NFC West Wins Two Big Games This Week; Can St. Louis Ever Match?

Quarterback Alex Smith and rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh have the San Francisco 49ers on top of the NFC West with a surprising 4-1 record.

Just over a month ago, the St. Louis Rams were the odds on favorites to win the NFC West. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo's team seemed like it had everything it needed. The Offensive Rookie of the Year, Sam Bradford, and an offense now designed by Josh McDaniels; a defense in its third year under the leadership of Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole and built around budding superstars like James Laurinaitis and Chris Long; and more talent than the rest of the division with three teams in transition. 

Today, the NFC West defied the laughing stock status, except for Arizona. The Seattle Seahawks pulled off the unlike upset of the New York Giants...at the Meadowlands. Tarvaris Jackson, who left with an injury, and Charlie Whitehurst combined to complete 26 of 41 passes for two touchdowns. Marshawn Lynch added 98 rushing yards and a touchdown. The real highlight of the game, however, at the end. Charlie Whitehurst threw a 27-yard TD strike for the lead, and Seattle returned an Eli Manning interception to put it away for good. 

As you may recall, the Rams failed to beat the Giants, despite poor play from Tom Coughlin's bunch. 

On the other side of the country, San Francisco solidified their grasp on the NFC West by thumping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 49ers were only favored by 2.5 points heading into this game. They now have a 4-1 record. 

Something else to ponder about what San Francisco has done under rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh. Through five games, with Alex Smith still quarterbacking the offense, Harbaugh has led his team to four wins. Spagnuolo has a total of eight wins since being hired to coach the Rams in 2009. 

I laughed when the 49ers paid Harbaugh, who had less NFL coaching experience than Spagnuolo, a whopping $5 million per season to coach. Now I understand why they paid him that much. It's a study in contrast. 

Playing the NFC East and  the AFC North was supposed to be the great equalizer, allowing the Rams to take the division with a strong performance against their rivals. San Francisco now has a lead that will be next to impossible for the Rams to catch, especially with the injuries. Nevertheless, it does ratchet up the pressure for the Rams to play far better than they have been so far. Whether or not they live up to that test could have much to say about the direction of the franchise. 

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