Just when you start to get a handle on your season predictions ... WHAM-O! A key player on a top contender tweets out bad injury news. Let that be a lesson to the prediction makers and power rankers out there. Things change fast in the NFL world. We haven't even started those full-priced preseason games yet, and already the order of things has changed.
The Seahawks lost Percy Harvin earlier in the week. The 49ers got bit by the injury bug themselves again on Thursday when cornerback Chris Culliver tore his ACL in practice.
Whether you root for the Seahawks, Ravens, Eagles, 49ers or any other team, there's not much worse than losing players in training camp. Whether it takes away from those teams' playoff chances or not, it makes each squad something less than it could be, a player short of the most complete, most competitive product fans hoped to see on the field.
That especially applies to the Harvin injury. Harvin was a player capable of taking Seattle from very good to possibly unstoppable. The Seahawks thrived last season by getting creative on both side of the ball. Harvin's versatility would have spiced up the playbook.
Culliver's place in San Francisco's defense was less visible (though he certainly managed to find a way to get some attention). He was the team's corner of the future and third corner for the time being. He still managed to play more than 800 snaps last season, sending Carlos Rogers into the slot in the nickel package.
Harvin's injury is similar to what San Francisco experienced when it lost Michael Crabtree to a torn Achilles in May. Both were offensive centerpieces. The biggest difference is that Crabtree established himself last year as quarterback Colin Kaepernick's favorite target. Russell Wilson was just getting used to Harvin in his offense. The good news for both teams is that each player could be back before the end of the season.
Despite the losses, each team has a capable backup plan. The 49ers added Anquan Boldin by sending over a paltry sixth-round pick in exchange for taking on his salary. Vernon Davis played a small role in the passing game when Kaepernick took over, but that should change this year.
In Seattle, the attention shifts to Golden Tate. After a strong finish to the season in 2012, he figures to play an expanded role in 2013, the last year of his contract. Sidney Rice is still there, too. Well, he's actually in Switzerland hoping that some kind of top-secret treatment (most likely stem cells) will reduce the pain in his knee.
San Francisco has the edge again in terms of its receivers. But the offense starts and ends with the running game for both of these teams. Seattle and San Francisco are just fine in that department, blessed with superstar running backs, quality depth at the position and two quarterbacks who happen to be pretty good runners themselves.
Culliver's injury is a blow to a 49ers secondary that already had some wondering. It puts more pressure on Carlos Rogers, 32, and free agent pickup Nnamdi Asomugha, also 32. There was a time when Asomugha was the best corner in the league; then he went to Philadelphia. And remember, it hasn't even been a month since the 49ers traded for Eric Wright from the Buccaneers, only to have the deal fall apart after a failed physical.
Oh, don't forget that both teams are dealing with injuries, age and turnover in two of the most dominant defensive fronts in the NFL. There's not enough to think that either one will experience a noticeable slide in 2013, but it is something to keep an eye on over the course of the season.
So how do all of these injuries change things at the top of the NFC West?
You can still make a convincing argument on behalf of either team. Each one has a list of things working in its favor: quarterbacks, defenses loaded with All-Pros and smart, albeit wildly different, head coaches.
Neither San Francisco nor Seattle is as complete of a team as it could have been, should have been to start the season. The popular question now is whether or not St. Louis, which lost just one game in the NFC West last year, could sneak past the 49ers and the Seahawks. But the Rams still haven't shown anyone they can score more than 20 points a game.
I still expect another dogfight, possibly a fist fight or two, between the 49ers and Seahawks for the division crown.
Uncertainty in the NFC West might have the most impact on the other side of the country. The Falcons look like a better team than the one dispatched by the Niners in the NFC Championship game. In Green Bay, the Packers might have learned a thing or two about defending the read option.
This time last year nobody was counting on Seattle to make the jump it did. We were still making short jokes about Russell Wilson. Like this week's injury report, it's a good lesson about making predictions at the beginning of August.