49ers Shooting for Fifth Seed in the NFC
After last week’s win, the San Francisco 49ers hoped to continue their momentum and avoid an east coast “trap” game versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Clinging to their history, the Niners enforced their run game with a few big plays to raise their record to 10-1 when headed to the Atlantic coast during the Jim Harbaugh era.
The Niners are heating up and getting healthier at the right time. They have won four straight and nine of 11 with two games remaining. The Atlanta Falcons are up next in a Monday night matchup. Peep my picked six.
1) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on the rise. They eradicated their early season issues creating room for rookie Mike Glennon and solidifying a strong, active defensive unit. Despite plenty of injuries, the Bucs entered Sunday’s matchup winning four of their last five with one of the best teams in The League in turning offenses over. No team had more interceptions before Sunday’s game. Greg Schiano has fought off a ton of critics and appears to be leading his group to a strong finish and a groove to use heading into the off-season. This is a team to watch in the NFC next year.
2) The NFC champion will be the Superbowl XLVIII champion. The NFC champion will be determined by which team can solve one of the better defenses in the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks (12-2), Carolina Panthers (10-4) and San Francisco 49ers (10-4) rank 1, 2 and 5, respectfully. I know. The same may have been stated last year and we know what transpired. However, the odds are against the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs or New England Patriots overtaking either of those top defenses. The Seahawks and 49ers are 1st and 3rd against the pass, respectively, while the Panthers are 2nd against the rush. Compounding the situation, the Hawks, Niners and Panthers are 3rd, 7th and 9th in running the football in the entire league. Great defenses and a sound running attack; sounds like a winner.
3) The only questionable facet of the 49ers game is returns. It would be a pleasant surprise, but it does not appear LaMichael James is the one. He does have a long of 40 yards this year and ranks 11th in average yards per punt. Yet, he is more pitter-patter than prompt with his attack. He will continue to receive all the opportunities he can get back there to conclude the season, including the playoffs. Is the job his to lose? I doubt it. There is no one else this year and I can guarantee, it will be an area of focus entering the off-season.
4) With the combination of Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, San Francisco can threaten defenses over the top. This is not a grand eye-opener, but it cannot be overlooked. Only one tight end has more TDs than Davis and Crabtree continues to advance slowly catching his first touchdown Sunday. With their 5th best rushing attack (137.1 ypg) often facing a stacked box and a Kaepernick spy, stretching a defense is a must. The tide of most playoff games switches with one big play. Watch the 49ers attack when the opportunity opens. Even with the attempts, holes will open for Frank Gore just as quick.
5) Barring injury, expect Colin Kaepernick to make jaw-dropping playoff plays similar to last year’s run. Kaepernick rushed for 39 yards, but like the previous Sunday made crucial plays with his feet to move the chains. He also extended plays avoiding sacks and finding open receivers including one for a touchdown to Crabtree. As expected, Crabtree’s return has affected the Niners offense exponentially. He has created space for the entire offense, including giving Kaepernick the opportunity to make a play.
6) The 49ers are eradicating the weaknesses that plagued them earlier in the season. They forced Tampa Bay into a couple turnovers while shutting down their run game. The Bucs were limited to 39 yards rushing and converted one 3rd down. The Niners on the other hand rushed for 187 yards. Kaepernick was 19-29 for 203 yards and a couple touchdowns; completing passes to six different receivers. He finished with a QBR of 108.8.