NFC West on Way Up; Mizzou Football in Flux

How often are the Rams going to be the best thing that happens on a St. Louis sports weekend this year? Mizzou lost at Kansas State, the Blues lost their opener to Nashville, the Cardinals lost the opener of the NLCS to Milwaukee, and the Rams didn’t play. So, the Rams win the weekend even though they didn’t play, because everyone else lost.

I’m not going to go berserk over the Cardinals’ loss in Game 1 at Miller Park. The Brewers were already 16-0 in Zack Greinke’s home starts this season, and the Cardinals did lose the opener of a five-game series in Philadelphia. Yes, the Cards scored six in a game that Greinke started, and had a 5-2 lead in the fifth inning. However, the Brewers offense is a different animal at home. Tony La Russa did leave Jaime Garcia in too long this time, and Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder made him pay. The Cardinals have to get a good start in Milwaukee from Edwin Jackson, and they have to handle Shaun Marcum (who has allowed seven earned runs in 4 2/3 innings in each of his last two starts) on Monday.

With Skip Schumaker injured and off the roster, some other non-superstar player – a guy like Jon Jay or Nick Punto – is going to have to spark the Cardinals’ offense. This series is far from over, but beating Milwaukee four out of five is a prohibitive task. Having an even series coming back to St. Louis is nearly imperative for the Redbirds.

On to football. How do you feel about what’s happened in the NFC West in the last couple of weeks? How do you think Stan Kroenke feels? Last week, San Francisco came back to win in Philadelphia, then thrashed Tampa Bay 48-3 on Sunday. A team in disarray last year, the 49ers are now 4-1 under Jim Harbaugh, and play good, clean football. With a plus-two in the turnover ratio against Tampa Bay, San Francisco now leads the league at plus-10. The 49ers committed three penalties for 30 yards, with 34 for 267 in five games. The Rams, by contrast, have 33 penalties for 304 yards in four games. San Francisco’s only loss was in overtime to Dallas. The 49ers are legit, and on their way to being a powerhouse. We were always concerned about their talent coalescing. Well, it has. We see them getting better each week.

After rallying to within two points of Atlanta last week, the Seahawks rallied for a win at New York against the Giants on Sunday. In the last 2:37 of the game, guys named Doug Baldwin and Brandon Browner scored touchdowns to rally the Seahawks. Pete Carroll has 10 players remaining who were on the Seahawks roster before he arrived prior to last season. This year, the ‘Hawks were hammered in their first two games, beat Arizona, then lost by two before beating New York. We see them getting better each week.

Pretty soon, we had better see the Rams getting better each week, too, because the gap between St. Louis and the division is widening. One other note: The Rams have lost by an average of 17 points a game this season. Carolina, which won two games last year and had the first pick in the draft, has four losses by a total of 22 points under new coach Ron Rivera. Denver, with the second pick in last year’s draft, has three losses of five points or fewer under new coach John Fox after rallying against San Diego on Sunday. And Buffalo, with the third pick in the draft, is 4-1 under second-year coach Chan Gailey. Including last year, the Rams have lost seven of their last eight, with the seven losses by an average of 15.6 points per game.

*Mizzou is in a transition year. James Franklin and his receivers simply aren’t consistent enough for the Tigers offense to live up to the defense’s excellence. K-State had touchdown drives of 21 and 36 yards, and Mizzou missed two field goals. The offense had its first play of the game intercepted, four three-and-outs, and another possession that ended in a turnover on downs. The defense forced five punts – three on three-and-outs and two on six-play drives – plus an interception. But the offense only had 167 yards in the first three quarters, and when they got going it was already 24-3 Wildcats. It’s going to be a long year for Mizzou. They’re 2-3, they don’t have a win against a team from a BCS conference, and after playing Iowa State next Saturday, they play four straight games against top-25 teams.

If there’s a chance for Mizzou to move to the SEC next season, Gary Pinkel needs to spend this season preparing the most talented kids who are going to be on next year’s team. It might not seem fair to the seniors, but if there’s a more talented but less polished option, the Tigers need to play the guys who have a chance to be great, rather than the guys who were going to help Mizzou win six games and get to a low-level bowl this season.