NFC West conversation starters

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

My flights home from Tampa featured lots of Steelers fans, a few Cardinals fans and quite a few football fans in general.

At one point, a man who later identified himself as a Raiders fan told a Steelers fan seated in his row that he couldn't believe officials failed to review Kurt Warner's fumble in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XLIII. He was convinced the play should have been ruled an incomplete pass. The Steelers fan expressed relief that her team had escaped with a victory anyway.

We'll follow up on the officiating in a bit. First, I wanted to run through some of your comments left following the item in which I thanked you for an enjoyable season while soliciting requests for an upcoming column topic. I'll sample your comments below, followed by my indented responses -- sort of a modified mailbag item here.

RedBirdSupremacy: Draft needs and Mock Draft for the NFC West would be great! Thanks Mike!!

Mike Sando: I'm told we might handle that as part of a coordinated effort across the eight divisional blogs. Stay tuned.

CardsfaninBuffalo: Before draft talk I think there should be a recap of the seasons of all NFC West teams. Before moving on to next season fans of all teams should take a look at this past season. This should be the easiest for Cardinal fans as Hawk and Rams fans would like to forget this season asap if they havent already. But the 9ers season wasn't a total wash. I thought they ended the season on a high note. As for Cards fans, we really should look back and appreciate the effort these men put out.

Mike Sando: We've covered the Cardinals so hard lately that I'm looking forward to spreading the analysis a little wider. We did revisit the Cardinals' season here while linking to previous analyses for the other NFC West teams.

RhynoE12man: I give you Cardinals mad credit, you should have won that game, you were robbed. You are the rightful SB champions.

Mike Sando: I don't think the officiating problems tainted the Steelers' victory, but they did make the defeat tougher for Arizona to process.

Vaegrin: The 4th quarter comeback and the way the game came down to the wire makes the loss tough to swallow, but it's hard to be disappointed that the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl, attacked the Steelers defense better than anyone had before all season long, and nearly became champions. Fans in Arizona can be proud to be Cardinals fans. I hope that from now on players will be able to be proud to call themselves Cardinals.

Mike Sando: No doubt about it. The Cardinals proved they could make effective adjustments on offense. I feel as though I had a good read on the game except for that interception return before halftime. I really expected the Cardinals' defense to produce that type of play. It's a credit to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers that they prevented such a turnover from hurting them. Kurt Warner had not thrown a red-zone interception since Week 8.

mwbudd: Great job on the blog. I appreciate your insights. Now that the Super Bowl is over perhaps we can ramp up talk in regards to this month's combine and the draft, especially as it applies to the NFC West?

Mike Sando: You've got a deal. I am scheduled to attend the combine beginning Feb. 18.

Bcook122: Mike- The thanks goes to you for your seemingly endless energy behind keeping this blog fresh and full of timely information. Clearly this is no place for the hobbyist. Your column allows me to break away from the too often borish world that is business to participate with other enthusiasts in expressing our ideas, gripes, retorts, and general meanderings around pro football. Fine job!

Mike Sando: I appreciate the compliments because I know you are a tough grader. Here's to another enjoyable experience in 2009.

DWRinAZ: Great effort this year. I'm curious about your thoughts on Jason Whitlock's column on the refs. I'm a bit surprised that the subject was so downplayed by all the big time writers. You can't take anything away from the Steelers, the winning drive was a masterpiece. However, the lack of a formal review on the last "fumble" makes no sense at all to me.

Mike Sando: I covered Super Bowl XL between the Seahawks and Steelers without realizing that officiating would become such a big part of the postgame story. I was focusing more on the opportunities Seattle missed through dropped passes and other errors.

The Cardinals made plenty of errors in this game as well, but I did have a sense that the officiating was favoring the Steelers in this. I did not sense any deliberate effort to make it so, but it just seemed to work out that way. From that standpoint, I would agree with some of what Whitlock was saying.

I would have appreciated a more detailed accounting of the plays he thought should have been interpreted differently. Perhaps that is something we can do here.

SFO_49ers: Vanilla Ice!

What are you doing with that picture up?!

You know that you can get kicked out of here for impersonating other people!

Mike Sando: If there was a problem, yo, I'll solve it. Seriously, I swear the mug is one thing we'll upgrade this year. I even mentioned it to an ESPN photographer at the Super Bowl. We were going to shoot a new one at some point, but time got away from us.

I must say, the degree to which the mug bothers you does provide cheap entertainment for me. I've enjoyed your occasional comments and mailbag items hammering home your violent objections to the chosen visage.

