By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)
Heading into Week 6, the NFC West appears to be establishing itself as the toughest division in football.
Really, though, can it be that good? We are talking about a division that crowned the 7-9 Seahawks NFC West champs less than two years ago, right?
Tough to wrap your head around, isn't it? Why don't we let the numbers paint a clearer picture.
Through Week 5, the NFC West is the only division in the NFL that...
- Remains undefeated at home (10-0 record)
- Has no teams that have allowed 100 points or more (all others have at least two)
- Has a winning record from all four teams (14-6 combined)
- Hasn't lost to a team outside its conference (4-0)
- Has a positive point differential from every team (49ers lead NFL at +81)
- Has no teams in the bottom half of CHFF's Quality Stats Power Rankings
- Has all four teams ranked in the top ten of Bendability
- Has all four teams ranked in the top ten of Defensive Passer Rating
Nope, not too bad at all.
1. 49ers Set To Trounce the Champs?
This being their third meeting in less than a year, you'd think the 49ers and Giants were divisional foes or something.
San Francisco came out on top in a Week 10 battle at Candlestick Park in 2011 only to see the Giants get their revenge at the Stick in the NFC Championship game. Now, it's the Niners turn for vengeance.
Speaking of games at the Stick, the 49ers are 10-2 at home during the Jim Harbaugh era (including playoffs), outscoring opponents a ridiculous 346-161 in those games. That's an average score of 29-13 for all you non-mathemeticians out there.
That said, there's always that trend-crushing team who cares not about numbers.
As far as recent history is concerned, that team is the New York Football Giants. This article does a pretty solid job of outlining the G-Men's trend-bucking tendencies.
So, what should we expect from these two on Sunday? Well, this is where I would typically start spewing stats left and right, but I just told you the Giants are stat-defying soul crushers, so what good would that do?
Let's just say that after putting up 1,000 yards of offense and holding opponents to a combined three points in their last two games, the Niners are rolling. But the Giants have won the last six times (postseason included) they've faced a team coming off a win. Four of them occurred in last year's playoffs, but this team hasn't exactly been playing like a playoff team in the regular season.
Tough call, eh? Here's why I'm taking the Niners: the Harbaugh factor.
The Niners head coach is one competitive fella. Obviously, all coaches are. But if you've seen much of the guy, you've probably got the vibe that he's one of those people who despise losing on such an epic level he'd be willing to chop off one of his own fingers if it presented a chance to escape defeat.
When Harbaugh was head coach at Stanford in 2008, his squad lost to the arch-rival USC Trojans 49-23. The next year he squashed Pete Carroll's No. 8 ranked Trojans 55-21 and prompted the now-Seahawks coach to ask, "What's your deal?" when he felt Harbaugh was running up the score.
My best guess is that he was anxiously awaiting that opportunity, much like the one he'll have Sunday to avenge his most disappointing loss as a 49er.
2. Buffalo Offers Prime Opportunity For Cardinals Sputtering Offense to Fuel Up
Let's not forget that Arizona is dealing with a handful of injuries on offense, but it's not like this was an efficient unit at full health, either.
Kevin Kolb playing respectably well has been a pleasant surprise in the desert this fall, but the O-line is doing all they can to have him next to John Skelton on the injury list. They've allowed 17 sacks in the past two games, including nine in Week 5, which was exactly three times the amount of points they scored in the 17-3 loss to the Rams.
So the Cards are no longer undefeated, but they're still 4-1 and tied with the Niners atop the NFC West. Even better, they'll host a floundering Bills squad that was just walloped by Frisco 45-3 last week.
The defense has helped them prosper greatly. Kevin Kolb has been clutch when he's given a chance to take even a short breath in the pocket. Losing Ryan Williams for the year is a tough blow, but the run game has been non-existent anyway so I'm not exactly sure how much of an impact that will even have.
If they can't pound the rock against a team that's given up 557 yards via the ground in the last two games, you can stick a fork in the Cardinals so-called "rushing attack".
