Mailbag: QBs and the NFC West race

Michael from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Mike, I'm asking for your help. I'm a Niners fan who can see the future, a future where there Niners drop a tough divisional game down the stretch, miss the playoffs and boot Alex Smith. Alex Smith gets picked up by another team, likely one failing to get the QB it wants in the draft, and Smith then becomes a successful starting quarterback in a city where there isn't a revolving door at offensive coordinator or a rookie head coach still getting his sea legs. Surround him with consistency and you just might get more consistent performances from him -- performances like the Monday night against the Saints. Help me convince the haters that Alex Smith can be the quarterback of the Niners.

Mike Sando: Those ideal circumstances do not exist in San Francisco. They have not existed in San Francisco for a long time. Alex Smith has not been good enough to transcend imperfect circumstances. If he lands elsewhere and succeeds, good for him. It was not necessarily going to happen in San Francisco.

If I were the 49ers, I'd consider bringing him back as part of the equation, but not as someone the team is counting upon. Smith hasn't shown enough for the 49ers to bank on him. If I were Smith, I'd look for another situation, preferably a more stable one, and take my chances there. A change of scenery could benefit him.

Steve from Edwardsville, Ill., writes: With the way the NFC looks right now, the division winner will probably end up 7-9. And if San Francisco loses to San Diego and wins against the Rams and Cardinals, the 49ers will have the tiebreaker.

I don't see Seattle winning the next two against Atlanta or at Tampa Bay. I can't see the Cardinals beating Dallas in Week 16, and even if they did, they're 1-4 in the division, so they're cooked. That leaves the Rams. What are the chances for the Rams to win both at home? And if they win one of the next two, what are their chances in Seattle?

Mike Sando: The Rams should be able to win two of their final three, but these are not gimme games by any means. It's important for them to take off the pressure by beating the Chiefs in Week 15. I like the Rams' chances against the 49ers in St. Louis. Then you figure the Rams win one of the other two, either at home against the Chiefs or on the road against Seattle.

The Seahawks appear vulnerable right now. They'll have a better shot at Tampa Bay, where injuries have depleted the Bucs, than they'll have against Atlanta in Week 15. I need to see more from Seattle over the next couple weeks before picking them to beat the Rams in Week 17, even at home. Right now, I'd probably take the Rams, a change in how I felt a couple weeks back. The Rams are more consistent, they are better on both lines, they have a running game and their quarterback has done a better job limiting mistakes.

Brady from Gualala, Calif., writes: Hey Mike, big fan. Thanks for making this season fun despite the usually awful play of the Niners. Just thought I'd point out: In a battle of the No. 1 overall picks, everyone is excited with St. Louis and disappointed with San Francisco. Is anyone out there NOT surprised to find out that Alex Smith has a better passer rating than Sam Bradford? Obviously, Bradford's a rookie, but it's worth noting. Also, while 21st in the league is nothing to brag about, how about a show of hands from all those who expected Alex Smith to have a better passer rating at this point in the season than Donovan McNabb, Brett Favre, Mark Sanchez and Carson Palmer? Anyway, thanks again. Keep up the great work.

Mike Sando: Thanks. Bradford has won six of his 13 starts and generally managed games well despite playing with less talent at the skill positions around him. Bradford has played better on third down. Those are significant differences. There's no question expectations are different because Bradford is just starting out and Smith has had other chances. Let's revisit this one in two or three weeks to see how the stats break down and, more importantly, how the teams finish.

kelphelper from Anchorage writes: For all the Seahawks' problems (and they are many), the most frustrating one to me is the tackling. How did they get so bad at such a basic thing? Instead of aiming for opponents' lower torsos and wrapping up their legs, they go for a big hit on the upper body. And the result is usually that they bounce off the ball carrier or miss altogether.

The San Francisco game was horrible from a tackling standpoint. Doesn't this reflect on the coaching more than anything? I know we're missing Red Bryant, and Lofa Tatupu is banged up, but I don't think that should automatically transform us into one of the worst defenses in the league.

Mike Sando: Sure, coaches are somewhat accountable for how their team tackles. In Seattle's case, these are sometimes open-field tackles after the receiver or runner has already gained significant yardage. The defense has lost its confidence and that affects the way players attack ball carriers. We are not seeing much gang tackling.

Tatupu clearly needs a more solid defensive line in front of him. He needs protection. He has not been healthy enough to enjoy a strong season for a few years. Bryant's absence has put Tatupu at greater risk. In the secondary, strong safety Lawyer Milloy can be a physical player, but he has logged too many snaps this season. He admitted earlier in the season that he was barely holding things together physically. Imagine how he feels heading into Week 15.

Earl Thomas is a coverage safety. He's a willing hitter, but not a consistent tackler. Marcus Trufant can be a good tackler, but he's taken too much punishment over the years. He suffered a concussion at New Orleans trying to make a tackle in the running game. Earlier in his career, he suffered shoulder problems and even briefly switched to right cornerback to protect his right shoulder (his lead shoulder for tackling when he plays on the left side).

Willy from Gilbert, Ariz., writes: I am a Cardinals season-ticket holder and I am trying to find the scenario that puts the Cardinals in the playoffs. Obviously, the Cards have to win out, but the Rams and Seahawks still play each other, meaning one of them will win seven games. Wouldn't we lose a tie breaker against either team?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals could win the division at 7-9 if the Seahawks and Rams tied in Week 17 to finish with 6-9-1 records. The 49ers would beat the Rams in Week 16 under this scenario, but they would lose to San Diego and Arizona. The Cardinals would win out. The Rams and Seahawks would both go 0-2-1 from here. Check out the scenario.

Matt from Spokane, Wash., writes: Hey Sando, love the blog! My question is on Matt Hasselback's future in Seattle. The Hawks are going to be in the middle of the draft board, so they won't have an opportunity for Andrew Luck, but what about getting a developmental quarterback and keeping Matt Hasselback for one more year as a mentor? Cam Newton, anyone? This would certainly providee the competition that Carroll preaches and those two can battle it out with Charlie Whitehurst riding the pine, just like in San Diego. I think that if the Seahawks don't pick him up for another year, Mike Holmgren will snap him up quickly. Thoughts?

Mike Sando: The Seahawks cannot be too worried about what Holmgren might do. Hasselbeck probably would not lead the Browns to a championship at this stage of his career. If the Seahawks think his time has passed, they need to move forward. I think the Seahawks need more information regarding Whitehurst. They would ideally give him a few starts late this season. The division race makes it harder for them to do that unless Hasselbeck keeps throwing interceptions at his recent rate.

You're on the right track overall. They need to draft a quarterback and then determine whether that quarterback would be ready to step in relatively quickly. They need to find out how Hasselbeck views himself and whether Hasselbeck would return without automatically being the starter.