As promised, I'm back from the eye doctor and ready to bring the far horizon into clearer focus, or something like that.
Tony from Richmond, Calif., asks whether I see the San Francisco 49ers reaching another NFC Championship Game anytime soon, or if they "wasted their golden opportunity to make it to the Super Bowl."
They did blow a golden opportunity. That doesn't mean it will be their only chance with the current core of players.
The Philadelphia Eagles lost the NFC title game following the 2001, 2002 and 2003 seasons before reaching the Super Bowl a year later. The New Orleans Saints lost the NFC title game following the 2006 season, then reached the Super Bowl three years later with some of the same players.
The Eagles are the best example recently from the NFC. They had first-round byes and home-field advantage when losing those conference championship games following the 2002 and 2003 seasons. They combined for 13 points in those two defeats, a huge disappointment. The Eagles did not panic. They earned a first-round bye again in 2004 and finally claimed a Super Bowl berth.
The Eagles took a disciplined approach to building their roster. They promoted stability. They developed a highly drafted quarterback. The 49ers appear on their way to doing those things as well, so they have a chance.
David from Medway, Mo., thinks the St. Louis Rams might be in position to surprise opponents, stealing a few victories from superior teams.
"I think having Jeff Fisher will make the biggest difference," David writes, "and will allow the Rams to take advantage of opportunities that Martz, Linehan, and Spags would have squandered."
Coaches too often arrive as saviors and leave as inept buffoons, when in fact they were neither. So, I'm not going to take shots at Mike Martz, Scott Linehan or Steve Spagnuolo. Each dealt with different circumstances.
But if you're going to circle one game to test your theory, David, let's go with the season opener against Detroit. Fisher will have the inside track on Lions coach Jim Schwartz, his former assistant in Tennessee. That will work both ways, of course, but Fisher will have one advantage. He will have multiple seasons of Lions tape to analyze. Schwartz won't have anything on Fisher since 2010, and nothing on Fisher with St. Louis beyond exhibition games.
Beating the Lions in Detroit will not be easy, but you can bet Fisher will be eager to make a strong first impression against his old friend. The Lions went 5-3 at home last season, losing to San Francisco, Atlanta and Green Bay. The Lions ran up big scores against quite a few other teams in Detroit, including when they pounded Kansas City 48-3 in Week 2. Like I said, it's no sure thing.
Curtis from Seattle couldn't resist making a 7-9 reference with a question about the Seahawks. It was worded cleverly enough to catch my attention.
"Hey Sando," he writes, "do you think that Pete Carroll, now entering his seventh season as an NFL head coach, will be able to get the nine or more wins that Seahawk fans are hoping for?"
I do think Seattle will reach that level this season, for a couple reasons. The roster appears improved and healthier, for one. Having additional options at quarterbacks is the primary difference in my view.
Tarvaris Jackson played much of last season with a torn right pectoral muscle. He's a right-handed quarterback who relies on arm strength more than anticipation to complete passes. The team got to 7-9 with Jackson playing hurt and his backup, Charlie Whitehurst, offering very little in defeats to Cincinnati and Cleveland.
I don't know where Jackson will fit into the equation this season, but if he remains in the team's plans, he's going to be healthier, most likely. If Jackson doesn't remain in the team's plans, it will be because the team feels so good about Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson. And if the team feels that much better about those players, we have to figure the position will be improved.
So, by those estimations, the quarterback position appears to be looking up in Seattle. That should be enough for the team to get a couple more victories this season, I would think.