It was thought that new coach Jim Harbaugh might need two, maybe three, years to turn the moribund San Francisco 49ers into a consistent playoff contender. The starting point: According to most experts and many, many fans, there was a big hole at quarterback. As for the others:
No deep threat at wide receiver, essential in a league in which excellent quarterback play is needed. (See: New England Patriots 2006-2009.)
No shutdown cornerback, essential in a league in which excellent quarterback play depends on a viable deep threat to stretch defenses. A shutdown corner takes that option away, allowing the rest of the defense to concentrate on other threats.
An offensive line known more for mistakes and missed blocks than for gaping holes.
Finally, with so many key components missing, it was going to take Harbaugh time to build a team that would compete not only against the NFC West teams, but against the best teams of the conference, namely the Packers, Saints, Giants, Eagles and Atlanta.
All of that has been turned on its head. Harbaugh has demonstrated that he and his staff have been able to shape the team’s character to maximize its strengths. Much of the credit has to go to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for putting together the game plans that have turned a good-but-middling group in 2010 into the league’s premier defense, at least in terms of the front seven.
And though there’s no doubt that the Green Bay Packers stand as the league’s top team, thanks in part to the emergence of Aaron Rodgers as one of the league’s all-time top quarterbacks. But the 49ers have a team capable of beating a team like Green Bay, or any other NFL opponent. What’s more, they’re only going to get stronger.
With that in mind, here are seven reasons why the 49ers will become the NFL’s dominant team for the next seven years.