While the economy has steadily soured, the value of gold has soared to record numbers, prompting many to invest in the precious metal. A gold rush of expectations is also spreading through Niner Nation.
But those expectations for the San Francisco 49ers should remain subdued.
The faithful fans in the land of the Red and Gold must remind themselves that the team hasn’t solidified a starting quarterback, will experiment with the seventh offensive coordinator in as many years and has a head coach who has yet to complete a full season in the NFL.
The NFC West has been a weak but balanced division recently, so the door is open for any of the four teams to grab the title.
The Arizona Cardinals shocked the masses after reaching the Super Bowl, and will be the favorite to win the division. Seattle was plagued by injuries last season, but could return to the team that captured consecutive division crowns from 2004-2007. The St. Louis Rams will most likely be looking up from the cellar once again.
The 49ers can win the West, which would exceed expectations, but will need consistency from a key position.
The most glaring obstacle for San Francisco success is steady quarterback play. An essential ingredient when concocting a championship football team is a serviceable signal caller, one that minimizes turnovers and makes heady decisions, but this step in the recipe has been skipped at Candlestick Park since the retirement of Steve Young.
After the first mini-camp there is no front-runner for the job, and first-year offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye isn’t in a hurry to name a starter between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith. While this tactic theoretically fuels competition between the two, it can hurt complementary offensive players at the same time.
Some fans are calling for rookie Nate Davis to get a shot, the fifth round draftee out of Ball State. But please realize while Davis is an exceptional athlete, he is an unpolished quarterback. He has potential, but will need to develop his abilities from the sideline and on the practice field over the next few years.
If the 49ers can obtain above average play from whoever is named the starter, fans can look forward to a 9-7 season which might be enough to win the division. But if the man under center changes from week to week, it could be another disappointing year.
The arsenal of receivers for Raye and his gunslingers has increased with the addition of Michael Crabtree and the emergence of Josh Morgan. But again, the quarterback will have to raise his level of play to utilize those weapons.
Two traits San Francisco won’t lack are discipline and defense. Head coach Mike Singletary embodies these ideologies, and will rely on them to keep his team in games. The defense will excel with a veteran secondary and an outstanding linebacking corps led by Patrick Willis.
Quarterback pressure and run-stopping abilities from the defensive line needs the most improvement, and the team is looking for last year’s first round draft pick, Kentwan Balmer, to step up in that department.
Another hurdle that could impede the Niners success is the implementation of a new offensive system. Both players and coaches have to adjust to an unfamiliar style of play which will only slow the progression of the quarterbacks who are learning their fourth offensive scheme in the last four seasons.
Raye has emphasized he would like to see a balanced attack on offense, but with Singletary being a defensive-minded coach expect to see more from running backs Frank Gore, Glen Coffee and Michael Robinson this season.
As the only team with a defensive prowess in the division, San Francisco could steal away a title. However, the most probable scenario will likely unfold with the 49ers finishing runner-up in the NFC West for the second straight year, and ultimately missing the postseason.