I think this is the 49th consecutive preseason in which the 49ers were the "sexy pick" to be a playoff team.
They have the defense, offense, and the special teams to do just that. And they have the coaching.
This is the year they will break through. But is it really? Do we really trust that it will happen this time, when they have failed to live up to the same expectations for 49 straight years (or five, but who's counting?)
Let's take a deeper look into this team and see if it really has what it takes to take the next step:
To start, the Niners are still inconsistent at best at the quarterback position.
Alex Smith had a career resurgence in the second half of last season, but he came from so far down that what he did looked a lot better than it actually was. He still wasn't all that great.
Second, their best receiver was Vernon Davis, who exploded last year to the tune of 13 touchdowns.
Now, it would appear that it took Mike Singletary calling him out to finally get him motivated, and that's probably true, but I still don't expect Davis to repeat his production.
Tight ends never put up those type of numbers in consecutive years. According to my findings, Antonio Gates in 2004 and 2005 is the only tight end in NFL history to score double digit touchdowns in consecutive seasons. So if history is any indication, the 49ers will lose at least four scores from their best receiving target.
Now, you could argue that Michael Crabtree is their best receiver, and that could come true this year. But even if he has the most talent, the potential for a blowup is extremely high.
Crabtree has shown a selfish diva attitude. He will likely be tightly covered, and possibly double teamed on many plays. Alex Smith is not a great decision maker, and it could be difficult for him to get Crabtree the ball.
I'm not guaranteeing that Crabtree will snap at him if this starts to happen, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me.
The final piece of the offense is Frank Gore, who is incredibly talented, but has only played in all 16 games once in his career.
That wouldn’t be a problem, because backup Glen Coffee showed last year he could fill in admirably in Gore’s absence. But unfortunately, Coffee was one and done, and retired after a relatively successful rookie year.
It’s hard to have faith in the running game if Gore goes down again.
Now on defense, they have a super-duper star.
Patrick Willis is one of the best linebackers this game has seen since...well, since his head coach.
He is one of the top five players in the NFL, and they will win some games based on his play alone, but that only takes a team so far. Luckily, they will get a couple more wins due to great coaching, which is why I’m predicting the 49ers to finish SECOND in the NFC West.
They had a good draft, and should contend next year. But for now, they are still chasing that elusive next step.
Prediction: 8-8; 2nd place in the NFC West