As the season winds down with the 49ers safely holding the NFC West title once more, the future of the rest of the division has become an exercise in basic journalism. The NFC West also-rans are a matter of who, what, where, when and why.

Who, as in who will coach the Atlanta Falcons next year?What, as in what changes will club owner Tom Benson make with the New Orleans Saints?

Where, as in where will the Rams be playing by 1995?

When? This will all unfold over the next couple of months.

Why? Here's why:

- Atlanta simply has too many good players to have the record it has (6-8). Word is the players are close to mutiny against coach Jerry Glanville, and the rebellion is being led by the best players.

After last week's loss to Washington, wide receiver Andre Rison, turned into a decoy by the game plan, screamed at team officials, and supposedly his agent has told the Falcons Rison wants out if Glanville returns. Deion Sanders added, "This team is too good for this. Way too good. . . . I'm sick of this."

"We've got two or three players who are among the best in the league at their position," said wide receiver Drew Hill. "But we're just not consistent enough as a team. We can get excited for two or three good teams, but we don't get up like that for anyone else. We win the games we shouldn't and lose the games we should win. We could be sitting maybe 9-5 now, but we're not. Funny game, huh?"

Even Jim Hanifan, Washington's offensive line coach, tossed aside the usual niceties of the coaching profession to offer this assessment of Glanville and the Falcons: "That guy (Glanville) has more talent to work with than most everybody else in the league. That is a very, very talented team."

The question is whether the Falcons' owners agree. Word is that club owner Rankin Smith is ready to dump Glanville but that his son, club president Taylor Smith, isn't. After an 0-5 start, Atlanta has won six of its last nine games, including victories over New Orleans (before the Saints hit the skids), Dallas and the 49ers. But the Georgia Dome is no longer an automatic sellout, and the inconsistent Falcons seem no closer to the top of the NFC than they did a couple of years ago.

- New Orleans will have a new general manager, but the question is whether he will come from inside or outside the organization, and what that will mean for the coaches and the players. The problem is not with coach Jim Mora, despite criticism from fans.

The Saints, who have lost seven of nine games after starting 5-0, have grown old, but after having a good draft last spring, they don't need a major overhaul. What they do need is better, more consistent play at quarterback than they have had, plus more team speed on offense so they can take better advantage of their artificial turf at home.

Benson made the right move in 1986 when he turned the operation over to Jim Finks as president and general manager, and Benson needs to make an equally inspired choice for GM once again. Word is he has been getting a lot of opinions, some solicited and some not, and that after initially believing he could do the job himself as a hands-on owner, the team's slump has convinced him otherwise.

- The Rams will have a new look on the field, because it's a lock that quarterback Jim Everett won't be invited back in 1994. A bigger question is whether 1994 will be the team's lame-duck season at Anaheim Stadium, with St. Louis and Baltimore making inviting overtures.

The city of Anaheim began its public lobbying effort to keep the Rams this week by releasing a study showing the team's lease compares favorably with agreements that other NFL teams have at publicly-owned stadiums.

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At the same time, the city and the team agreed to a new 10-year lease on the Rams' practice facility that contains an escape clause permitting them to move as early as 1995. The Rams already have an escape clause in their Anaheim Stadium lease that also would allow them to leave in 1995, with 15 months notice. As a practical matter, that means a decision would be due by next spring if the team is to move in 1995.

As for the 49ers, they have two games remaining with little left to gain because top-seeding in the NFC playoffs is virtually out of their reach. And no matter how much you hear in the next few days about the necessity to keep winning, to retain momentum going to the playoffs, there is no real evidence that playoff performance can be gauged by these meaningless games.

Just to take two examples: In 1987 the 49ers won their last three regular-season games by a combined 124-7, then lost at home in the first round of the playoffs. In 1988 they lost their regular-season finale to the Rams, 38-16 - the 49ers' largest margin of defeat in a regular-season game over the last 13 years - then won the Super Bowl, after beating the Bears at Chicago in the NFC championship game.

Coach George Seifert says he's more concerned with timing, blocking and tackling than the outcome of meaningless games, although you'd never hear him call any game "meaningless." His explanation for the 1988 debacle was that the 49ers were emotionally drained before playing the Rams, because earlier in the day they'd watched New Orleans beat Atlanta on a last-second field goal, an outcome that clinched the division title for the 49ers. "I think everybody was sapped," he says.

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