Expectations are high this spring in 49er Country.
It’s almost impossible not to spot billboards along the 101 picturing our new head coach, accompanied with one of his now-famous Singletaryisms. And while we all “want Winners”, these ads are really just hoping to persuade fans to purchase season tickets, and in their attempts to do so, push the idea that the days of mediocrity are finally behind us.
Posting wins in four of their final five games under head coach Mike Singletary has undoubtedly sparked hope amongst 49er fans for the new season. And although the Niners haven’t reached the playoffs in the past six years, anything short of that this season will no doubt disappoint.
Unfortunately, the red and gold faithful may have to wait at least one year longer to get back to the postseason.
Taking a look at their 2009 schedule, the Niners should improve from last year’s schedule, but not by much. I believe they are more than capable of an 8-8 season with the coaching and the players they have installed.
San Francisco has a great chance of winning three of their first four games out of the gate. Seattle and St. Louis at home are essential wins if the Niners want to make any type of playoff run. And while a win in Arizona on opening day may seem unlikely, taking the game in Minnesota two weeks later is not.
Things get a little dicey after that.
Coming off of their Week Six bye, the 49ers have to go to Houston, to Indianapolis, and then they get Tennessee back at home. All of these teams posted 6-2 records in their Home/Away situations last year, and will be equally as tough this season.
The following week, the new-look Bears come to town, and while no one can be sure how Cutler will work with that offense, the Bears' "D" will definitely spell trouble. If the Niners are not careful, a four or five-game losing streak could be in store.
Like last year, winning four of five to finish off the regular season will be essential, but this year it is going to be much more difficult.
Three of these games are against division rivals, and the other two are in Philly and against a nothing-to-lose Detroit team.
Improving on their 3-3 division record is a must if the Niners want to make the playoffs. The last time San Francisco had a winning record within their division was 2002, and guess what, they made the playoffs that year.
Taking even one game from the Cardinals may seem outlandish, and it very well could be. This makes it is absolutely necessary that they own the field against the other teams within their division. Anything worse than a .500 record within the division will be disastrous, and will cause this team to fall short of their potential.
Weathering the storm of the AFC South and NFC North teams this season will be another breaking point.
One win is likely out of the AFC South, but a second win could definitely propel the Niners' odds of making the playoffs. In the NFC North, every game has the potential for a win, but whether or not the Niners take advantage of these matchups will be key. How they perform in these games will be pivotal in which way the needle of improvement moves at the end of this year.
Overall, I see the Niners winning eight games and just missing the playoffs. By taking ownership of their division games, showing minimal authority against the NFC North and getting lucky against an AFC team, eight wins should not be a stretch.
But if San Francisco can push down on the pedal slightly harder, take an extra game in the AFC, and win three or four in the NFC North? Playoffs, here we come!