NFL’s West adds its own brand of drama

The NFL’s headquarters are in New York City, and 21 of its 32 teams are located east of the Mississippi River. A franchise from the West hasn’t won a Super Bowl since Kurt Warner and the Rams in 2000, and California — which used to play host to the Super Bowl at least once every few years — has hosted only one since 1999.

Let’s face it, most of the NFL’s interest, intrigue and excitement over at least the last decade has been focused on the other half of the country.

But it’s very tough to ignore the story lines coming from the West this season.


From Tim Tebow in Denver, to Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco, to Carson Palmer in Oakland, to the left-for-dead Kansas City Chiefs winning three in a row, all is no longer quiet on the Western front.

That’s not to say the stories are all about winning. People are wondering, are the San Diego Chargers real or another mirage? Is Tebow a one-game wonder who beat a lousy Miami team, or a quarterback the Broncos can eventually develop? Will the Palmer gamble blow up in the face of the Raiders?

But those are all dramatic, watchable reality shows. That is must-see TV.

By comparison, consider the stories coming from the AFC West and NFC West at this point last year. The only provocative part of them had to do with losing:

— When would the plug be pulled on Mike Singletary in San Francisco and Josh McDaniels in Denver? (They were shown the door, along with Oakland’s Tom Cable.)

— Sure he was a great coach at USC, but could Pete Carroll really get it done in the pros, or were his teams bound to be mediocre as they were in his first two NFL go-rounds? (Jury’s still out.)

— Had Norv Turner finally run his course in San Diego? (Until the Chargers win a Super Bowl, that will resurface every season.)

— Will the NFC West be the first division in league history to send a losing team to the playoffs? (Yes, the 7-9 Seahawks.)

Now, there’s a real reason to tune in. Harbaugh has reanimated the 49ers, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2002, and Alex Smith — long since branded a bust — is actually looking like a clutch quarterback.

In short order, Harbaugh has emerged as one of the league’s most polarizing characters, either loved or despised. The handshake brouhaha with Detroit’s Jim Schwartz only inflamed that. Again, you cannot avert your eyes.

The victory over the winless Dolphins that was orchestrated by Tebow satisfied both his defenders and detractors, while leaving open the question of whether he’s truly the answer. After that sloppy game, his critics could say, “See? He’s horrible!” His supporters could say, “See? He wins!”

Either way, millions of viewers will tune in for the next installment.

The Raiders, who have dedicated this season to late owner Al Davis, rolled the dice in a huge way by trading two premium picks for Palmer, who has battled an assortment of injuries in recent years and is looking to prove he can be the same player he was in the mid-2000s. Forced into action Sunday against the Chiefs, less than a week after he was acquired, Palmer had three interceptions in the second half (matching Kyle Boller’s three in the first half).

After the Chiefs blew out the Raiders, 28-0, Oakland Coach Hue Jackson chided Kansas City’s Todd Haley for supposedly running up the score. More drama in what was once a yawner of a division.

There are lots of other intriguing stories around the NFL — the rise of the Lions and Buffalo Bills, the Jekyll-and-Hyde performances of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, and the record-threatening pace of quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

Then there’s the epic collapse of the Colts and the downward spiral of the Dolphins.

The more those teams lose, the closer they inch toward the coast of the setting sun.

Stanford’s Andrew Luck awaits.