San Francisco stands at 4-2, good for third place in a division that is easily the best in football so far this season.
Offensively and defensively, the 49ers have been simply dominant, but with losses to the Minnesota Vikings and the Giants, it is hard to decipher if San Francisco is capable of even making it out of the NFC West, let alone making the NFC Championship game again.
While the 49ers were once the favorite to win the NFC West, let's examine why that is not sure thing at all.
As mentioned, the 49ers dropped a game to the Vikings 24-13. While Minnesota is surprisingly one of the better teams in the NFL so far this season, it is a game San Francisco should have won to make a statement.
The loss to the Giants hurts not only because it was a rematch of the 49ers' loss in the NFC Championship game, but because it ended a streak of absolute dominance.
The 49ers had won the two previous games against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills by a combined score of 79-3, so dropping a game to the Giants 26-3 the next week makes zero sense and is the definition of inconsistency.
This is not to say the 49ers cannot win the NFC West simply because of inconsistency—Super Bowl champions have been inconsistent. It's the fact that both puzzling losses have come by 11 or more points that is concerning.
With inconsistency still in mind, the rest of the schedule does not get any easier for the 49ers. Matchups with divisional opponents such as the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks are of course still looming.
More concerning for San Francisco are matchups with borderline-elite NFC teams such as the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears. A showdown with the vastly underrated Miami Dolphins is on the horizon as well.
There's also the matter of a crucial matchup with the New England Patriots—a statement game that will reveal whether the 49ers are for real or not. Of course, one could have said the same thing about the game with the Giants.
On paper, the 49ers are one of the best teams in the league. Also on paper is one of the more difficult remaining schedules for any team in the NFL.
NFC West Is the Best Division in the NFL
The best division in the NFL is no longer the NFC East or the AFC North—that title shockingly goes to the NFC West.
The 49ers are of course an elite team with championship aspirations, but the Cardinals and Seahawks are legitimate threats for the divisional crown as well.
Arizona and Seattle both have the same record as the 49ers. The Cardinals are one of the better teams in the league thanks to an elite defense and a well-rounded offense led by quarterback Kevin Kolb.
Seattle also happens to be one of the better teams in the league despite being led by a rookie quarterback in Russell Wilson—who just helped the Seahawks knock off the Patriots. An elite defense will carry the Seahawks to divisional contention and potentially more.
Let's not forget about the stingy St. Louis Rams, who are not quite good enough to contend, but will certainly play the role of spoiler as the season progresses thanks to a borderline elite defense led by an outstanding pair of corners in Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins.
The 49ers have six remaining matchups in the NFC West, and none of them are surefire wins. Thanks to the emergence of rising teams, the 49ers have not even come close to locking up the NFC West in 2012.