Optimism is sweeping through San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona after a strong week of performances from these NFC West rivals.
There's one preferred way to determine which teams have the most to feel good about: battle it out on the field.
It'll happen Saturday when the 11-3 49ers, fresh off a 20-3 pounding of Pittsburgh on Monday night, visit the surging Seattle Seahawks on Christmas Eve. The Seahawks and Cardinals, a combined 11-3 since Week 9, then close out the regular season with a game at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Let the optimism flow.
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' ability to repeatedly come from behind to win reflects positively on coach Ken Whisenhunt. McManaman: "That's what makes Whisenhunt the proudest. He has witnessed a team grow before his eyes and fail to quit. The Cardinals have trailed in the second half of each of their seven victories and in six of those they were behind in the fourth quarter. But each time, they won. That tells Whisenhunt his team has arrived, that it's 'learned' how to win even when things look bleak, like it did when the Browns had a 17-7 lead after three quarters."
Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic would not protest if the Cardinals stuck with John Skelton at quarterback for at least another week. The Cardinals are 5-1 this season when Skelton plays.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Tarvaris Jackson can be more than simply a game manager for the Seahawks. O'Neil: "His second-half turnaround was among the more impressive, more important things that happened for Seattle on Sunday. The Bears were so focused upon stopping Marshawn Lynch that they were bringing one of their safeties up into the box. That was a surprise given Chicago's devotion to the Cover 2 defense. That put the onus on Jackson to make something happen. He did, most notably on his 43-yard pass to Ben Obomanu against man-to-man coverage, setting up the game-tying touchdown. He completed 15 of 19 passes in the second half for 176 yards."
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune points to several Seattle players, including Marshawn Lynch, as worthy of Pro Bowl consideration. Boling: "Lynch’s violent rushing style has reversed team fortunes and earned highlight-reel exposure across the country. A full season of performance at the level he’s reached in this second half, and Lynch might threaten 2,000 yards. Brandon Browner is another member of the Sea-hawks who plays with awe-inspiring force -- sometimes even within the rules. Browner’s reputation for penalties won’t help him right now, but he has six interceptions and set a team record for return yardage (220 yards for an average of 36.7 per pick)."
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the touchdown San Francisco scored to extend a 6-3 lead revealed much about the 49ers. Kawakami: "So the Steelers’ field goal put the onus back on Alex Smith and the offense, with only the whole sports world watching and a big percentage of Candlestick roaring for the Steelers. Could the 49ers capitalize on this moment? Would the offense scatter like pins under pressure from the Pittsburgh defense? Could the 49ers finally produce in the Red Zone? Would they be able to pull this all off before another blackout struck? Turns out, the 49ers were ready for this. More than ready."
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch leads off the Rams-related material for Tuesday morning. This would mark a departure from the optimistic line of thinking in the division, of course, for the Rams have fallen to 2-12. Miklasz: "Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels continues to confuse me. When A.J. Feeley took over for an injured Sam Bradford earlier this season, McDaniels scaled down the passing offense. He did it for Kellen Clemens, too. As he should have. It made sense. It would have also made sense to simplify the offense for Bradford. After all, Bradford is in his second NFL season. This is a new offense for him. He didn't have the usual offseason regimen to absorb it. Bradford clearly struggled to get comfortable in this offense -- especially when he was asked many times to set up on deep drops behind a weak offensive line to throw downfield to receivers that can't get open. Bradford is a rhythm passer. He's at his best on quick reads and throws. McDaniels and the Rams didn't adjust their offense to fit the QB skills."
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com checks in with Rams cornerback Ron Bartell, who is recovering from a neck injury and doing better.