need to win both of their remaining games. They visit St. Louis next week for a game that begins at 10 a.m. (PST) and close out the season at home against the Cardinals, who fell today to the previously one-win Panthers.
San Francisco also would need the Seahawks to lose one of their next two games. Seattle visits Tampa Bay on Sunday and finishes the season by hosting the Rams. If the 49ers, Rams and Seahawks finished at 7-9, the 49ers would own the tiebreaker against St. Louis by virtue of a 2-0 head-to-head record. They would beat the Seahawks because of a better division record.
The Rams today took a 6-0 lead on the Chiefs, but ultimately fell 27-13. Kansas City running backs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones combined for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford completed less than half of his throws (21-43) and finished with 181 yards. Seattle also took an early 7-0 lead on Atlanta but faded away in the second and fell 34-18. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw two interceptions and also lost a fumble. He was replaced by backup Charlie Whitehurst late in the game.
The 49ers have finished the last two seasons with a 3-1 record, which they would achieve again should they win their remaining games. They went 5-1 in the division last year with their lone loss coming in Seattle. They also would duplicate that feat by winning out.
To win the division, however, the 49ers also would have to break two ugly trends -- losing on the road and dropping games that begin before noon on the West Coast. The team has just one win away from home -- Nov. 29 against Arizona -- and they've lost four of their five 10 a.m. (PST) starts. Their only a.m. victory came in London, a game in which the team had six days to acclimate to the new time zone.
Remaining schedules (all times PST):
Dec. 26 @ St. Louis 10 a.m. (FOX)
Jan. 2 vs. Arizona 1:15 p.m. (FOX)
Dec. 26 @ Tampa Bay 1:15 (FOX)
Jan. 2 vs. St. Louis 1:15 (FOX)
Dec. 26 vs. San Francisco 10 a.m. (FOX)
Jan. 2 @ Seattle 1:15 (FOX)
If the season ended today, the 49ers would have the 8th pick. If they won the division, they could pick no better than 21st. Furthermore, they would have a tougher schedule in 2011 because they'd be matched against the division winner in the NFC South and NFC North.
-- Matt Barrows