Misfit74: I would love to have some of your analysis on the Seattle cap-situation, their flexibility to sign big-money free-agents, and what potential ramifications a signing such as Haynesworth might have on the roster. Cap-casualties, re-structures, etc.
You do great work, Mike, and thanks for keeping it going this off-season. I look forward to both free-agency and pre-draft information from you. Don't be afraid to tell us what you really think. Candor is appreciated. Like when Holmgren said: "I didn't realize we'd also be playing the guys in striped shirts...". But even that was pretty 'PC' in a way. Let 'er rip, Mike! :)

Mike Sando: We will hit the cap stuff. I'll go beyond the usual figures, which can be misleading. I will try to explain what they mean. People are always clamoring to know how much cap room a team has, but the cap is so misunderstood that the information doesn't mean much without an explanation. I'm on it.

Hopefully my previous answers addresses my thoughts on the officiating. And of course I covered that issu
e in my postgame column.

Pete Reggio: Free Agency - who's going and who's available. Franchise Tags (if any) Salary Cap - how much money the teams have to play around with. Combine, Draft, Voluntary Camps, Training Camp, Preseason. Just a few items to see us through the long dark tea-time of the off-season.

RVAninersFAN: I'd like to see the Niners get a WR through free agency. Too many "can't miss" WRs turn out to be busts in the NFL. In the draft I'd like to see the Niners get some pass rush help, a safety and a RT. All three of those holes need to be filled with straight up nasty dudes. Lawrence Taylor, Ronnie Lott type guys.

Mike Sando: Lawrence Taylor and Ronnie Lott on the same defense. Now there is a scary combination. You might as well ask for Joe Greene at defensive tackle while you're at it.

SFO_49ers: It doesn't matter who the 49ers get, the Raiders had Randy Moss and Jerry Porter in 2005 and they still only won 5 games. Jimmy Raye was the OC!

Mike Sando: They won four games in 2005 and five games in 2004. Norv Turner was the head coach, however, and he would have been overseeing the offense.

RVAninersFAN: For every Jerry Rice there's a JJ Stokes. For every DeSean Jackson there's a Todd Pinkston. Building a winning team starts from the inside out. You say you want the 49ers to win, a WR is the last piece of the puzzle, not the first.

Mike Sando: Yep, especially when you want to line up and run the ball.

ArizonaCheats49ers: Look RVA, I agree on what the team needs, but WR should come from the draft. If I keep reading about what DeSean Jackson and Santonio Holmes can take their teams to a Superbowl, why not the 49ers? Jackson I agree was not a 1st round pick, but Holmes was and look what he learned in less then like 2 years in the league? Why can't the 49ers do that in the draft, find the right WR and groom him as go to? Holmes had to play for Ward obviously and he stepped up. The 49ers don't have that in their WRs, a go-to nor one to step up. That's my frustration, RVA and I don't want antoher Issac Bruce or B Johnson like Wr on the 49ers again! Get quality or get it from the draft.

Mike Sando: Well said. Bruce was a stopgap-type signing. He played better than his stopgap status, in part because Mike Martz was the coordinator, but the 49ers need Josh Morgan and Jason Hill to prove they belong on the field every down.

Daniel2410: Sando, get back to work. I'm bored at work and i need your blog updated.

Mike Sando: Consider it done. Events such as the Super Bowl provide so many subjects for blogging, but the schedule disruptions made it nearly impossible for me to do my usual level of homework. I never even provided the roided-out rosters before the game. Simply ran out of time, day after day. And I wasn't able to do some of the in-game breakdowns this time, either. Time to start catching up on things.

SeniorSwick: So after seeing how great Larry Fitz was all post season should Seattle only think Crabtree with their 1st pick.

Mike Sando: Great in theory, but is Crabtree a cannot-miss prospect?

SeniorSwick: Nice thought Misfit74, I'd love to see Seattle bring in some dominant player in the middle like Haynesworth. Do we even possess the ability though? Does he fit our speedy defensive philosophy?

Mike Sando: Haynesworth would fit any defense, probably. He would help the Seahawks in a big way, I think. But the odds of him leaving Tennessee and then choosing the Seahawks over 30 other teams are probably remote. It's not something fans should count on or expect when formulating offseason plans.

Needs More Alaszun: Mike: Just a hearty thank you for doing a fantastic job in the blog this season. You've been nothing but professional and have done a great job this year. I know I don't comment much, but I've silently read the blog almost all year and greatly appreciated it.

Mike Sando: Thanks much. I know we have lots of lurkers out there. If we can lure some of them into the conversation, we'll all benefit. Thanks again.

ownerOwens: Sando, do you see the Niners going back to the 4-3 on D, and if so don't you feel that Julius Peppers would be the perfect compliment to Willis? I'd also like to see the 9ers move Clements to safety, where he could fully utilize his big hit ability. Prediction, Hakeem Nicks will be the top WR to come out of this draft class... T.O. Jr...

Mike Sando: I would expect the 49ers to favor the 3-4 because that is what they did once Singletary took over as head coach. The defensive staff remains unchanged from late last season in key positions. Clements would seem to project well as a safety, except that the 49ers are paying him as a shutdown corner.