NEW YORK (AP) — NFC Worst? Not anymore.
That was so 2010. Here in 2012, the NFC West is the best division in all of pro football.
And the two best teams in the division, the San Francisco 49ers (No. 5 in the AP Pro32) and Seattle Seahawks (No. 9) face off in the city by the bay on Thursday night.
Even though they come off their worst performance of the season in a 23-3 home loss to the Giants, the Niners are 7-point favorites — despite the Seahawks coming off a stirring comeback victory against New England.
You've got to dust yourself off and ride," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Right now we have no choice. We have to get to Seattle right quick. We've got a football fight coming."
Much of that fight figures to be on the ground. Marshawn Lynch leads the NFC in rushing and is third in the league with 549 yards. Last year, he gained 107 against the 49ers and snapped San Francisco's string of 36 successive games not allowing a 100-yard gainer.
"Their running game is the bread and butter of their offense," Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "And everything works off of that. He's one of the best backs in the league. He's the best back we played last year by far. He broke more tackles than any back we played against last year. He broke the most against us."
For Seattle to pull slightly ahead in the NFC West race — the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals are all 4-2; the Rams are 3-3 — it must stymie the 49ers' running game. Frank Gore has 470 yards rushing and a 5.4-yard average, better than Lynch's 4.3.
With the way Alex Smith struggled against a Giants defense that hadn't been all that impressive beforehand, the Seahawks could present a huge challenge to San Francisco's passing attack at Candlestick Park.
Then again, the Niners need to prove something to themselves — and to the rest of the league.
No. 21 New York Jets (plus 10 1/2) at No. 8 New England
Patriots are angry at themselves — and they always are angry with the Jets.
BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 37-13
No. 15 Pittsburgh (minus 2 1/2) at No. 20 at Cincinnati
Two of the NFL's most disappointing teams. Go with the hosts.
UPSET SPECIAL: BENGALS, 21-20
No. 19 Dallas (minus 1 1/2) at No. 28 Carolina
Two more of the NFL's most disappointing teams. Breaking tradition, go with the visitors.
No. 32 Jacksonville (plus 4) at No. 29 Oakland
Two of the NFL's worst teams. Go with the visitors.
No. 23 New Orleans (minus 2 1/2) at No. 25 Tampa Bay
One more time — one last time? — going to believe in the Saints.
No. 3 Baltimore (plus 6) at No. 4 Houston
Take Ray Lewis away from Ravens' linebacking corps and Brian Cushing from Texans' LBs and ...
No. 7 Green Bay (minus 5 1/2) at No. 22 St. Louis
Pack really stepped up at Houston, but Rams are no pushover, especially at home.
No. 18 Detroit (plus 5) at No. 6 Chicago, Monday night
Impressed by Lions' comeback win at Philly? We're not.
No. 13 Washington (plus 6 1/2) at No. 2 New York Giants
Giants showed their true mettle by manhandling 49ers. But Redskins give them trouble.
No. 27 Tennessee (plus 3) at No. 24 Buffalo
Both teams pretty much were handed wins last week. Bills gladly accept another gift.
No. 14 Arizona (plus 6) at No. 11 Minnesota
Spread looks somewhat high. Vikes running game the difference.
No. 30 Cleveland (plus 3) at No. 26 Indianapolis
New owner means, uh, not much for Browns this week.
Against spread: 7-7 (35-54-2). Straight up: 7-7 (50-41)
Best Bet: 3-2-1 against spread, 5-1 straight up.
Upset special: 4-2 against spread, 3-3 straight up.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL