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Welcome to the Week 7 installment of "Upon Further Review". Due to a severe case of "Dude, I get to interview Ronnie Lott!" Mr. Del Barco will not be joining us this week. Never fear, however…he'll be back next week. Honest. But only if Terry B says it's okay. In today's segment, we'll be discussing Alex Smith's ever so sobering performance last Sunday and the question of QB by committee, the outlook of the NFC West, the sudden decline of the 49ers' once dominant Special Teams unit, and picks for Week 7.
The Smith Question: Has he regressed? Is QB by Committee the Answer?
There are no two ways about it: last week's game was painful to watch (I should know…I watched it 3 times). Alex Smith played his worst game of the Harbaugh era…and across the Bay Area, doubters have begun to wonder…is this guy regressing? Is it time to make the "Wild Kaep" a full time thing? Should Smith be replaced altogether?
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The answer to the Smith question is simple. The answer is no. It is not time to replace Smith. And it is not time for the "Wild Kaep" to take center stage. Alex Smith is, and should be, the 49ers starting quarterback. Over the 22 regular season games that comprise the Harbaugh era, Smith is 17-5. Considering that he only managed 19 wins over the course of his first 5 seasons in the NFL, the fact that he has improved by leaps and bounds under the watchful eye of Coach Harbaugh is undeniable. While he may not be the best quarterback in the league and may not have the raw athleticism of Colin Kaepernick, he represents the 49ers' best chance to win games right now. The 49ers had a bad day last Sunday. Smith had a bad day last Sunday. But whether you love him or hate him, he is the 49ers' starting quarterback, and will be for the foreseeable future.
NFC West Outlook: Who is the 49ers' Most Likely Challenger for the Division?
The NFC West has more combined victories than any other division in the NFL. Given the fact that as recently as last season, the NFC West was regarded as the laughing stock of the league, that's saying something. Though the Rams' addition of Jeff Fisher has done wonders for a team with limited talent and the Cardinals have surprised everyone with their hot start, the biggest threat to the 49ers' chances of retaining the NFC West crown is the Seattle Seahawks.
As fate would have it, they will be visiting Candlestick Park this evening with the inside track to the division title up for grabs.
The Seahawks are not daunting on paper. A Lilliputian rookie quarterback, marginal talent at wide receiver and a defense that was simply adequate last season hardly makes a juggernaut. But things aren't always as they seem. They have managed to beat some quality teams this season, and thus far, their defense has played lights out. In order to take the division, the 49ers will need to split the regular season series with them. Given the tremendous home field advantage provided by Quest (artificial crowd noise!) Field, that makes this Thursday night match up the closest thing to a must win the 49ers have faced this season.
Not So Special After All?
Last season, a huge part of the 49ers formula for winning was the field position battle. Up to this point in the season, the 49ers have been consistently losing that battle. Punt and kick coverage has been slipping, and week over week, it seems that the 49ers have gotten progressively worse. So what gives?
As silly as it sounds, the 49ers problem is not a unit wide backslide, but rather a one-man issue. The issue is that the man in question is no longer a 49er. Last season, Blake Costanzo was the catalyst for a special teams unit that was historically prolific. The leadership that he provided has yet to be replaced…and without it, the 49er special teams unit is seemingly going through the motions. Until someone steps up to unite these guys, it is likely that their struggles will continue.
Week 7 Picks
After going an awe inspiring 6 for 14 (.428…if this were baseball, I'd be a friggin' All Star) in week 6 let's see how bad I can muck things up this week:
Cardinals at Vikings:
The Cards are coming off a thrashing at the hands of a very average Bills team, and the Vikings are becoming relevant. That should be enough to win, especially at home. Vikings.
Packers at Rams:
The Rams have improved, but barring the entire team using a DeLorean to travel back to 1999, they haven't improved that much. Packers.
Redskins at Giants:
As much as I'd love to see the Giants lose every game for the rest of the season, they are the class of the NFC right now. The Redskins need a season to cook before they can give them a run for their money, especially at home. Giants.
Titans at Bills:
The Titans are coming off of a huge win against a superior team…but that won't be enough to beat a defense that looks like its finally ready to live up to expectations. Bills.
Jets at Patriots:
Tom Brady and the Pats were just humbled by an upstart Seahawks team. Look for them to bounce back at home against a traditional rival. Patriots.
Lions at Bears:
The Bears defense is the best in football right now…and the Lions offense isn't producing at the pace it was last season. Bears.
Browns at Colts:
Despite last week's upset victory in the Ohio Bowl, the Browns are still the worst team in the NFL. The Colts aren't. Colts.
Cowboys at Panthers:
Despite Tony Romo's inherent ability to throw interceptions (at league meetings this offseason, a motion was raised to officially change the term "interception" to "tonyromo") Cam Newton's sophomore slump should be enough to sink the Panthers. Cowboys.
Ravens at Texans:
The Ravens just lost one of the best linebackers the league has ever seen…and that will probably sink them on the road against the league's best running back. Texans.
Saints at Bucs:
No matter how bad the Saints may be without Sean Payton at the helm, Brees is still on pace to throw for roughly a bazillion yards this season. Saints.
Jags at Raiders:
The Raiders are not a good football team. The Jags are REALLY not a good football team. Raiders.
Steelers at Bengals:
The Bengals lost to the worst team in football last week. The Steelers are old, beat up and on the decline. But I still think they have the juice to beat the Bengals, even at home. Steelers.
Seahawks at 49ers:
The 49ers are coming off of their worst loss in the Harbaugh era. Since Harbaugh took the reins in San Francisco, the 49ers have never lost back to back games. Look for that streak to continue. 49ers.