After beating up on one the league's lousiest teams Sunday, the 49ers turned their attention to the best team. The Packers-Giants game was still on as the 49ers players dressed at their lockers, and a dozen of them watched the game - the Packers won on a last-second field goal - on a flat-screen mounted above the linebackers' section of the locker room.
The symbolism was clear: Winning the NFC West is fine and dandy, but there are higher mountains to climb, bigger beasts to slay.
The biggest, of course, is Green Bay, which is clearly the No. 1 team in the conference and the league. But it's the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the NFC, the 49ers (10-2) and the Saints (9-3), that are on a collision course. Those three teams put distance on the next group of contenders, the Cowboys, Bears, Falcons, Lions and Giants, all of whom lost on Sunday.
The 49ers currently have a one-game lead on the Saints, and they even can blow that one-game lead because they own the tie breaker, which is a better conference record. The No. 2 seed will get a bye in the playoffs and then play the winner of one of the divisional rounds of the playoffs.
If the season ended today, the Saints would host the Falcons, and you'd have to like - a lot - New Orleans' chances at home. If they won that game, they'd play the 49ers the following week in San Francisco.
The situation would be reversed if the Saints got ahead of the 49ers over the final four weeks and the 49ers' finished in the No. 3 spot. The 49ers would host a wild-card-round game and, if they won it, would go to the Superdome to play the Saints.
The 49ers, of course, were blown out 24-3 in New Orleans in their first preseason game, a game in which Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams called more blitzes - and more all-out blitzes - than normally seen in the exhibition season. The scuttlebutt afterward was that Saints coach Sean Payton was sore with Jim Harbaugh because the rookie coach never called Payton before the game. Oh, the intrigue ...
Jim Harbaugh's press Monday conference has been moved from noon to 3 p.m. I suspect this is because Harbaugh will attend a memorial for Chester McGlockton this afternoon. McGlockton was an assistant coach under Harbaugh at Stanford, and the two became close. Harbaugh said last week that McGlockton, a former Raiders defensive linemen, was on his way to becoming an excellent coach. The two played racquet ball together.
-- Matt Barrows