Could this be the weekend that the NFC undergoes big changes while the Seattle Seahawks sit and watch?
Could the San Francisco 49ers, on a streak of three consecutive NFC Championship game appearances, fall to 1-3 with a loss to Philadelphia, while the Eagles improve to 4-0 with a cushy NFC East schedule ahead?
Also watching with a bye is the 3-0 Arizona Cardinals, who lead the NFC West standings, are ranked above the defending champ Seahawks in some early power rankings, and could see the ‘Niners fall three losses behind in the division race.
All before the calendar turns to October.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Just when a good froth of rivalry has been whipped up between Seattle and San Francisco, will Seahawks fans have to shift their hostilities to the Cardinals?
The friction between San Francisco and Seattle built it into one of best competitions in the NFL the past few seasons. The ‘Niners have won five of eight regular-season meetings since Pete Carroll showed up in 2010, but the Hawks got the big win in last year’s NFC Championship game.
Arizona has defeated the Seahawks in three of the past five meetings. But it would take a while to stir the distaste for coach Bruce Arians that fans harbor for Jim Harbaugh.
Before bailing on the ‘Niners as prime antagonists, remember that some were asking these questions last season, too, when the Niners were 1-2 and had been spanked 29-3 in Week 2 in Seattle.
They ended up with 12 wins and only an iconic pass-defense by Richard Sherman away from their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance.
But to fall to 1-3 with a loss Sunday?
There are a lot of talented and proud athletes on that team. But with offseason legal issues for some players, a reported contretemps between Harbaugh and the front office, and injury issues to stars NaVorro Bowman and Vernon Davis, the problems could be ripening.
Harbaugh has had notable success, but it’s hard to ignore his unsettled contract future, and the increasingly persistent talks of his returning to the college ranks to take over as head coach of his alma mater, Michigan.
For instance, a recent Tim Kawakami column appeared in the San Jose Mercury News under the headline, “For Jim Harbaugh and 49ers, is this the beginning of the end?”
The gist was that Harbaugh’s relationship with management — and perhaps players — appears to be wearing thin.
And so does the roster depth. With some injuries, the ‘Niners have been outscored by 49 points in the second half of games this season, and now face Philadelphia, with a jackrabbit offense that is averaging 72 offensive snaps per game.
For Harbaugh, it’s another matchup against an old Pac-12 foe — coach Chip Kelly — against whom he went 1-1 while at Stanford as Kelly led Oregon.
The ‘Niners are 5-point favorites at home, but they’ve already lost there to the Chicago Bears — 28-20 in Week 2.
What happens if the 49ers fall apart? Will Seahawks fans be left with only the nostalgia of when Sherman’s rant about the mediocrity of ‘Niner receiver Michael Crabtree was relevant?
Will the Russell Wilson vs. Colin Kaepernick debate get tabled as insignificant?
And there’s that whole “what’s your deal?” history between Carroll and Harbaugh that will be lost if Harbaugh bails back to the college ranks.
Of course, a lot can happen when the Hawks come back to action. .
They travel to San Francisco on a short Thanksgiving week after a Sunday game against Arizona that could be critical. And then they’re on the road again, at Philadelphia.
The ‘Niners come to Seattle the following week, making that a late four-game span that could make fast or slow starts in September largely irrelevant.
Maybe it won’t come to it, but a team with players such as Kaepernick, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Frank Gore seems capable of making a comeback.
And of the talk that Harbaugh has lost the locker room or his message is getting turned off by players … a lot of times, that’s just speculation from the outside.
But here’s something less speculative: When your team has been outscored 52-3 in the second half of three games, it’s a solid indication that your halftime adjustments and motivations aren’t particularly effective.
And that’s a sign of real problems.