San Francisco 49ers: Why They Will and Won't Repeat as Division Champs in 2012
The San Francisco 49ers shocked the world in 2012, going 13-3 and making it all the way to the NFC Championship after being all but counted out at the beginning of the season.
They dominated the NFC West, proving to be the far superior team by going 5-1 within the division, and bringing some luster back to what was considered the worst division in the NFL the year prior.
They are the favorites to once again win the division in 2012, and with good reason. No other team in the West came close to their success and there aren't many obvious indicators that they will regress this year.
However, anything can happen in the NFL and there are some obstacles that the 49ers will have to overcome if they want to repeat as division champions.
Here are some reasons that the 49ers may cruise to another division title, and some reasons why they may falter.
Why They Will: They Kept Their Team Intact
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When you look at the most successful franchises in the NFL, you will see a trend in how they operate during free agency.
Instead of going after all sorts of high-profile free agents looking to cash in, they instead fly under the radar, choosing to sign their own free agents before making any moves on other players.
The Niners did exactly that this offseason, re-signing linebackers Larry Grant and Ahmad Brooks, cornerback Carlos Rogers, kick/punt returner Tedd Ginn Jr. and quarterback Alex Smith to fair deals in an effort to keep the core of their highly successful 2011 squad intact.
They only lost one significant contributor in the form of Adam Snyder and managed to extend Andy Lee's contract to ensure that offenses will rarely start out with good field position against the Niners for another six years.
Why They Won't: Their Turnover Ratio Will Be Difficult to Repeat
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One of the main reasons for the 49ers' success last season was due to their video-game-like turnover ratio. They were plus-28 for the season, giving their offense numerous extra chances with the ball, which helped catapult them to their 13-3 record.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, the top five teams in turnover ratio varies every year, showing that it will be very difficult to match those numbers in 2012.
The 49ers will have to put the ball in the end zone when they get the opportunity, something their 30th-ranked red-zone offense suggests they will have difficulty doing.
Why They Will: The Running Game Will Be Even Better in 2012
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In a league full of passing teams, the 49ers were best on offense when they were grinding up the field with their powerful running game.
Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter proved to be one of the best tandems in the league, combining forces on their way to the eighth-ranked rushing attack in the NFL.
That wasn't enough for Jim Harbaugh, though, as he signed multi-purpose back Rock Cartwright and short-yardage power back Brandon Jacobs in free agency, and followed that up by drafting home-run threat LaMichael James in the second round.
The 49ers have more good running backs than they know what to do with now, and that could spell trouble for the NFL in 2012.
Why They Won't: The Urge to Pass May Be Too Great
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Despite the 49ers boasting possibly the deepest running back corps in the league, the NFL is still a passing league.
When you have that many weapons and a head coach who likes to throw the football in a league where passing is becoming a necessity, passing the ball may seem like a great idea.
However, the 49ers are at their best when they are running the football. They can grind it out, give the defense a breather, let their powerful offensive line do what they do best and cover up the flaws in Alex Smith's game.
If Jim Harbaugh can't contain the urge to try out all of his new toys, that may spell disaster for the 49ers.
Why They Will: Jim Harbaugh Will Be Ready for Anything
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After leading a franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2001 and winning the NFL Coach of the Year award, it's safe to say that Jim Harbaugh is pretty good at his job.
Throw in the fact that he did it in his first year as head coach with no offseason to prepare, and it's not too far-fetched to say that Jim Harbaugh might be the next great coach in the NFL.
He never seemed rattled, no matter what situation his team was in. He sparked the players and fans alike to give their all every Sunday and brought an intensity that has not been seen in San Francisco for some time.
It is not a smart idea to bet against Jim Harbaugh, and he will not let the 49ers fall off the map so easily.
Why They Won't: The Other Teams Will Be Much Improved from Last Year
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The biggest reason the 49ers may not repeat as division champions actually has little to do with what they do right or wrong: the other teams in the NFC West are just going to be a lot better this year.
They both gave the 49ers all they could handle in their second meetings, with the Cardinals actually picking up a 21-19 win.
Both teams continued to improve this offseason, plugging up holes with quality players and bolstering their teams up enough to be considered legitimate threats to the NFC West title.
Even the Rams, as bad as they were last year, managed to make significant strides with some key free-agent pickups and excellent drafting, and should not be counted out completely.
The 49ers may repeat as division champions, but they are going to have their work cut out for them in a much improved NFC West.