But, if they can stave off Buffalo's pathetic excuse of a pass rush (one sack in last two games) and move some bodies in the running game, this offense might be able to finally take flight.
3. Can the Patriots Ditch the Bird Flu or Will the Seahawks Keep them Feeling Under the Weather?
Apologies for the cheesy headline, but seriously, these Pats can't put away teams with feathered mascots right now.
A Stephen Gostkowski missed field goal in Week 2 and Justin Tucker made field goal in Week 3 led to the only blemishes of New England's young season. The former was a 20-18 loss to the Cardinals and the latter a 31-30 loss to the Ravens.
Now they'll head to CenturyLink Field (arguably the NFL's toughest venue to play in) where a football game hasn't been played since the "touchception" in Week 2. Seattle is a tough cookie with the 12th man on their side, but the Pats now have a rushing attack capable of keeping the fight on the ground. New England ran for 247 yards on Buffalo in Week 4, then put up 251 on Denver last week. For the year, the Pats are No. 1 in CHFF's Offensive Hog Index.
That said, they were only able to average 2.7 yards per carry in games against the Cards and Ravens. The Seahawks are No. 6 in Defensive Hog Index and allowing opponents just 3.2 YPC.
It's hard to imagine the Pats losing their third game six weeks into the season (hasn't happened since 2005), but they can blame the NFL for front-loading the schedule with bird teams if they do.
4. The Rams are Rolling, But Will a Trip to the Sunshine State Cool Them Off?
Not only are the Rams 3-2, but they just picked up back-to-back wins against NFC West opponents. So, why would a trip to a warmer climate to face the Miami Dolphins cool them off?
Simply put, St. Louis does not like sunlight. In fact, this vampire-like squad is an embarrassing 5-30 in outdoor games dating back to 2006 and 1-9 in all road games since the start of last year.
Another batch of bad news for Rams fans, St. Louis is No. 30 in the Offensive Hog Index and the Dolphins are No. 2 in our Defensive Hog Index. A week before the Rams sacked Kevin Kolb nine times, Miami brought him down eight times. They're also holding opponents to a paltry 2.7 YPC.
So, why should we believe the Rams can come out with a win? Well, they're defense ain't too shabby either. St. Louis is a top-ten team in every defensive Quality Stat and the D hasn't allowed a TD since the opening drive against the Seahawks in Week 4.
5. Polar Opposites
The NFC West and the AFC East are nothing alike. Since the NFC West is scheduled to play three AFC East squads this weekend, there may not be a better time to see why. Here's a pile of stats to show you just how different these two divisions really are at this point in the season.
- Every AFCE squad has allowed over 100 points in 2012, while no NFCW team has done so.
- Three of four AFCE squads have scored over 100 points, while three of four NFCW teams haven't.
- Every AFCE team has lost at least one home game, no NFCW team has a home loss.
- Every NFCW team in top ten of Bendability, no AFCE team in top ten of Bendability.
- Same goes for Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt.
6. Predicting Post-Week 6 NFC West Standings (1-2 in Week 5)
1. Arizona Cardinals (5-1)
The struggling Bills head to the desert at the perfect time for Arizona. They need to get their swagger back, and Buffalo's defense has allowed 90 points in the past six quarters of football. Expect a better fight than the one they put up against San Fran, but the Bills won't come out on top.
2. San Francisco 49ers (5-1)
No shock here. I spilled the beans and told you I was taking the Niners already. It wouldn't make much sense to bet against a team outscoring opponents 79-3 in their last eight quarters of football, now would it?
3. Seattle Seahawks (3-3)
I know I'll regret it, but I'm taking the Pats over the Seahawks. The curse of the birds will be lifted, and New England will avoid a 3-3 start by squeezing out a nail-biter on the road.
4. St. Louis Rams (3-3)
The Rams can't win on the road, especially in outdoor venues. Believe it or not, the Dolphins could be 4-1 if not for two overtime losses. All signs point to a bad day for Jeff Fisher's club, which is why they'll probably pull this one out.