Jim Harbaugh has led the 49ers to the NFC West title.
Every year there are a few teams that aren't expected to do very well.
It is usually because a team competes in a tough division, or they don't have great players, or the coaching is poor.
None of these teams played in the playoffs last year, but they will be early favorites to appear in 2012.
As the NFL gets ready for the final regular-season Sunday, here are a few teams that will be talked about during the offseason, even if they don't make the playoffs this year.
Cam Newton has set the rookie passing yardage record.
The Carolina Panthers finished 2010 with the NFL's worst record. For that honor, they earned the right to select Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.
Newton and the Panthers have far exceeded expectations. Newton has passed for more yardage than any rookie in NFL history.
After a lousy 2-8 start, Carolina has won four out of five. They have been competitive in every game, except against Tennessee.
If the defense could hold a lead, the Panthers would have competed for the playoffs this year.
Of the four NFC playoff teams the Panthers have played—the Packers, Saints, Lions and two games against Atlanta—the Panthers had a lead on all those teams. The defense let them down in the second half of those games.
The Panthers will get one more shot at New Orleans this week.
No matter the result, Carolina will become an early playoff candidate for 2012.
The Texans ran to an AFC South title.
This year was not the first time that the Houston Texans were a trendy preseason pick to make the playoffs. However, in the past, they always managed to fail to live up to the preseason hype.
This year the Texans lost their top two quarterbacks, yet they still won the division title.
The Texans will need their No. 2-ranked defense to play at a high level to go far in the playoffs.
No matter how far they do go this year, next year, with their defense and a healthy offense, may be even better.
The Lions are a playoff team for the first time since 1999.
Since the turn of the century, the Detroit Lions have been the poster child of NFL futility.
To fully prove this notion, the Lions went 0-16 in 2008, the only NFL team to ever do so.
In a 52-game period from 2007-2010, they were a horrible 5-47.
Following that streak, they won four straight to finish the 2010 season.
Improvement was expected, but the Lions exceeded expectations.
They started the season 5-0, and despite only a 5-5 record since, they will enter the NFC playoffs as a wild card.
The Broncos defense sets Tim Tebow up for his heroic finishes.
Coming into the season, the Broncos looked like a team that could be 4-12, or worse.
When they started 1-4, the Broncos made the quarterback change that has been the talk of every pre- and post-game show since. They made Tim Tebow the starter.
Thanks to his unconventional playing style, the Broncos are 7-3.
However, it's more than just Tebow.
The most underrated unit of any NFL team is Denver's defense.
Since Tebow became starter, the Broncos' defense has been the unit that has set him up for his dramatic fourth quarters.
Whether or not they make the playoffs, the talk about this team and their quarterback will not stop.
Jim Harbaugh's team has had no competition in the NFC West this year.
The once proud 49ers have spent most of the last decade as a doormat in the NFL.
Their last playoff appearance was in 2002.
The entered the 2011 season with a rookie head coach and an unsettled quarterback situation.
Despite all that, they started 9-1, and they've not had any competition in their division.
Their critics were silenced by their win over Pittsburgh.
With a win Sunday, a team nobody expected to contend will be the NFC's No. 2 seed.