NFL Playoff Predictions: 5 Reasons the 49ers Will Win Super Bowl XLVI
Call me a homer if you will, but I don't think it's a stretch to say that the San Francisco 49ers will win Super Bowl XLVI this year.
I know they're not the flashiest team in the NFC, and I know that their offense can resemble a senior citizen's mixer sometimes, but the 49ers have all the right pieces in place to earn the franchise its sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Let's take a look at the five reasons the 49ers have what it takes to bring home another championship to San Francisco.
The Harbaugh Effect
For the first time in almost a decade, the players on the San Francisco 49ers actually believe they are a team worthy of winning a Super Bowl.
I feel that we can play with anybody. Green Bay, New Orleans they great teams, but we also a great team too. You watch our team, that’s an all-around football team. We probably have the best one in the NFC. Offense, defense, special teams, running the ball, throwing the ball, tackling running backs, defending the ball with DBs … I look at us as a whole team, we have the most complete team.
The reason for the 49ers confidence can easily be tracked to one man: Jim Harbaugh.
Harbaugh has given the 49ers' players a belief in one another, not just in themselves. He has forged this team to be a team from the beginning of training camp when he established an environment for the players to get to know one another.
He made offensive and defensive players room together (even the veterans who previously would have earned their own room), he rearranged the locker room and he made a rule that players couldn't eat in the cafeteria at team facilities with any headphones, so as to encourage conversation.
Harbaugh also famously surrendered his first-class plane seat to veteran center Jonathan Goodwin on a flight back home after their Week 4 come-from-behind win against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The bottom line is this: Harbaugh has instilled a sense of purpose and trust in his young team that will be the driving force to its success in the postseason. He has given the players the leadership they needed to be all they could be.
Coaches can only do so much, though, and players must execute the game plan.
Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree Are Stepping Up
In the last five games, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis have combined to catch 53 passes for 679 yards (12.81 yards per catch).
It seems fair to say that Crabtree isn't ever going to be as explosive as the elite wide receivers in the NFL, but he has really been coming on strong lately.
The same cannot be said for Davis, because he clearly is one of the most explosive tight ends in the league. He also has been coming on strong, and he's doing it just when the 49ers need him the most.
Nobody knows if or when Delanie Walker will return for the 49ers, and Davis will be called upon to pick up his game even more than he has been as a result. The last game against the St. Louis Rams was a good example of what we can expect from him throughout the playoffs.
Special Special Teams
The 49ers possess the best special teams unit in the NFL. Andy Lee is the best punter in the NFL, and his ability to turn the field position battle in the favor of the 49ers is unparalleled.
David Akers broke an NFL record for most made field goals in a season (44) and most points scored (164) with his outstanding performance in 2011.
The 49ers coverage team is also the best in the NFL.
Most of the experts agree that the 49ers won't be able to win against teams like the Saints and Packers using the 49ers formula of field position, defense and ball security. I disagree.
The 49ers will win Super Bowl XLVI with the same formula they've been utilizing all year long.
Defense Wins Championships
There is no doubting that the 49ers have the No. 1 defense in the NFL. It's simply dominant, and it has the ability to completely disrupt what any team tries to do on offense.
Patrick Willis looked rusty in the 49ers Week 17 win against the St. Louis Rams, and the team allowed two rushing touchdowns. I don't expect this to be the trend we'll see in the playoffs, however.
Willis, while looking rusty, didn't re-aggravate his sore hamstring. This is good news for 49ers fans. In fact, the 49ers will enter the playoffs in the divisional round without a single starter dealing with injury.
Aldon Smith is the best young pass-rusher in the NFL, and he'll get plenty of opportunities in the playoffs to prove it. The offseason acquisitions of Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers are proving to be strokes of brilliance, and Trent Baalke deserves credit for putting this defense together.
The biggest test, of course, would be in the NFC Championship game in Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. This is the matchup of the year, as far as I'm concerned.
I have no doubt in my mind that we will all be treated to this contest of offense versus defense, and I have no doubts that the 49ers are capable of getting enough pressure on Aaron Rodgers to cause a couple of turnovers and win the game.
Alex Smith: Caretaker, Leader and Cold-Blooded Killer
Alex Smith led the NFL in two key categories during the 2011 season: He threw the least amount of interceptions (five) while also leading the San Francisco 49ers to five fourth-quarter come-from-behind victories (all on the road).
Both of these stats are among the most important for any quarterback heading into the playoffs.
Smith has turned over a new leaf this year for the 49ers, and there is no questioning his ability to lead the team going forward. Yes, we all know he's not as good as some of the elite quarterbacks in the league, and his deep throws can sometimes resemble lame ducks, but he's the perfect leader for this team.
I am looking forward to watching the 49ers win Super Bowl XLVI because of Smith, not despite him. He is a better quarterback for this team than Trent Dilfer was for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, and I expect him to show up big for this team when the chips are down in January and February.