For the first time since Derek Anderson's(notes) Fatwa Against Funny in the Arizona desert late last month, the NFL's most pathetic division will be back in the national spotlight Thursday when the 49ers face the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
A little factoid that tells you all you need to know: The 5-8 Niners are still very much a player in the four-pronged, three-legged race for the NFC West title and the home playoff game that comes with it, even if they lose to their favored hosts on Thursday.
Yes, football fans, we could very well have a 7-9 division champion in 2010, which would be the first time in a non-strike season that a sub-.500 team would see the postseason. In other words: Welcome to the NHL, and be sure not to press your turned-up noses too closely against the glass.
In fact, if a sardonic convergence of delicious outcomes plays out over the season's final three weeks, the division champ could be even worse than 7-9.
Here's what I'm envisioning, in the interest of black humor:
• The Rams (6-7) drop consecutive home games against the Chiefs and Niners.
• The Seahawks (6-7) lose their next two, to the Falcons and Bucs.
• The Niners bounce back from a defeat to the Chargers by beating the Rams.
• The Cardinals (4-9) – yep, they're still mathematically alive, with playoff hopes that only Anderson takes seriously, but still – rise up to defeat the Panthers and Cowboys.
• That would create a four-way tie at 6-9 heading into the final weekend, with a pair of convenient intra-division showdowns to decide things: Rams at Seahawks, Cards at Niners. And, naturally, each of those games would end with a scoreless overtime period, creating a four-way tiebreaking logjam between teams with gruesome 6-9-1 records. San Francisco, with a 4-1-1 division mark, would get to celebrate its first playoff berth in eight seasons on its home field.
Yeah, it's a little far-fetched, but so is a division that owns a collective two victories (Seahawks over Bears, Cards over Saints) in games against teams which currently have a record better than the Chargers' 7-6.
Would that inspire a frank offseason discussion about changes to the league's playoff-seeding system? That's a very good question – and here are 32 more of them, with an NFL food chain that features four of your aforementioned division-title contenders in the nether regions:
1. New England Patriots: Remember when Matt Cassel(notes) had a few good games in 2008 and people were suggesting they keep him and trade Tom Brady(notes) (and if you were one of those people, how silly do you feel now)?
8. New York Jets: If Mark Sanchez(notes) struggles again on Sunday, would Rex Ryan still consider benching him – and does he really think Mark Brunell(notes) would fare well against the Steelers' defense?
17. Dallas Cowboys: Are Cowboy fans seriously affronted that Tashard Choice(notes) asked Michael Vick(notes) for his autograph after Sunday's game, or are they displacing their anger over Jerry Jones not asking the quarterback to sign a contract two summers ago?
20. Houston Texans: Wouldn't it be classic Texans if this team rallied to finish 8-8?
25. San Francisco 49ers: Given that the 1991 Niners missed the playoffs despite going 10-6 and finishing as the hottest team in football – including a finale Mike Singletary and his possible successor surely remember – would slipping into the postseason as a 7-9 division champ be nothing more than karmic payback for the 49er Faithful?
28. Detroit Lions: Now that they've all but ruined the Packers' season, should the Bucs be worried?
31. Denver Broncos: Quit much?