The NFC West, Football's Former Worst Division
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. And it is time for sports.
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MARTIN: And on a Sunday in January, you know what's on everyone's minds: NFL playoffs. San Francisco and Seattle face off today for the NFC title. My West Coast loyalties are divided. I am in a conundrum. NPR's Mike Pesca joins us now. Hey, Mike.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello. How are you?
MARTIN: I'm flummoxed. But enough about me.
PESCA: Vexed, irked, peeved?
MARTIN: So, yeah, whatever, Pats-Broncos. But let's start with the San Francisco-Seattle game. Two teams from the NFC West, which used to be the worst division in the league, and a couple of years ago no one would have predicted this, right, that two teams from that division...
PESCA: I would have. I could have. It was - but, yeah - as recently as, as recently as 2010, the winner of that division that year was the Seahawks, and they were 7-9. So, a losing team won a division and there was all this stuff written about, you know, will the NFC West ever be good again? And the answer is yeah. And the answer is in just a few years. And the answer is you get a good quarterback like Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers or like Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, and also they have pretty good infrastructure. And you can win. In fact, the NFC West this year also had a team - Arizona Cardinals - didn't make the playoffs. They had 10 wins. The worst team in that division, the Rams, were 7-9 but mostly because they had to play six games against the teams I've already mentioned. They're an above-average team. It's the only division with above-average teams.
MARTIN: So, what does that mean? These teams can get better overnight?
PESCA: Yeah. And even though we say that, I don't think the NFL has really digested that lesson. Look at the coaches, the so-called coaching carousel. When people talk about the jobs that are open, everyone saying, oh, Detroit, that's the good job, that's the good job, because they have a good quarterback in place. And people are saying you'd never want to take the Cleveland Browns' job - they don't really have a quarterback, as if it's impossible to get a quarterback. You know, Wilson and Kaepernick were drafted in the third and second rounds. Any team in the league can have them. The other thing is it's not just a - yes, quarterbacks start off good but without excellent coaching already in place, Kaepernick maybe wouldn't have been recognized to be so good or given the scheme to allow him to succeed. So, I really think that change is so much more available to NFL teams than we think it is, especially if you look at the way we talk about what the good jobs and bad jobs are with coaching.
MARTIN: OK. Analysis, schmalysis. Who's going to win?
PESCA: Paralysis. OK. I don't know if I'm going to tell you who's going to win but I will just share my thoughts.
PESCA: In sports, in football, there are a billion things that could affect a game, but we usually concentrate - it's a mental habit - we anchor on one or two. And in this game, I feel we, as the sport-loving public, have anchored on the fact that Seattle is just so good at home - and they are good at home - and they yell so much it sets off earthquake meters, although maybe you want to get a better earthquake meter; it's a bunch of fans yelling.
PESCA: Right. So, but I would just say this. In their last four regular season games, Seattle lost at home. In their last four regular season games, Seattle lost to the San Francisco 49ers. So, this idea that the San Francisco 49ers can't beat Seattle in Seattle, I think it's a far-fetched idea. It possibly will be closer than - actually, everyone's saying it's close - but I would just say home field advantage is an advantage but it's not what a lawyer might call dispositive. Yes, that's the word.
MARTIN: Dispositive, yeah. Good word, good word.
PESCA: It's not the end-all be-all.
MARTIN: Yeah. OK. Curveball - you got one?
PESCA: I do. I've been looking at NBA rebounding statistics. There is this new technology called sports view. So, it used to be that the statistics were written down noted in a book by a guy who watched carefully. But now they're recorded by cameras. So, not only do you watch that, a, some guy got a rebound - how did he get the rebound? What'd he do to get the rebound? They're not tracking contested and uncontested rebounds. In other words, the rebounds you have to fight for and the rebounds that come to you.
MARTIN: That you try or - yeah.
PESCA: Exactly. And I find it interesting. I looked at the guys who are, you know, six rebounds above or more. Kevin Garnett only has about 28 percent of his rebounds are contested. Most of the ones are just because he's in good position. And then you look at other guys, like Ryan Anderson, Enes Kanter and Nikola Pekovic. They have over 50 percent of their rebounds are contested. I think that says something about effort and where these rebounds are coming from.
MARTIN: Yes, it does. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks so much, Mike.
PESCA: Thanks for agreeing with me.
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