The San Francisco 49ers finish the final regular season game with a record of 13-3. With their 34-27 win over the Rams, the 49ers secured the second-best record in the NFC and the first-round bye for the playoffs.
The cast of characters is largely the same, with only a few impact newcomers. Only Donte Whitner, Aldon Smith, Bruce Miller and Carlos Rogers are new to the 49ers and playing big roles in the 49ers' regular rotation.
The main difference is the improvement of the players, and it's the coaching staff that can be credited for this growth. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has brought a winning attitude to the 49ers and has also done an excellent job with the offense.
Harbaugh brought in a fine group of assistant coaches and let them do their jobs. Vic Fangio is the defensive coordinator and totally runs that side of the football. Fangio and his group of defensive coaches have made the 49ers the top unit in the NFL in fewest points allowed.
Brad Seely, special teams coach, has been given autonomy over the special teams and has arguably the best overall special teams units in the the NFC. Kicker David Akers and punter Andy Lee both made the Pro Bowl, and the Niners' coverage units have been stellar.
When the 49ers hired Harbaugh, I felt he would turn this team around, but I thought it would take two or three years. The lockout forced the 49ers to miss a lot of valuable practice time and shortened the time they had to implement their new systems.
Never in my wildest dreams did I expect the 49ers to have such a tremendous season, and the credit goes to the coaching staff and the hard work and development of the players. Let's take a look at some of the players who have improved the most in 2011.