The five-year playoff drought is over.
The San Francisco 49ers have clinched their first postseason berth since 2013 despite losing 29-22 to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15. The 49ers got in thanks to the Dallas Cowboys' win over the Los Angeles Rams.
That era of Niners football was defined by a fearsome defense led by linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. This new era of Niners football is likewise defined by a devastating defense, namely a front seven that has been superb all year.
Nick Bosa is a shoo-in for Defensive Rookie of the Year, headlining a fantastic defensive line that also includes Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and Solomon Thomas.
It's a testament to San Francisco's recent drafting that the defensive line is such a strength, considering Bosa (2019), Thomas (2017), Buckner (2016) and Armstead (2015) were all first-round picks by the team in recent years.
But while the defense has carried the day for the Niners, the play of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and a solid run game have helped revitalize the offense. The 49ers aren't going to remind anyone of the Bill Walsh days, but they've done enough to vault themselves from a four-win team a year ago to one of the top teams in the NFC this year.
Yes, there are concerns. Garoppolo (200 yards and one touchdown against the Falcons) is solid, but he isn't elite. If you contain San Francisco's run game, it's fair to question if he and a good but not great group of wideouts can lead the team to a title. It's hard to win in the postseason without top-notch quarterback play, even with an elite defense and solid run game. Just ask the Chicago Bears last year.
No matter what happens, however, the 49ers are moving in the right direction under Kyle Shanahan. This team is on the rise and has the ability to make major noise in the postseason. After years of mediocrity, the 49ers are back.