Last year the San Francisco 49ers proved to be one of the elite teams in the NFL, and they made it all the way to the Super Bowl before losing a close contest to the Baltimore Ravens. This year, their goal is to raise the franchise’s sixth Lombardi trophy, and they believe they have the pieces in place to accomplish that.
The emergence of Colin Kaepernick was one of the major stories in the NFL last season, and he enters his second season with huge expectations. Kaepernick will be without his favorite receiver, Michael Crabtree, for the majority of the season, and there are huge concerns about what that could do to his development. However, he still has Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin, and the 49ers return every key member of last season’s 4th ranked rushing attack.
Defensively, the 49ers should be in for a repeat of last season when they ranked 3rd in total defense and 2nd in scoring defense. The loss of Dashon Goldon hurts, but led by Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, this is one of the truly elite units in football, and they should be dominant throughout the season. Keep an eye on free agent signing Nnamdi Asomugha, who was once one of the league’s elite cornerbacks. He has not played well in recent seasons and he is not guaranteed a roster spot, but if he can find anything close to his Oakland Raiders form then he will be a huge boost to the secondary.
With all this talent, what could hold the 49ers back this season? There isn’t much, but the first and most obvious problem is their neighbor to the north, the rival Seattle Seahawks. In my opinion these are two of the three best teams in the league, and the winner of their battle will get not only the division title, but the all important home playoff game and possibly even a bye. With the loser being relegated to a wild card spot, the stakes are extremely high.
The 49ers have an extremely difficult beginning to the schedule, including a Week 1 visit from the Green Bay Packers followed by a trip to Seattle. We will find out very quickly if this team is ready to repeat last season’s success, as those two opponents are also likely to be the two biggest threats to the 49ers’ NFC crown.
The schedule eases up after that, and I would not be at all surprised to see the 49ers win every game from Week 3 to Week 10. There are some challenges down the stretch, including trips to play the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins on the road, as well the home contest with Seattle. However, these are challenges that the Niners are capable of handling.
I predict the 49ers will finish with a 13-3 record season, more than good enough for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, Seattle could easily match this showing, meaning the Niners are not guaranteed a bye or even a home playoff game. The two games with the Seahawks will be absolutely crucial, and they will determine San Francisco’s playoff standing this season.
This is one of the few real Super Bowl favorites in the league, and if they play up to their potential, the 49ers could be champions come February.