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Current Record: 5-1; Predicted: 12-4
This is an obvious pick for a potential pretender simply based on their sudden surge of success. However, I will not take the easy way out here.
The 49ers are a contender and this is why: Alex Smith finally has a head coach who understands how to use him.
Under Mike Singletary, the former All-Pro linebacker, Smith was not utilized or handled effectively—something that was reflected in his numbers (22 games: 429-714 (60%), 4,720 yards, 32 TDs, 22 INTs).
This year under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, a former quarterback, Smith has been one of the top QBs in the league. Imagine that. The former No. 1 overall pick has performed like his draft position would suggest (6 games, 100-158 (62%) 1,090 yards, 8 TDs, 2 INTs).
Combine Smith’s breakthrough with a healthy Frank Gore and an always stout defense, and this team has all the staying power of a true contender.