With progress seemingly made every day on the lockout, there is optimism about the NFL. The signals are that football will be played, and there’s every indication that the season will start as scheduled.
Having had to wade through all the labor relations talk, and after having seen way too many pictures of lawyers walking on streets and players in suits rather than uniforms, it might be time for the avid fan to wonder how a favorite team will fare in 2011.
From the San Francisco 49ers' perspective, they remain a solid contender for the NFC West title. That's a statement backed not by the 49ers' record over the last eight years (46-82), but by the fact that the team remains relatively talented and relatively lucky.
In this case, “relative” relates to the NFC West. Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis each have as many, if not more, major issues to deal with come the regular season. Like the 49ers, even an optimistic assessment of any NFC West team’s chances has to include, for the 49ers, improvements on the field and, for the other teams, either major changes in roster or drastic on-field performance.
That’s why a fan can root for a favorite, but it still comes down to the players playing the games. Here’s a pre-end-of-the-lockout assessment of San Francisco’s six biggest obstacles in the way of winning the NFC West.