Several weeks ago — I forget exactly when – you read my opinion here that the 49ers would win the NFC West and advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Today, I looked at the standings and schedule. Then, I came to a conclusion: The 49ers better get to work in a hurry.
The 49ers are 12-point underdog against the Colts. The Cardinals are 10-point favorites against the Panthers. If the Vegas odds hold up, the 49ers will be two games behind the Cardinals in the NFC West with nine games remaining.
What makes this difficult for the 49ers is that the Cardinals still face the Rams (0-7) twice, Seattle (2-4), Tennessee (0-6) and Detroit (1-5).
Even though the 49ers won the head-to-head game to open the season, the Cardinals have made up ground in other ways. Arizona defeated the Texans; the 49ers lost in Houston, for instance.
Every team in the NFC West plays every team in the AFC South and the NFC North. And every team in the NFC West plays the teams from the NFC East and NFC South that finished last season at the same spot in the standings.
The Cardinals have already won their NFC East game against the Giants, while the 49ers play at Philadelphia later in the year. The 49ers lost to the Falcons from the NFC South, and the Cardinals got lucky that the top team from a year ago, the Panthers, has been just awful this season.
Two Mondays ago, after the Cardinals beat the Seahawks when the 49ers had their bye week, I spoke with Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt on the phone. He was very excited about the way his team was playing. He said he felt his team was playing up-tight in the first three games. He said the pressure of being defending NFC champs was weighing on them. They played as if they were afraid to make mistakes.
During the Cardinals’ bye week, Whisenhunt stressed to his team to go out and have fun – and forget about the increased expectations. Watching the Cardinals play Sunday night in New York, they looked outstanding. I think the Cardinals are better right now than at any point during last year’s regular season.
It’s not an impossible task for the 49ers to dethrone the Cardinals. But just looking at the schedule, it’s going to be very, very difficult.
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CARDINALS (4-2) REMAINING SCHEDULE
At Chicago (3-3)
At St. Louis (0-7)
At Tennessee (0-6)
At 49ers (3-3)
At Detroit (1-5)
ST. LOUIS (0-7)
GREEN BAY (4-2
49ERS (3-3) REMAINING SCHEDULE
At Indianapolis (6-0)
At Green Bay (4-2)
At Seattle (2-4)
At Philadelphia (4-2)
At St. Louis (0-7)
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