When the Seattle Seahawks take the field today, they’ll be a .500 team looking for answers after a pair of blowout losses. They’ll also be looking to extend their lead on first place.
The Arizona Cardinals, on the other hand, are reeling after a third straight loss. Oh, and they can move into a first-place tie depending on how the weekend shakes out.
Welcome to the wild world of the NFC West, where a bye week is often times the best way to climb in the division standings.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, the 2-6 49ers are favored over St. Louis, which like Seattle has a 4-4 record. So if home favorites win this weekend like the oddsmakers are predicting, every team in the division will have a losing record nine games into the season.
“I’ll let you guys use any word you want,” Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said with a laugh when asked for a word to describe the division. “But I’m thinking the same thing you’re probably thinking.”
But while the NFC West has become a national punch line, the mediocrity – and that’s a kind description – has created some intrigue. In any other division, the 49ers would be way out of the race, and while they’re still a long shot to recover from their 0-5 start, they can cling to hope. For the Cardinals, three straight losses represent a setback, but not a death sentence. And the Seahawks, despite being outscored by 64 points in their past two games, still have a realistic shot at their first playoff birth since 2007.
“The one thing about the midway point in the season is that, no matter how bad it looked the last two weeks, we’re still in first place,” safety Lawyer Milloy said.
The Seahawks will be in danger of losing their grip on first place, however, unless they can find a way to win in Arizona, something they haven’t done since 2005. Up until that season, the Seahawks had dominated the Cardinals, winning four in a row and seven of eight, but once Arizona beat the Seahawks, the tables turned. Before Seattle beat the Cardinals at Qwest Field last month, Arizona had won four in a row and six of the past seven.
The rivalry became so lopsided, in fact, that Matt Hasselbeck accidentally congratulated Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt when they met at midfield for a postgame handshake after a Seahawks win.
“I think I said, ‘Congratulations,’ ” Hasselbeck said. “It was like a programmed response. It was like I was used to saying that to him. … He was kind about it, but I just felt stupid. They’ve done a nice job. The year they beat us, I think for the first time, it was a big deal to them. We kind of gave the game away at the end and they took advantage and kicked a field goal. They had a lot of success after that. They won the division a couple years in a row, they went to the Super Bowl, all that stuff. So it was a hurdle for them and they took advantage of it.”
But if Arizona’s win over Seattle in 2006 ended up being a passing of the torch, this game is more of a chance for somebody, anybody, to stake their claim on a division that lacks a favorite.
“We feel like now there’s really no clear-cut leader in the division and we can affect that,” Hasselbeck said. “We have an opportunity to take it back and I’m sure everybody in our division feels like they’re in the hunt. So it’s just one of those things where it’s a championship game in a way for us.”
And while this game features the two teams that have dominated the division in recent years, it is hardly the only important game. St. Louis, one of the league’s worst teams over the past three years, is suddenly rejuvenated under rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. San Francisco has a big hole to dig out of, but also has a team talented enough to rattle off a few wins in a row. Halfway through the season, the NFC West is a four-team race.
“I think all four teams in the division could say the same thing,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t think any of us could say that we played the kind of football that we would want to play, that we expected to play, but I think it’s nice that everybody is within one game of each other in our division and it’s going to be a battle down to the end.”