NFC West

September 05, 1993|By Vito Stellino

Last season

The San Francisco 49ers made it to the NFC title game before losing at home to the Dallas Cowboys. That's twice in the last three years the 49ers have lost at home in the NFC title game. By San Francisco standards, that's disappointing. The New Orleans Saints made the playoffs, but couldn't win a playoff game. That's their history.

New coaches

This is the only NFC division that doesn't have a new coach. Chuck Knox is his second year, is the newcomer in the group. There hasn't been much turnover in this division because George Seifert of the 49ers and Jim Mora of the Saints are two of the more successful coaches in the game, although Mora's success has been limited to the regular season.

Coach on the bubble

Jerry Glanville usually wears out his welcome after four years, and this is his fourth season in Atlanta. He manages to obscure the fact he's not a very good coach with all his antics -- such as leaving tickets for Elvis. It's now time for him to produce or he's out the door. He's not helped by the fact that Deion Sanders will be playing baseball for the first month of the season.

Best player

Jerry Rice is still in a league of his own as a wide receiver. He didn't exactly miss Joe Montana last year as he caught 84 passes for 1,201 yards and 10 touchdowns. He may be the best ever at his position and he's a threat to go all the way from any point on the field. It doesn't hurt Rice that he has John Taylor on the other side so teams can't concentrate on him.

Team on the rise

Knox is the master of the rebuilding program and should have the Rams moving up from last year's 6-10 record even though the team went 0-4 in the exhibition season. The Rams are still short on talent, but, for Knox, it's much easier to build a playoff team than do something once he gets there.

Team in decline

The Falcons struggled to a 6-10 record last year and don't figure to be much better this year. This is a team on a treadmill, which is why Glanville is likely to be unemployed at the end of the year.

Key question

Can the New Orleans Saints find a quarterback who can win a playoff game? The Saints gave up on Bobby Hebert last year, but they have to wonder if Wade Wilson is the answer. The Saints have won 62 regular-season games the last six years under coach Jim Mora and yet have failed to win a playoff game. They again figure to be a playoff team, but their playoff failure haunts them. Mora went to the title game three straight years in the USFL and won two of them, but he hasn't done it in the playoffs in the NFL.

Outlook

Assuming that Steve Young's thumb heals quickly, the 49ers have a Super Bowl offense. They're one of the few teams that could lose a Joe Montana without missing a beat. In the last year, though, they've also lost Charles Haley, Pierce Holt and Tim Harris from their defense so they're going to have to outscore a lot of teams if they're going to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1989 season.

The Saints are a solid, sound well-coached team under Mora and they'll be in the playoffs, but no team will be under more pressure once the playoffs start. They've got to at least get one playoff victory.

On paper, the Falcons are an improving team, especially with the addition of Holt to their defense. On the field, though, Glanville's teams tend to be a disappointment.

The Rams are in the midst of a major rebuilding program, but rebuilding programs are Knox's specialty. They'll start showing improvement this year.

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