Following a big win against the New York Giants, the San Francisco 49ers are an overtime loss away from having a perfect record. Despite being ranked No. 2 on ESPN’s power rankings, the 49ers still have many doubters.
Instead of jumping on the 49ers’ bandwagon, NFL fans are predicting their fall from grace. It is hard for them to accept the 49ers as a dominant team because they have not enjoyed a winning season since 2002.
Five of the 49ers’ seven remaining games will be played within the NFC West. This being said, the 49ers are all but guaranteed a playoff spot. Here is what they must to prove the doubters wrong.
The combined record of the teams the 49ers have played so far this season is 39-42. One of the reasons people have doubted the 49ers is because they have not been blowing out their inferior opponents.
Good teams win the games they are favored in. An 8-1 record is proof that the 49ers have been doing this.
The 7-3 New Orleans Saints are one of the top five teams in the league, yet they have lost two games which they were favored in: St. Louis Rams (2-7) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5). Likewise the Baltimore Ravens at 6-3 were embarrassed last week when they lost to the 3-6 Seattle Seahawks.
The 49ers have seven games remaining, five of which are within the division. While it will be no huge feat to go 6-0 against the NFC West, the 49ers must win all these games in order to be included in the discussion as one of the NFL’s best teams.
Alex Smith is the main reason the 49ers are not being considered an elite team. Even after leading San Francisco to an 8-1 record, he is being labeled by fans and critics as a game manager.
The 49ers have been relying on the ground game this season. They are ranked 29th in pass yards per game (179.6), just two yards per game more than the winless Indianapolis Colts. This stat supports the argument that Alex Smith is just a game manager.
However, Smith and the 49ers offense put up 27 points against the New York Giants while only rushing for 77 yards, none of which were gained by Frank Gore.
The NFL is a statistic-driven league. If Smith can improve his TD/game average while maintaining his low INT/game average, he can prove to his critics that he has the ability to not just manage, but win games.
The 49ers have yet to play on prime-time television this season. This changes when they play the Baltimore Ravens Thanksgiving night and the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 15 on Monday Night Football.
The 49ers are a young team not used to success. They will be tested in these games, playing in a playoff-like atmosphere. If the 49ers execute the way they have all season, NFL fans will see a team that relies on the fundamentals: a solid run game, a stifling defense, superior special teams and mistake-free football.
Critics of the 49ers would love to see them drop both of these games. This would be a huge blow to their confidence heading into the playoffs and make them underdogs even if they have home-field advantage.
Winning at least one of these games is the most probable outcome. It would maintain their legitimacy as a good team, but would not shed their reputation as up-and-comers with something to prove.
Winning both games would be impressive. This would silence the doubters and cement the 49ers as a team to beat in the playoffs.
Considering the 49ers’ remaining schedule, they most likely will have won their division by the end of November and secured the No. 2 seed in the NFC (behind the Green Bay Packers) by the end of the season.
Regardless of an outstanding regular season, come next year the only thing people are going to remember about the 49ers' 2011 season is their performance in the playoffs.
Losing their first playoff game would be a disappointment. They would head into the 2012 season with the reputation that they have now: a successful team on the cusp of becoming one the NFL’s best.
If they lose in the NFC Championship game, it would either be to Green Bay at Lambeau Field or at home against the red-hot team that just took out Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. They would head into the 2012 season with surging confidence, anxious to establish themselves as one of the top five teams in the league.
If the 49ers were to make it to the Super Bowl, win or lose, there would be no doubters—just an overflowing bandwagon.