Just a few months ago, we thought what's happened in the past two days was a longshot, only attainable through means previously thought impossible and a whole lot of luck. The lockout turned a 2011 season into a possibility instead of a certainty ... but now with week one in the books, we've got actual, factual stats and standings to work with. And after week one, we can start looking at the NFC West and how it's shaping up.
For starters, the 49ers have themselves a tie for the lead! So for now, you go right ahead and call yourselves division leaders if you so choose. They got themselves a win and handed rivals Seattle a loss, which is great to do right out of the gate. When it comes to the Seahawks, it wasn't so much the final result, but how they played. It was ... how you say ... ugly.
Offensively, Seattle didn't look they had even a vague idea of what they wanted to do, let alone an installed offensive system and gameplan. The 49ers defense ate them up, and quarterback Tavaris Jackson didn't look like he's the savior of a franchise. Of course, he was playing behind a very inexperienced offensive line, and that definitely was a factor. San Francisco's pass rush was dominant, and maybe that's because they're that good ... but it's probably a combination of the two.
If Seattle's offensive line doesn't get going (should improve with the return of Robert Gallery), Jackson will remain a largely ineffective quarterback. And if that special teams unit gives up a kick return touchdown shortly after the offense just brought themselves back in the game, then it's a done deal for them. The 49ers should feel good about their win over Seattle.
The Arizona Cardinals were the other team to pick up a win and share the co-lead with the 49ers in the NFC West. What they showed on Sunday was ... potential. They did beat the Carolina Panthers, but what's that mean when it all comes down to it? Last year, they were the worst team in the National Football League. So what the Cardinals showed was the ability to execute their gameplan when they're able. The worst thing you can be in this league is a team that can't do what it wants to do in the best situation to do it.
That's the good for them ... the good news. The bad news is that rookie quarterback Cam Newton was able to set a rookie week one passing record against a secondary that was already a question mark. Only time will tell if Newton ends up being worth the first-overall draft pick, but one has to assume that he's probably not going to average 400 yards a week. It was a game that almost got away from them, and they're lucky to have a win right now.
For San Francisco, they do have to feel that Arizona might be better this year than they thought. Arizona has been pegged by many as the basement dweller in the NFC West. It's a proposition that may yet come true, but the division will be looking on.
St. Louis, though ... they are still somewhat of a mystery. They got things started well, and against a very good team in the Philadelphia Eagles, but they lost their way pretty quickly and let their early lead slip away. But the offense did come out and run somewhat efficiently, while the defense showed things. You know what they looked like?
They looked like a young team.
And that's what they are ... but in this division, they're a young team that could be going to the playoffs. Philadelphia is simply better in every way. The big thing to take away from this game is the injuries. Sam Bradford, Steven Jackson and Ron Bartell were all banged up. Bradford may return for week two, but Jackson and Bartell are probably out for longer, especially Bartell, who is showing a fracture in his neck.
Those are big injuries, and while there's no cause to ever celebrate an injury, the 49ers have increasing odds the more that other teams get banged up. Also hurt were Rodger Saffold, C.J. Ah You, Danny Amendola, and Bradley Fletcher. The Rams would have been trending upward without the injuries, if only because they didn't look completely lost against the Eagles.
All that being said, the 49ers have to feel good about the NFC West so far this year. They're trending upward with their win over last year's division winner, while the Rams lost and the Cardinals failed to impress in their win. Let's not crown anybody, but that's a right first step for 2011 for San Francisco.