Mailbag: Acquiring top pick in 2011 draft?

Larry from Las Vegas writes: What would it take for the Cardinals to get the No. 1 overall choice in the 2011 NFL draft? With as many holes as the Panthers have -- and with quarterback not being one of them -- they would want to trade down. Would the Cardinals' first- and second-rounders be too much? How bout possible player/pick combinations. My whole point is, this team is only a franchise QB away from dominating the NFC West for years to come. I wholeheartedly believe our defense would be better if the scheme were better and the offense helped them out by converting on third down.

Mike Sando: I do not see how the Panthers could pass over a true franchise quarterback if one were available. Sure, they drafted Jimmy Clausen, but we haven't seen enough from Clausen to think he's definitely going to solve the position for years to come.

The Panthers drafted Clausen one pick after Arizona took Daryl Washington and one pick before San Francisco took Taylor Mays. That tells you how much perceived value Clausen had in the 2010 draft. If the Panthers had drafted him among the top 10 instead of 48th overall, they might not be in the market for a quarterback at No. 1. But if they pass over a true franchise-caliber prospect because they have Clausen, they'll set back their franchise far more than if they doubled up at the position.

Larry Fitzgerald is the Cardinals' best player, but I would not envision him waiving the no-trade clause in his contract for a chance to join Clausen in Carolina.

Unnamed from parts unknown writes: Sando, maybe you can give the Niners a little more love. Looking at your post about NFC West scenarios, I noticed there are four different scenarios in which the Niners win out. They make the playoffs in three of them. The only one in which they don't make it is if the Seahawks also win out. Don't you think that the Niners have a better chance of beating both St. Louis and Arizona than Seattle does at beating both Tampa Bay and St. Louis? Just a thought.

Mike Sando: I'm not sure what I think anymore. The Rams are the most consistent team in the division. The 49ers are the most talented team. The Seahawks are the most inconsistent team.

Seattle has a decent shot at going 2-0 to close the season because Tampa Bay is so beat up and the Seahawks will get St. Louis at Qwest Field. But there is also a real chance the Seahawks will not have to go 2-0 for a playoff berth. It all depends upon whether the Rams beat the 49ers.

If the 49ers beat the Rams, they probably become division favorites. If the Rams beat the 49ers, the Seahawks probably become division favorites.

Where does that leave the Rams? Atop the division, for now, but with arguably the toughest road of the three. Does that make any sense?

Jason from Bellingham, Wash., writes: Has the NFL fan's memory just gotten too short or is there another reason the NFC West is bashed regularly?

In this decade, the Rams were one of the premier teams in the league before falling on hard times like most teams do. But they are obviously rising. In the last five years, two teams from the division have been in the Super Bowl. How many divisions can say that?

Yes, the NFC West is weak now and it will be an embarrassment if we have a sub-.500 division winner, but these things are just part of the cycle of football, in my opinion. Sorry to rant. Just tired of the disdain piled on my Seahawks and their division.

Mike Sando: I walk a fine line on this one. Yes, it's true the division has produced some very good teams over the past decade. But there almost never has been more than one really good team at a time. The Seahawks were rising when the Rams were still holding on back in about 2004, but that did not last long.

The Cardinals' recent success probably looks like an aberration from afar now that the team is 4-10. The 49ers haven't won anything of significance in nearly a decade.

It's tough to argue with the standings.

Dave from Orlando writes: Mike, everyone is so down on the NFC West and a potential winner with a 7-9 record, and rightfully so, in my opinion. However, I have not heard a peep that the AFC South winner could finish with a 8-8 record. What's the story?

Mike Sando: Peyton Manning is part of the story. He's earned the benefit of the doubt.

Also, I'd be much more surprised if Indianapolis and Jacksonville both lost out to finish 8-8 than if one of the NFC West teams won the division at 7-9. But if both division produce an 8-8 champion, I'll jump right in and have some fun with it.

I'm skeptical about changing how the NFL seeds the playoffs based on one unusual season.

Imagine if you had a 7-9 division champion that won its final six or seven games. Then let's imagine you had a 9-7 wild-card team that lost its final five. Which team should the seeding process reward? I'd rather just keep the current system and live with the consequences.