2013 Record: 8-4
The 49ers tried to work with Alex Smith. They really did. But just when Coach Jim Harbaugh had built a system that worked perfectly for him over the last two years, young Colin Kaepernick came along when Smith was injured for a couple weeks. Harbaugh controversially decided to stick with Kaepernick even though Smith was completing 70.2% of his passes. But Kaepernick gave the offense a new vertical dimension it didn’t have before in his seven starts at the end of the year. He threw for 1,814 yards (more than Smith did in nine starts) and ran for 415. The 49ers are incredibly deep at running back with veteran Frank Gore (1,214 yards, eight touchdowns), young Kendall Hunter, and younger LaMichael James. All of those three averaged more than 4.6 yards per carry. Throw in Kaepernick, and you’ve got the NFL’s most dangerous ground game. Michael Crabtree (85 receptions, 1,105 yards) was the undoubted #1 receiver, living up to his college hype. Mario Manningham (42 receptions, 449 yards) and tight end Vernon Davis (41 receptions, 548 yards) were Kaepernick’s next favorite targets, but he’ll have another one this year in veteran Anquan Boldin. Boldin left the Super Bowl Champion Ravens to go to the team they beat, the 49ers. He will instantly start at the #2 wide receiver position across from Crabtree. This offense really has everything you could possibly ask for a coach to work with. San Francisco was 11th in the NFL in points scored last year—they’ll be top 10 for sure this year.
The Niners’ defense has been dominant in recent years, which is much the reason why experts have had them picked for success for years now. They were fourth against the pass and fourth against the rush last year. Their linebackers are Ahmad Brooks, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, and Aldon Smith. Wow. Is this the 49ers or the NFC Pro Bowl team? Bowman could be the best linebacker in the NFL in a couple years and Smith had 19.5 sacks last year. The 49ers acquired defensive end Glenn Dorsey and cornerback Nmandi Asomugha in free agency—obvious starters on their previous teams, but possibly benchwarmers on the 49ers. That’s how deep this team is. The only challenge they will really be facing is the loss of safety Dashon Goldson in free agency. Cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown start. Justin Smith, Ian Williams, and Ray McDonald start up front. While Smith is Pro Bowl-caliber, the defensive line is the only weakness you could peg if you had to on this defense. But you have to look pretty hard to find their problems. Harbaugh has coached his team incredibly well and could have a dynasty building in San Francisco.