NFL Playoff Picture 2011: 49ers Should Take NFC West Crown With Ease

Written by SB Nation's Ryan Van Bibber.

Raise your hand if you laughed at an NFC West joke anytime since January. Now, put them down before everyone in your suburban office complex sees you acting as foolish as the teams you so enjoyed mocking. And how could you not? The NFC West sent a de facto representative to the NFL playoffs last year, the Seattle Seahawks, with a 7-9 record. Predictions of another season chocked full of laughs have come to fruition. One team was supposed to run away with it, and it was not supposed to be the San Francisco 49ers with Alex Smith running the offense. So much for predictions.

Arizona made the biggest move of the lockout shortened offseason trading for quarterback Kevin Kolb. Unfortunately, they failed to address other needs around him, like an offensive line. Seattle made a big offseason move of their own, signing free agent wide receiver Sidney Rice. They also spent a bevvy of draft picks to upgrade their offensive line, a serious weakness in their de facto playoff run last year. However, Sidney Rice and the line are working with the terrible twosome of Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst, poor answers at quarterback even for a team just needing a seat filler this year. Disappointment reigns in St. Louis, where the Rams were supposed to dominate their division and stand tall in the face of a tough first-half schedule. A big upset over New Orleans last week could be a good sign, or it could be a fluke. 

Here's what the NFC West looks like entering Week 9:

1. San Francisco, 6-1

2. Seattle, 2-5

3. Arizona, 1-6

4. St. Louis, 1-6

Seattle, Arizona or St. Louis could all be sitting on winning lottery tickets for the 2012 NFL Draft. It would be something of a major upset if all three of teams combined for 15 wins. Arizona and Seattle can point toward rebuilding efforts. St. Louis, despite a rash of injuries, still has the talent to compete, and a deadline deal for wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was a good indicator that they don't plan on playing for Luck. If their win over the Saints last week really is real, they could at least be competitive in the second half, saving jobs for Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo and General Manager Billy Devaney. 

Predicted Division Winner: San Francisco has this thing locked up. Nothing short of Rapture is going to change that. In fact, Jim Harbaugh's team should have it mathematically locked up by Thanksgiving. Because they play in the NFC West, the 49ers will be seriously overlooked heading into the playoffs. 

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