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Final Word: NFC West

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

Birds falling out of the nest. A loss to the Vikings would drop the Cardinals to 2-4 at home, making it impossible for Arizona to finish the season with a winning record at University of Phoenix Stadium. No division winner since New Orleans in 2006 has failed to post a winning record at home. Those Saints finished 4-4 at home and 6-2 on the road before winning a playoff game against the Eagles. What's in store for the current Cardinals? The Vikings appear to hold advantages in most or all of the key matchups against Arizona. Kurt Warner's status might not be known until kickoff. The Cardinals' cause appears lost, right? We should know by now to expect the unexpected.

Guarding against the rush. The Cardinals could be without starting left tackle Mike Gandy. Backup Jeremy Bridges has experience, but facing Vikings pass-rusher Jared Allen presents problems for any tackle. Arizona rarely helps its tackles in protection, generally relying upon Warner to get rid of the ball before the rush arrives. That strategy would seem to be inviting trouble given Warner's recent injury issues and backup Matt Leinart's relative inexperience. The Cardinals probably need to adjust their plan.

Do or die for the 49ers. The latest NFC West chat featured several 49ers fans posing scenarios by which San Francisco might win its remaining games, leaving the Cardinals behind in the NFC West. Some optimism is warranted, but first things first. Before the 49ers can possibly overtake the Cardinals with a Monday night victory over Arizona in Week 14, they need to beat the Seahawks at Qwest Field. That is not necessarily a given even though the 49ers arguably have more talent now that Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and possibly Alex Smith are on the rise. The 49ers have won two of their past three games in Seattle, so they have to like their chances. It's a huge game for San Francisco and a good test for Smith.

Giving it to Gore. It's tough to imagine the 49ers turning away from Frank Gore over the final five games just because the offense has shown signs of life with a pass-oriented approach. Gore has enjoyed some of his finest moments against the Seahawks, including a 207-yard game against them in Week 2. Seattle hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in any of its other games this season, but their history against Gore is a troubling one. The 49ers would be wise to give him another chance to continue the trend.

Rams looking for rebound. The Rams had no chance against Seattle once they lost starting center Jason Brown to a knee injury. Brown was back at practice Friday. Right guard Richie Incognito was also on the field after returning from a foot injury. The team lacks front-line talent, and injuries have mounted in recent weeks. Right tackle Jason Smith will not play against the Bears, but getting key linemen back could give the Rams something to build around offensively late in the season. I'm just not sure Steven Jackson can hold up physically after carrying so much of the load to this point.