49ers' interim head coach Mike Singletary is not one to get into hypotheticals. He was recently quoted in one of the Mercury news articles that he doesn't look back on missed opportunities, but rather simply stated, he prefers to "move on".
However, as aficionados in the sports world, some of the greatest analysis we do deals with the "what-ifs" that coaches and players so often tend to ignore or reject completely.
This is why I am going to make the case that as bad as the San Francisco 49ers have been the last few seasons, they could have easily won the NFC West. In fact, only three of the teams on the 49ers' '08 schedule had clearly more talent than the 49ers. Take away games against the Cowboys, Patriots, and Giants, you could make a solid case that the 49ers had just as much talent if not more than the rest of their opponents.
In Week one, the 49ers lost at home to the Arizona Cardinals 23-13. Granted the Cardinals have a high-powered offensive attack with Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Edgerrin James. The 49ers have much more talent on the defensive side of the ball. The 49ers were also playing this game with Mike Nolan running a J. T. O' Sullivan led team. Arizona didn't win because they played better, they won because the 49ers didn't play up to the level that their talent suggests they could have. 49ers (0-1)
In Week four, the 49ers went into New Orleans, and, despite losing 31-17, had multiple opportunities that were missed due to the terrible decision making prowess by one single player (J.T. O' Sullivan. Or as some fans dubbed him "J.T. O' Suckivan or JTO = Just Turn it Over) 49ers (2-2)
Week five brought the Patriots into San Francisco and even though the Patriots came away with the win, the 49ers cut the lead to six points with a fourth quarter touchdown. This game however was clearly won by the Patriots, so I can't argue this as a game the 49ers could have won. 49ers (2-3)
That being said, in the Week six matchup against the Eagles, the 49ers had a nine-point second half lead that disappeared when the team led by JTO self-destructed. A game the 49ers clearly had in control and gave away. One of the games that you ponder how it would have played out with Singletary and Hill running 49ers. 49ers (2-4)
Week seven meant San Francisco had to travel to the Meadowlands to take on the defending champs the New York Giants. Although, the final score was only 29-17, the Giants were clearly off their game as it could have easily been uglier on the scoreboard. 49ers (2-5)
The following week San Francisco hosted the rematch against the Seahawks a game they lost 33-14. The game itself just got out of hand very quickly, and some anomaly gave Seattle fullback Leonard Weaver the ability to score two 30-plus-yard touchdowns off dump off passes. A game that the 49ers were blown out, but clearly they were the better team all around than the Seahawks. A game they definitely should have won. 49ers (2-6)
After the bye week, San Fran meant up with division rival Arizona for the second time on the season on Monday Night Football. With Hill running the team, the 49ers nearly won the game and would have if not for a gaff by the 49ers coaching staff who claimed they didn't know where the ball was spotted on the games' final play. If they knew where the ball had been placed, there is a overwhelmingly good chance the right play call would have won the 49ers this game. 49ers (2-7)
In Week 11, the 49ers finally did what they were suppose to do and pounded the measly Rams to a pulp, winning big 35-16 49ers (3-7)
Success wouldn't be able to build upon itself as the 49ers unfortunately ran into a much better football team in the Cowboys the following week and lost 35-22. 49ers (3-8)
Interim coach Singletary would get his first road win when the 49ers went into Buffalo and pulled out a 10-3 victory, the first win for any west coast team playing on the east coast all season long. 49ers (4-8)
This time the 49ers would put together back-to-back wins by upsetting the playoff hopeful Jets. San Francisco pounded New York, dominating on both sides of the ball in route to a 24-14 win. 49ers (5-8)
The following week the 49ers dominated in time of possession and really should have beat the Miami Dolphins who San Francisco held to without a point in the second half. The 14-9 loss came in part due to questionable red-zone play calling, and it also didn't help that the 49ers best offensive weapon (Frank Gore) was out for this game due to a sprained ankle. 49ers (5-9)
This past week the 49ers played terrible football for three-plus quarters but were able to overcome a 16-3 deficit in St. Louis by scoring two touchdowns in the final 4:03 to win 17-16. 49ers (6-9)
And the last week of the season the 49ers get the Washington Redskins at home, which they should have a great shot at beating. In fact, I would be surprised if they weren't able to come away with the victory. 49ers potential season record (7-9).
Now players and coaches can't make excuses for why games don't go the way they want them too. But, this 49ers team has plenty of talent and with Singletary in charge will most likely finish (5-4) as they were (2-5) under Mike Nolan.
Call me a homer, call me whatever you like. You make think I am just an extremely optimistic fan who likes to make excuses. But, I'm trying to make as much of an non-bias argument as I can.
The nine losses the 49ers will have suffered came against the Cardinals, Saints, Patriots, Eagles, Seahawks, Giants, Cardinals again, Dolphins, Cowboys.
The 49ers should have won both games against Arizona, should have beaten the Saints, Eagles, Seahawks, and Dolphins. Five games they should have won. With the talent they have, and the new system under Singletary, these are games San Francisco should have won. If they had done so, their record would be 13-3.
Now the majority of those reading are probably thinking I'm crazy, well to quote from my favorite movie of '08, and favorite character (The Joker), "No I'm not, NO, I'M NOT".
Trust me, I am actually sane. Yes, the 49ers are still FAR, FAR, AWAY from going 13-3. But unlike the terrible 49ers teams of recent seasons, San Francisco was in every single game they played this year.
Now look, maybe 13-3 is too ridiculous to fathom, let's just say the 49ers should have beaten Arizona once and beaten the Seahawks like they were suppose to. San Francisco would then be 8-7 going into the final game of the season, while the Cardinals would be 7-8 going into their final game. The 49ers would be in a win-and-in situation going into week 17.
And even if they had still been blown out by the Seahawks in Singletary's first game, if they had just won that one game against Arizona on Monday Night Football, the 49ers would still be in contention for the playoffs going into the game's final season.
To conclude, 2008 was clearly a "what could have been"-type of season for the 49ers.
But, with Singletary all but for certain coming back as the full-time head coach for the 49ers, and the talent level on their roster, 2009 should mean Candlestick Park playing host to a playoff football game once again.