Once wild, wild West is now a lost frontier

It didn't matter if it was the AFC West or the NFC West, the only team that was safe this week was the St. Louis Rams ... who had a bye.

The other seven teams all went down to defeat. Kansas City lost to the Packers, Denver got run over by the Lions, the Chargers were shocked in Minnesota, the Raiders let one get away against Houston, the 49ers couldn't beat the Falcons, the Cards struggled against the Buccaneerss, and Seattle lost in overtime to the Browns.

Take a close look at the West for a minute: Not one team with a winning record, only two of the eight have scored more points than their opponents, and the teams' rushing yardage is as bad as it can get.

In the NFC West, Arizona's Edgerrin James had 15 yards against Tampa, Seattle's Shaun Alexander logged 32 yards against the Browns and San Francisco's Frank Gore didn't play against the Falcons. In the AFC West, Denver's Travis Henry had 31 yards against the Lions, San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson had 40 yards in Minneapolis and Kansas City's Larry Johnson had just 53 yards at home against the Packers. The only man to have a respectable day was Raiders backup Justin Fargus, who managed 104 against the Texans while LaMont Jordan was done after 10 yards.

When it came to giving up points this week, the teams from the West didn't fair much better. Four of them gave up more than 32 in their respective games and the seven averaged 29.5 points surrendered. The Rams with their bye probably stopped the average from going over 30; St. Louis has given up the most points in the NFC at 219 in eight games. It's hard to see how any of these eight teams are going to get to winning records if they all don't play stingy defense.

Are these two divisions going to produce a champion with a 7-9 record, while a wild-card candidate such as the Lions, Giants, Titans or Jaguars get left out of the playoffs with a 10-win season? It sure is starting to look that way. In this week's schedule, none of the West teams in either conference have a bye and there's a real chance at least six of the eight teams with tough matchups drop another game.

Playing the other conference doesn't offer any relief, either. Both West divisions are 2-7 in crossover games. Playing on the road for these teams is another nightmare; the NFC West is 3-14, the AFC West is 5-10. In other words, when a West team gets on a plane, it has a 25 percent chance of winning the game.

With half of a season of regular-season football left, it would be a good time for a few West teams to pick up the pace and win their respective division with 10 victories. Maybe that's too much to ask ... nine wins sounds more like it. Can Seattle, San Diego or Kansas City go 5-3 in the second half of the season? Can the Cardinals or Broncos go 6-2 in the second half? That's what it's going to take to prevent a .500 or worse team from making the playoffs.

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