Alex Smith almost took his San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl last season. He was one of the staples of that team that lost to the eventual champion New York Giants.
The 49ers' odds to make it that far are pretty good again this season, but in order to do that, Smith must be the leader of the team.
Here are five reasons why Smith must have a hot start if the Niners want to make it to the conference championship game, if not further.
For the first time in his NFL career, Smith is going to be playing in the same offensive scheme in consecutive football seasons.
That would make any quarterback comfortable, and without question, make a QB, especially Smith, look better.
“I feel like I've been trying to get better each and every single year and then last year some things clicked," said Smith (via Salt Lake Deseret News).
Alex Smith is 28 years old and the last time I checked, no one is allowed to go downward in age.
Time is not on the side of Smith. Granted, it's not against him like it could be for other NFC quarterbacks (Kolb, Vick and Romo to name three.
However, Smith has yet to live up to his No. 1 pick status. A conference championship would give him a little immunity. However, if the Niners slip up early in the season, the championship may disappear on the horizon.
The 49ers acquired Randy Moss during the offseason to give the seasoned veteran one more chance to win a title.
If the Niners start out slow, this guy will bring the locker room down, which is never good for any team, young or old.
Granted, if Moss goes all stubborn on the team, he won't last long, but if there's no investment for Moss, he might be the one who tries to sink the entire ship for the team.
Week 1 might be a challenge for the 49ers.
See the picture above? That's where the Niners get to start out their 2012 campaign. A win there would probably send the Bay Area into a frenzy. (They may even forget about the Giants-Dodgers pennant race.)
With that said, Smith needs to be near perfect to beat the Green Bay Packers in order to start out the season 1-0. He needs to go toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers as closely as possible—which is do-able for Smith—to steal a road win at Lambeau Field.
If not, well, you get the picture. The Niners would be in familiar, unwelcome territory—under .500.
Outside of opening the season in Wisconsin, the 49ers are in good shape to open out the season.
They'll even get to play in primetime after playing the Packers—Week 2 is at home on Sunday Night Football on NBC against the Detroit Lions. The Lions are improving, but the Niners are clearly a better football team.
Following inviting Matt Stafford and his Lions, the AFC East Tour begins by playing the New York Jets as well as the Buffalo Bills. The Jets might be a challenge, but the Bills should be an easy win for the Niners.