NFC West: 5 Reasons Why 49ers Are Division Favorites

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NFC West: 5 Reasons Why 49ers Are Division Favorites
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Alex Smith will be crucial to 49er success in 2011.

You don’t get the reputation as an underachieving team unless there are expectations.

For the 49ers, with All-Pro players like Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis and Frank Gore, lack of talent is not the chief reason the franchise has yet to put a stranglehold on the NFC West.

But the truth hurts. Opposing coaches look at the 49ers and see perhaps the game’s best middle linebacker (Willis), the best tightend (Davis), and a dangerous all-around running back (Gore) who might be one of the best blockers against the blitz to go along with a young but improving offensive line, one of the game’s best defensive linemen (Justin Smith) and solid special teams.

The 8-8 season in 2009 set high expectations for 2010, and nothing short of a division crown would have been good enough. Though the team finished 6-10 last year, they still were in the hunt for a title in Week 17, showing how weak indeed the NFC West turned out to be.

Changes came early in 2011. A new general manager, new coach and staff. In this milieu, there’s been a lockout. So new coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff have had very limited contact with the team.

But on the horizon there’s hope that the players’ representatives and the owners will reach an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement within a couple weeks, maybe sooner.

Do 49ers fans raise their hopes? It appears the same quarterback will return, a player who, some argue, might be one of the biggest busts in franchise history. And there’s the same wide receiver who has yet to live up to his billing as the tenth player taken in the 2009 draft. And what about that spotty offensive line play, not to mention a secondary that was one of the weakest in the NFL?

During a morning phone radio interview on Wednesday, June 15, Harbaugh gave the impression that he and his staff have enough jet fuel stored up to ignite the team and launch it into the playoffs. But there’s more work to be done, according to some people such as Mike Florio at Profootballtalk.com (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/06/15/49ers-have-a-lot-of-work-to-do-to-complete-talented-roster/).

Looking over the roster, then lifting the perspective to the NFC West, the clouds seem to be parting for the 49ers. In that aspect, here are five reasons why San Francisco will be NFC West favorites.

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