Mediocrity rules NFC West

Division winner may not be .500

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Well, somebody has to win the NFC West, where mediocrity would be an improvement.

There is a strong possibility that the champion will have a losing record.

Not only that, a 7-9 St. Louis or Seattle or San Francisco team will wind up hosting a first-round playoff game.

That potentially embarrassing scenario results from an NFL rule that guarantees each division champion a home playoff game.

With five weeks to go, Seattle and St. Louis are tied for first at 5-6, with San Francisco 4-7 and Arizona 3-8.

As Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck put it, “Yeah, it’s weird.”

In games outside their division, NFC West teams are 10-20. Only St. Louis is respectable at 4-4. The division has played a big role in Kansas City’s revival. The AFC West-leading Chiefs have beaten San Francisco 31-10, Arizona 31-13 and Seattle 42-24.

The coaches of the four NFC West teams don’t like to talk about the sorry state of their division. They’re understand- ably consumed by trying to right their respective ships.

“I don’t know. It’s hard for me to speculate on that,” Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said on Tuesday when asked if he thought the division winner would have a losing record.

Whisenhunt’s Cardinals, winners of the NFC West the past two seasons, are mired in a six-game losing streak.

“My focus right now is really worrying about what we do. As a Cardinal answer to a non-Cardinal question, I’m really worried about what we’re going to do,” Whisenhunt said. “I’m not worried about that right now. We have played all the three teams in our division and to me they have all been good football teams.”

To him maybe.

Here is a look at the “contenders” and what they face to try to finish at least at .500.

St. Louis Rams

St. Louis could have the best shot. After going 6-42 the past three seasons and 1-15 last year, the Rams are on the rise under second-year coach Steve Spagnuolo and rookie QB Sam Bradford. They play three of their last five against NFC West opponents. A sweep there and St. Louis could lose to Kansas City and New Orleans and still finish 8-8. It could come down to the regular-season finale at Seattle on Jan 2.

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle has allowed 76 points in its last two games, losses at New Orleans and at home against Kansas City. On the positive side, the Seahawks have a home game against the Carolina Panthers, who only have one win this season. But the Seahawks have Atlanta at home and are at Tampa Bay. Seattle might have to sweep San Francisco and St. Louis to climb to .500.

San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco was the preseason favorite but started 0-5. The 49ers have won three of four since Troy Smith became starting quarterback but have lost star running back Frank Gore for the season with a hip injury. They would have to finish 4-1 to hit 8-8. That would require a win at Green Bay or San Diego, along with a sweep of Seattle, St. Louis and Arizona.

Arizona Cardinals

Forget about it.

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