Are the San Francisco 49ers a Dark Horse to Win the NFC West?

Joey GrissoContributor IMay 23, 2009

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 21:  Shaun Hill #13 of the San Francisco 49ers runs with the ball during the game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on December 21, 2008 in St. Louis, Missouri. The 49ers won 17-16. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Ah, football! Even though the draft is a month over and preseason doesn't kick off until August, people are still following the sport like it's the MLB or golf. Why? Because there is something magical about the game, something that brings all people together, something that captivates and enthralls residents of 32 American cities at opening kickoff.

Now, I could go multiple directions with this article. I could go on and on to talk about how football has captured America and become a part of our culture, or I can give you a sneak peek at one of the NFL's most glorious teams that plays in perhaps the worst stadium of all time.

A team that, if one or two games had turned out differently, could have made the playoffs last season. A team that, before the Lions, were the laughingstock of the NFC. A team that plays it's home games in a lonely windy former ballpark down by the bay. Folks, it's time you met the San Francisco 49ers.

As usual, last season started out rather poorly for the red and gold. After losing game one to the Cards, Nolan's Niners beat Seattle and Detroit, both of which had top four draft picks last month, before dropping six straight games, the last two of which were coached by Mike Singletary.

Under the new coach's leadership, SF won five of its last seven and four of its last five to finish at a respectable 7-9 and second in the division.

Now, with a clean slate and a four year contract worth $10 million, he's ready to lead the team to the playoffs.

Don't believe me? Just look at their terrible division. You have Seattle and St. Louis, who picked fourth and second in the NFL Draft, respectively.

The way I see it, it will be a long time before either of them, especially St. Louis, emerges as a serious contender. Arizona nearly won it all last year, but withthe way teams tend to do after losing Super Bowls, don't expect a repeat.

Which leaves us with San Francisco.

The Niners have momentum, a great head coach, and perhaps the most talented player in this year's draft. If Frank Gore has a good year and Vernon Davis makes up for some lost ground over the years, and if Patrick Willis continues to dominate on defense, all that is left to be sorted out is the issue of who will be their QB.

Alex Smith is clearly a bust, yet the Niners still have faith in him. Nate Davis is questionable, since he must first overcome a learning disability before overcoming Smith and Hill. Shaun Hill looks like the most solid QB the team has, but is he good enough to win them the division?

If Singletary doesn't think so, there are still some good options available. Graham Harrell was not drafted and went to the same college as Crabtree, so signing him would sure make a lot of sense.

Michael Vick will be out of prison soon, and if San Francisco is willing to deal with all the media speculation andglobal criticism from animal lovers, he could provide them with a solid strong arm and some running. And if somehow things don't work out between Farve and the Vikings, the 49ers could make a move.

Whoever is the starting QB next season, the 49ers will contend for the division, if not title. I'd expect a 10-6 record, division title, and playoff appearance for the team by the bay.