The 2011 San Francisco 49ers had one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NFL history. A team that remained largely unchanged from its 6-10 campaign with head coach Mike Singletary went 13-3 and made it to the NFC Championship Game under Jim Harbaugh.
It was truly an incredible year to experience.
Players that had been all but written off, like Alex Smith and Vernon Davis, came alive. Rookies such as Aldon Smith, Chris Culliver and Kendall Hunter were able to contribute in significant ways. Veteran talents like Patrick Willis, Carlos Rogers and Frank Gore had standout campaigns. The team simply came together to produce a tremendous season.
However, now that the season is complete, it must be put into historical perspective.
Here is the Niners' competition when it comes to the greatest NFL turnarounds ever:
In 2007, the Miami Dolphins were the laughingstock of the NFL. They finished their year 1-15, the worst record in the league. In fact, it took an overtime effort against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15 for them to even pick up that single win.
The Dolphins needed a drastic change, and they brought Bill Parcells in to lead it.
In short order after the season, first-year head coach Cam Cameron was fired, quarterback Joey Harrington left, and lifetime Dolphin Jason Taylor was allowed to sign with the Washington Redskins.
In 2008, Chad Pennington led the passing attack with an average of over 220 yards per game and only seven interceptions. Ronnie Brown turned in a Pro Bowl season with 10 touchdowns, and Tony Sparano coached the team to an 11-5 mark.
The 10-win difference between 2007 and 2008 was enough to give Miami its first playoff berth since 2001.
In 2005, the New Orleans Saints were one of the worst teams in football.
Finishing the year 3-13, the only team worse than them was the 2-14 Houston Texans. It was enough to warrant the firing of head coach Jim Haslett and a complete overhaul of the team.
During the offseason, they brought in Sean Payton to replace Haslet and Drew Brees as their starting quarterback. They also used their No. 2 pick to select USC product and Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.
The change was immediate.
In 2006, the Saints went 10-6 and made it to the NFC Championship Game, but they were defeated by the Chicago Bears. However, with Payton and Brees still around, that season began an era for the Saints that still continues; it even brought them their first Super Bowl championship in 2010.
Before the turn of the millennium, the St. Louis Rams had the team that fascinated and captured the attention of the nation. It began a three-year period in team history termed “The Greatest Show on Turf."
Coached by Dick Vermeil and led by QB Kurt Warner, the Rams stormed through the regular season with a 13-3 record.
Prior to that, though, many will forget that in 1998, the Rams finished 4-12.
In that year, Vermeil was the head coach and offensive coordinator, their leading receiver was Ricky Proehl, and their top running back was Charles “June” Henley. Those names were contrasted in 1999 by Mike Martz as offensive coordinator, Isaac Bruce as the prime wideout and Marshall Faulk in the backfield.
It was certainly a far different and better look.
The Rams completed their incredible turnaround with a Super Bowl win over the Tennessee Titans.
1999 was a good year for big turnarounds, as the Indianapolis Colts followed up back-to-back 3-13 seasons with a 13-3 campaign. In one year, they went from a team tied for the worst record in the NFL to equal with the Rams for the second-best record in the league.
The Peyton Manning era had begun.
Although it was Manning’s second year, it was the first in which he showcased his true capabilities. Complemented by Edgerrin James, Manning and the Colts offense averaged nearly 360 yards per game.
On top of that, they outscored their opponents by almost six points per game.
Since that year, the Colts have gone on to make the playoffs in every season except for 2001 and 2011.
Unlike many teams on this list, prior to the 1998 season, the Atlanta Falcons were not a terrible team. They finished 1997 with a 7-9 record and tied for second place in the NFC West.
Overall, it was not a dreadful first year for head coach Dan Reeves, who had Jamal Anderson and Chris Chandler at his disposal.
In 1998, it came together: The result was a 14-2 regular season and a trip to the Super Bowl.
Much like this year’s 49ers team, the core of the Falcons remained the same from one year to the next. However, they got better on both sides of the ball.
On average in 1997, Atlanta’s defense allowed almost three more points per game than the offense scored. One season later, the offense put up nearly 28 points per game, while the defense limited opponents to just 18.