RENTON - When asked about his San Francisco 49ers being considered the favorites to win the NFC West Division this season, coach Mike Singletary politely, but clearly, said he doesn't really care what anybody else expects.
“It’s important for us to set our own expectations and our own goals,” Singletary said Wednesday over the phone to Seattle media. “(And) make sure that each and every day we go out and earn the right to talk about greatness, earn the right to talk about being a great football team … and let everybody else do the talking.”
OK, coach, we will. You guys are the favorites.
With two-time defending division champion Arizona losing quarterback Kurt Warner and other key players, the 49ers have the best talent. Although Arizona advanced to the second round of the NFC playoffs, San Francisco swept the two regular-season games against the Cardinals.
The Niners, in addition, enjoyed the greatest personnel stability of any divisional team in the offseason while coming off an 8-8 campaign. Their defense was the best in the division, Alex Smith has solidified himself at quarterback, and the offensive line was bolstered by a pair of first-round draft picks.
While Singletary stressed the importance of the daily process (“You’re always fighting to help your guys understand how important it is to go out each and every day and pay the price to be a great football team”), Smith acknowledged the team’s bigger-picture goal of winning the division.
“Obviously, for every team, priority No. 1 is to dominate our division,” Smith said.
But others’ expectations?
“It doesn’t mean anything, we have to go out there and prove it and we’ve got to go out there and earn everything we get,” he said. “I think this team is mature enough to understand that just because we might be a popular pick doesn’t mean anything.”
Smith can rely on running back Frank Gore, tight end Vernon Davis and receiver Michael Crabtree as prime threats, but the Niners mostly reflect their coach’s toughness with a physical defense led by linebacker Patrick Willis.
“Being physically tough is important, but you have to have talent as well,” Singletary said. “It’s going to be fighting, scratching and kicking – everything we have to do – to get wins.”
Their hard-hitting, opportunistic defense gave the Niners a plus-nine margin in turnovers last season, which made the difference in a number of close games.
The Cardinals scratched and fought last season, too, but the retirement of Warner left a void at quarterback that finally was filled by Derek Anderson, who was a castoff from Cleveland. Also gone are receiver Anquan Boldin, and defenders Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby.
At least the Cardinals have had staff stability, while the Seahawks have a new front office, new coaching staff and a raft of new players. That’s 27 new players, to be exact. More than half the roster. And some of those have been added since the final exhibition game.
Asked what he saw of the new-look Seahawks, Sunday’s opponent for San Francisco, Singletary was frank. Who knows?
“I think there’s a lot going on there in terms of personnel changes and what have you,” Singletary said.
The Seahawks benefit from having the best and most experienced quarterback in the division, Matt Hasselbeck, but they haven’t proven they can run the ball (26th in the league last season) or stop the pass (30th in 2009).
Until they do either, they’ll have a problem contending even in a weak division.
If the Seahawks can upset the 49ers at Qwest Field on Sunday, though, the divisional picture could change focus significantly.
Although they landed quarterback Sam Bradford with the first pick of the 2010 draft, the Rams can be expected to be among the worst teams in the league.
So, as little as Mike Singletary wants to hear about it, the 49ers are the pick of the litter until some other team can match their physical play and intensity.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org