Rough wakeup calls await 49ers, NFC West

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers face the first of six 10 a.m. PT kickoffs this season when they visit the Vikings in Week 3. The four other Western teams facing kickoffs at 10 a.m. local time -- Oakland, San Diego, Seattle and Arizona -- are a combined 2-0 in games kicking off that early this season, a departure from usual form and evidence that could hurt efforts to convince commissioner Roger Goodell of the need for special consideration in scheduling.

The Cardinals had been 1-15 since 2005 in early games before they defeated the Jaguars in Week 2 (I'm counting the Cardinals among West Coast teams because their time matches Pacific Time during Daylight Savings). The Cardinals had not won at 10 a.m. Arizona time since beating the Panthers in 2002. Their most recent victory during a 1 p.m. ET game was against the Bengals in 2007 (that kickoff was at 11 a.m. local time in Phoenix).

The 49ers are 2-17 in early games over the same period. Also since 2005, the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals are 11-1 in early games against the Rams and 8-42 in early games against other teams. They are 15-21 in other road games.

"I think anytime you win on the road, it is an important win," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters Monday. "Especially for us [given] the history with being on the East Coast in the 1 o'clock game, it was good to start out the way we did with an opening drive for a touchdown, and then to sustain it through the game was big for us."

Turnovers were key, as usual. The Cardinals improved to 17-0 under Whisenhunt when they have won the turnover battle.

Despite known misgivings about playing early games, the 49ers and Seahawks each drew the maximum number of 10 a.m. PT kickoffs this season with six apiece. San Francisco's annual road games against Seattle and Arizona cannot begin that early. Same goes for Seattle's road games against San Francisco and Arizona.

The Cardinals came out more favorably. Three of their four early kickoffs begin at 11 a.m. in their time zone. I've included those in the chart, but those starts shouldn't be quite as difficult for Arizona, at least in theory.

The first chart does not count neutral-site road games involving the 49ers and Chargers.

Early kickoffs have become a hot topic among West Coast teams and their fans, but Goodell remains unconvinced there's an issue. Having Western teams start 2-0 in early games this season will not help the cause.

"We have not seen specific information to show us that there is an advantage," Goodell said during the offseason. "It's something we'll continue to evaluate. Hopefully, if it is necessary, we'll make the proper changes."

Some fans I've spoken with felt Goodell and the NFL were demonstrating East Coast bias this offseason by ignoring legitimate complaints about early kickoffs while rushing to address the Patriots' scheduling concerns. NFL owners passed a resolution adjusting the scheduling rotation so that teams drawing the AFC West and NFC West would not play San Diego and Oakland in the same season or Seattle and San Francisco in the same season. The Patriots played the 49ers and Chargers on the road in back-to-back weeks last season.

"I understand the inequity of the Patriots playing two games back-to-back on the West Coast," 49ers president Jed York said in March. "We need to come together as a group of West Coast teams. You've got [five] teams that are literally traveling 3,000 miles for one game two or three times a year. If it is playing a later game, I think it makes sense."

For the 49ers, a victory over the Vikings could help their cause in the 2009 standings while hurting their case against the early kickoffs.