The San Francisco 49ers dropped their second game of the 2012 regular season on Sunday. In Week 6, the 49ers hosted the New York Giants at Candlestick Park and had a tremendous fall in front of their home crowd fans.
And while many teams would consider a 4-2 start a relatively good jump on the season, the 49ers feel that they’re better than their record. San Francisco handled teams like Green Bay and Detroit early on, which is a more accurate portrayal of the team they truly are, which is competitive, mistake-free and tough.
But on the other hand, they’ve been dismantled twice—by the Vikings and Giants—in games where they’ve been forced into playing from behind. Their opposition was able to match their physicality in the trenches and limit their mistakes.
That aspect in their game has revealed itself as the team’s Achilles.
At this rate, the 49ers can only expect to win 10 or 11 games this season, which is hopefully enough to win their division. And even worse, the blueprint on how to beat this team is officially out in the open.
Moreover, with Week 6 of the NFL all wrapped up, there is still no clear-cut favorite in the league. And of the two conferences, the NFC is more competitive, making it even trickier to determine a front-runner.
The Atlanta Falcons are hot right now, winning six straight to start the season. They are currently the only undefeated team in the NFL.
They lack the toughness to compete with NFC teams like San Francisco, New York or even Chicago. Equally talented teams that approach the game with insatiable physicality should best the Falcons. This is why they’ve fallen in the playoffs time and time again.
They are building a high-scoring finesse team, similar to the AFC’s New England Patriots. And even though the Patriots are formidable, they’ve been outmuscled by a more physical Giants team in their past two Super Bowl appearances.
The Falcons can ride this wave right now, but when push comes to shove in the cold months late in the season, we’ll see if Atlanta can hang. Besides, let’s not forget Matt Ryan threw three interceptions against Oakland this past weekend.
Giants and Bears
Continuing along the NFC trail, the Giants and Bears have very competitive teams. They are balanced and play very good defense most of the time. They also have a lot of firepower on offense with gun-slinging quarterbacks behind center.
Though, this past weekend’s victory was the only significant win for New York this season. Their three prior victories came against Tampa Bay, Carolina and Cleveland, and even those weren’t perfectly clean. Eli Manning is playing at an extremely high level, but the team as a whole has not performed to the level they are capable of.
The Giants have a high ceiling, but we won’t really have a grip on their destiny until late in the season. They are about as up-and-down as a regular season team can be. They will have their highs and lows, but at the end of the day, the team is a major threat in the conference.
When taking a look at Chicago, it’s easy to see the Bears have the pieces in place to be a threat to anyone. Still, like any other team, they are not without their flaws. Like the 49ers, the Bears have had inconsistencies at the quarterback position. Jay Cutler will either be a strength on game day or he will be a weakness.
This kind of irregularity at such a vital position handicaps the potential of the Bears. Also, there is the concern that they still might not get out of their division alive.
And that brings us to our next three teams.
The Surprise Teams
Let’s not forget about the Vikings, Cardinals and Seahawks. The three surprise teams in the NFC have shown they are for real. From afar, they are viewed as the underdogs in their respective divisions, but at one point or another, they have all shown they can hang with the better teams in the league.
Minnesota knocked off San Francisco, while Arizona and Seattle both took down the mighty Patriots. The Cards and ‘Hawks also have wins against the Eagles, Cowboys and Packers. However, instability at quarterback is a major red flag for both Arizona and Seattle.
It’s hard to say whether or not the Niners are the class of the NFC. They very well could be—but then again they might not be. Either way, San Francisco does not quite have to be the best team in the NFC right now.
In 2011, the Green Bay Packers were arguably the best team not only in the NFC, but the NFL. Conversely, it was the New York Giants that took home the Lombardi Trophy.
The approach of this piece was to highlight that no team is without their flaws. While I pointed out the downside of these NFC teams, they are all still threatening ball clubs on game day. But no organization is safe from the occasional bumps in the road.
It’s about doing enough now to best position yourself for the playoffs and getting hot at the right time. The 49ers won 13 games last season but eventually ran out of steam, reminding us all that the season is a marathon, not a sprint.
So, ultimately, what good was the seeding last year? The Giants (9-7) entered the 2011-2012 race as a Wild Card.
The reigning Super Bowl champs are proof that it doesn’t matter how you get there, it’s about what you do when you arrive.
The only real difference between the 49ers and the other NFC heavyweights is that San Francisco’s flaws have only recently come to light. Despite falling to the Giants in Week 6, no one really doubts San Francisco’s potential. They have a very high ceiling, which makes them a threat week in and week out.