Final Word: NFC West

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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

The 49ers' season starts anew. That's how it feels on offense, anyway. Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis will start a game together for the first time. Having to face the Colts on the road lowers expectations, but this should still be an exciting time for the 49ers. Set aside potential ramifications within the division. The 49ers are not a championship team or even a playoff team, most likely. They have issues on the offensive line and those will not suddenly resolve themselves. But if Smith commands the offense reasonably well and Crabtree builds upon a promising NFL debut, this game against the Colts can still qualify as progress, at least in my view.

The Cardinals' offense is due. The 2008 Cardinals owned third quarters, scoring at least 10 points in the quarter eight times during the regular season (compared to 10 times in all other quarters combined). The 2009 team hadn't scored more than seven points in any third quarter this season before lighting up the Giants for 14 in Week 7. A sign of things to come? The Panthers have allowed 24 third-quarter points over their last three games, seven more than they have allowed in the first halves of those games. Arizona's offense hasn't hit its stride to this point. And while the Panthers' defense remains relatively strong, Carolina is allowing 4.4 yards per carry overall. This game provides the Cardinals with an opportunity to hit an opponent while it's down.

Putting the clamps on DeAngelo Williams. The Cardinals have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in their last 12 games, including playoffs, but the Panthers' Williams has rushed for 241 yards in his last two games. The Cardinals are allowing a league-low 67.5 yards rushing per game this season and a league-low 3.02 yards per rushing attempt. Arizona has stopped opposing runners for losses on 18.7 percent of all running plays, the highest percentage in the league. Williams carried 12 times for 61 yards against Arizona in the playoffs last season. That included a 31-yard run. The running game fizzled once Arizona pulled ahead. With Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme struggling and nearly losing his job, Carolina will presumably feed the ball to Williams.

The Rams finally have a chance. Their spirit finally seemed to break during the fourth quarter of their 42-6 home defeat to the Colts. There was no way the Rams were going to win that game, and everyone knew it -- including the Rams. The odds improve significantly against the Lions. This could be the Rams' big chance and I would expect them to make a strong run at victory in this matchup. Anyone watching this game -- and someone certainly will, right? -- should watch the Rams' body language early in the game. The way Steven Jackson ran while the Rams trailed the 49ers by 35 points should be the way he runs from the beginning in this one. The Lions have already ended their historic losing streak. The Rams' turn comes Sunday or it might not come for a while. The Saints await on the other side of a bye.

Seahawks need to coach 'em up. The Seahawks' mostly young coaching staff had an extra week to prepare for the Cowboys. Seattle needs the additional prep time to show on the field. Purely from a talent standpoint, the Seahawks have little business beating the Cowboys in Dallas. Seattle enters this game with three starters boasting Pro Bowl experience (cornerback Marcus Trufant is not yet starting). The Cowboys counter with 12. And with Damion McIntosh starting at left tackle for the Seahawks, Cowboys pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware should pad his sack totals. I'm not sure whether enough scheming can be done to overcome that apparent mismatch, but it's time for Seattle to get creative.