The San Francisco 49ers went into the 2011 season hoping to close the deal on a new stadium in Santa Clara.
Let's just say it was a good time to go 13-3 and advance to the NFC Championship Game.
Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' playoff push should help them sell season-ticket packages that stand as a big part of the funding equation. Finding a naming-rights sponsor for the new stadium should also become much easier. Rosenberg: "The final piece to the funding puzzle is securing $150 million to $200 million in league financing. With the NFL owners slated to vote on the funds Feb. 2, it didn't hurt to shine the national playoff spotlight on dilapidated Candlestick Park for consecutive weeks, particularly after two embarrassing blackouts during a Monday Night Football game this season. But success on the field is not a guaranteed cash cow, even in rich markets. When the New York Giants, Jets and Yankees sold seat packages for their new stadiums, it wasn't so easy. The Giants were fresh off a Super Bowl title, the Jets had just made it to the AFC Championship and the Yankees were a perennial power. Yet all three teams failed to sell out the priciest tickets when their home fields opened in 2009 and 2010."
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the next challenge for Alex Smith is to come up big again -- and again after that. Cohn: "Smith is good, promising, and people believe in him. We see all that. One great performance doesn't make anybody great, and a failure on Sunday will plunge Smith once again into a netherworld of uncertainty. I am not saying he will plunge. I don't think he will. I am saying he must make more great throws against the Giants. I'm saying the game almost surely will come down to him. He has to do it again -- and then again."
Jerry McDonald of Bay Area News Group takes a closer look at the 49ers' secondary.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers aren't going to talk trash before their game against the Giants on Sunday.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch examines where Sam Bradford fits in a Jeff Fisher-prioritized Rams offense. Miklasz: "Some of what Fisher likes to do is, indeed, old-fashioned when compared to the recent high-scoring trend that's turning NFL games into sessions of 'Madden 12' on the Xbox. Fisher does like to run the football and control the game. He does believe in having competitive, somewhat unruly men doing the blocking up front. He would like to see his guys punish opponents. He does not object to seeing opponents limping away in pain. It's the kind of "outdated" football that has the Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants in the four-team field for Sunday's conference championship games." Noted: Quarterback troubles with the unpredictable Vince Young marked Fisher's final seasons in Tennessee. Bradford will be much easier to coach.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch passes along these comments from Fisher regarding who will have ultimate authority on personnel decisions: "There's too much that needs to be done in this building for one person to do it all. It's like anything else, you've got to surround yourself with good people and trust the people to get their jobs done. It's no different than when you're putting together a coaching staff. The head coach is not calling offense, defense, and making special teams decisions in the game. You let your coordinators do those things. It's all about surrounding yourself with the best people you can."
Also from Thomas: Hue Jackson interviewed for the offensive coordinator's job under Fisher.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic does not expect the Cardinals to re-hire Todd Haley to their offensive staff. Somers: "Talks between the two sides have been amicable, as far as I know, but coming to agreement on a position that meets the Cardinals' needs and matches Haley's career goals has been elusive. It's become clear that coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn't want to make a major shake-up on his offensive staff. He believes in coordiantor Mike Miller, who is not going to be demoted. The only open position, then, is the quarterbacks job, and Haley would fit perfectly into that role. But Haley is a former coordinator and head coach. It's understandable he would want more responsibility than that. Haley also likes Miller, and both sides are sensitive to the possibility of hiring someone who would be perceived as looking over Miller's shoulder."
Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle summarizes a recent conversation between Brock Huard and Mike Salk asking whether the Seattle Seahawks' Tarvaris Jackson could follow the path Alex Smith has taken this season. Henderson: "Smith learned a new offense (Greg Roman is his seventh coordinator in as many seasons) in the same lockout-shortened offseason. Jackson, meanwhile, has run the same offense since he entered the league in 2006. As former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon said last week, 'If anyone should have known the offense it's Tarvaris Jackson.' If Smith can thrive in a new offense after a lockout-shortened offseason, why didn't Jackson do so in a familiar offense under the same circumstances?"
John Boyle of the Everett Herald says the Seahawks' approach to winning follows the ones San Francisco and Baltimore have taken to the championship round. Noted: Every team would be much better off with a quarterback capable of the things Tom Brady or Drew Brees could do. That doesn't mean a team absolutely has to have one in order to win playoff games. It's just that teams should not aspire to advance in the absence of a top quarterback. That should not be the blueprint.