This is going to be a fantastic week, probably the best for the NFC West since Arizona's Super Bowl appearance three years ago.
It could get a whole lot better with a San Francisco 49ers victory over the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game.
Fans for other teams in the division will have a hard time pulling for a despised rival, of course. But if you think criticism of the division has too often overlooked NFC West postseason successes, another 49ers victory could provide additional relief.
A 49ers victory over the Giants would give all four current NFC West teams one Super Bowl appearance since February 2002, right before the league realigned into eight four-team divisions. The NFC South is the only other division with more than two during that time (Carolina, Tampa Bay and New Orleans).
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News thinks the 49ers would have had an easier time against Green Bay than against the Giants. Kawakami: "I think Eli Manning is a very scary playoff QB -- when he’s throwing it well (like now), and has confidence in his receivers (like now), he is very tough to beat. The Giants are red-hot right now and they showed in 2007 that when they get red-hot, they’re nearly impossible to beat. It seems odd to say this, but I think Manning is a tougher out in the playoffs than either Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. Can’t exactly say why I think this, but I do." Noted: Manning's arm and size allow him to make throws other quarterbacks cannot make. I would expect the 49ers' defensive front to get much more pressure than Green Bay mounted, however.
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers should be happy to play at home, but not necessarily against the Giants. Purdy: "This is going to be a fascinating reboot, with lots of coaching brain power involved. The Giants have the NFL's oldest coach, Tom Coughlin, who is known for the right calls at the right times. The 49ers have rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has made almost no wrong moves over the past three months." Noted: The 49ers fooled the Giants with an onside kick when the teams played in Week 10. They caught the Giants' front line retreating a little too quickly.
Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat expects the Giants to double-cover Vernon Davis, load up against the run and find out whether the 49ers' wide receivers can do enough for San Francisco to win. Cohn: "Here’s some good news for the offense. Delanie Walker wrote on Twitter that he worked out Sunday and he’s ready to play next weekend. Alex Smith needs a secondary receiver to complement Davis and Walker can be that guy. Last time the Niners played the Giants, Walker led all Niners with six receptions for 69 yards."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com updates the 49ers' injury situation. Maiocco: "Ray McDonald was noticeably limping throughout the game with a right hamstring strain, which he sustained in the regular-season finale against the St. Louis Rams. Earlier this season, McDonald missed a game with a left hamstring strain. McDonald, who typically plays every down, played just 44 of the 49ers' 80 defensive snaps. Backup lineman Ricky Jean Francois played 36 snaps. However, McDonald was on the field for the 49ers' final 12 defensive plays of the game."
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch assesses what Jeff Fisher's hiring means for the Rams under owner Stan Kroenke. Miklasz: "Kroenke is financially committed. Kroenke edged out another billionaire, Miami owner Steve Ross, in the tense competition for Fisher. When Fisher's contract is finalized, he'll be among the NFL's highest-paid coaches with an annual salary that should average at least $7 million. Fisher was also granted a generous budget for hiring assistant coaches. Kroenke undoubtedly agreed to bankroll other football-related hires made by Fisher. Kroenke is doing more than paying a head coach; he's funding a new football operation. That's a major investment."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates where the Rams stand after hiring Fisher. On the general manager search: "Dawson may look like the front-runner because he has worked with Fisher in Tennessee. But he has less experience than most on the Rams' candidate list, including another Tennessee personnel department exec, Ruston Webster. The Rams have yet to interview Webster, although they have received permission to do so from Tennessee. The same holds true for Steve Keim of Arizona, Joey Clinkscales of the New York Jets, Brian Gaine of Miami and Tom Telesco of Indianapolis."
Also from Thomas: Brian Schottenheimer is among the candidates to become offensive coordinator for the Rams. Noted: I'll have more on this one later Monday morning.
Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch polls Rams players for thoughts on Fisher. One theme: That Fisher's background as a player helps him understand the physical demands of the game.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic updates the Todd Haley situation in relation to the Cardinals. He also serves up a couple other coaching-related tidbits. Somers: "As far as I know, line coach Russ Grimm and tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens have not re-signed with the Cardinals. They have been offered contracts. Grimm worked with Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey in Pittsburgh, so maybe Jacksonville is a possible landing spot for him. But will the Jags be willing to spent the $1.5 million or so to hire Grimm? That's what he makes in Arizona. With Kitchens, word is Rams coach Jeff Fisher thinks Kitchens is an excellent coach. Kitchens name has also been tied to openings at Alabama, his alma mater." Noted: The potential for Grimm's departure would have been big news in Arizona a couple years ago. Does it still have that feel?
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with Cardinals running back Ryan Williams, who is rehabilitating from the knee injury he suffered as a rookie during the 2011 preseason. Williams: "No injury is going to stop me, unless one of my legs is (cut) off somewhere and I only have one leg. I am too self-motivated to be the best player I can be. I want my career to last 10 to 14 years. Ten is the least for me. I won't stop. I want my career to be here … but if something happens where it isn’t, all 31 other teams will have to stand in front of me and tell me no for me not to be a football player and even then, I’d probably have to hear it again. That’s how much football means to me."
Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle passes along thoughts from former Seahawks quarterback Jon Kitna, who is entering into retirement. Sounds like Kitna will do some coaching at the high school level in the Tacoma area. Kitna: "Football was great, but as you get to the end of your career you kind of realize that it's more than just football. It's relationships that you form and things like that. So I consider myself awfully, awfully blessed to have played 16 years in this league. ... There's a lot of things that, for me, I'm excited about doing after football, and that would be teaching and coaching and pouring into the lives of inner-city kids here in Tacoma. So I'm definitely looking forward to that. ... I'm really excited about the next phase of life for me and my family."