If the San Francisco 49ers are going to duplicate the kind of success they had last season, they’ll need to again capture lightning in a bottle.
The Niners have a top-tier defense and hope to use that stifling unit to improve upon a 13-3 season that ended in the NFC Championship game. The only way to have a more successful season is to get to the Super Bowl.
But it won’t be easy against a schedule that is more difficult than last year and with the other teams in the NFC West improving.
Green Bay won the Super Bowl in 2010 and was the NFL’s best team last year with a 15-1 record. The only win the Niners have over the Packers in the last 22 years is the 1998 playoff game in which Terrell Owens caught the game-winning catch. But that win is tainted, as Packers fans, even today, will remind everybody that Jerry Rice clearly fumbled two plays earlier. Replay went into full effect the following season.
The trip to Lambeau will be key for the 49ers and quarterback Alex Smith, who needs a fast start to capitalize on his career-best season last year. The question with Smith is whether or not last year was true development or just an anomaly.
The Seattle Seahawks are viewed as San Francisco’s biggest contender for the division crown. The Seahawks, who just added the aforementioned Owens, have an outstanding secondary and improved front seven with the additions of Jason Jones and first-round pick Bruce Irvin.
The Niners are hoping their first-rounder, wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, can have an impact. Early in training camp, Jenkins and Michael Crabtree have been disappointing.
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh surprised everybody with his NFL head coaching debut. Not only did he win 13 games in his first season, but he did it without the benefit of an offseason to implement his system. Logic will say that a full offseason will only help San Francisco improve. The cynics will say that the offseason will allow other teams to adjust to what San Francisco does.
Harbaugh realizes this, too, and has taken a chameleon-like approach to this season. He realizes there are things that need to be fixed, like the red-zone offense, and is doing things differently to produce better results.
Whether or not that works remains to be seen.
While San Francisco probably does not have a 13-win season in its immediate future, what does look attainable is 11 victories and another NFC West crown. And then, anything can happen in the playoffs. Just ask last year’s New York Giants.