Coming off a disappointing 6-10 season in 2010, the San Francisco 49ers are looking to take advantage of the lackluster competition in the NFC West to turn things around this year. The 49ers have a solid foundation to build upon with first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, who most recently rejuvenated the struggling program at Stanford University. One of the few bright spots for the 49ers last season was their run defense, which gave up less than 100 yards per game and was ranked 6th in the NFL thanks in large part to linebacker phenomenon Patrick Willis. This should once again prove to be a cornerstone for the team despite the loss of veteran leaders such as linebacker Takeo Spikes, defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, and cornerback Nate Clements. The two big offseason acquisitions, seasoned kicker David Akers and dynamic wide receiver Braylon Edwards, should help the team put more points on the board in 2011.
Veteran quarterback Alex Smith, who has experienced his ups and downs in San Francisco, will be the starter under center for the season opener on Sunday, September 11 against division rival Seattle. As mentioned earlier, the 49ers automatically get six matchups with teams that had losing records in 2010 (two games each against Seattle, Arizona, and St. Louis) thanks to their placement in the NFC West. However, the 49ers will face some worthy adversaries in the non-division schedule, including Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and the New York Giants. Most of these games come in the early or middle part of the season, which means that San Francisco will have a relatively easy schedule down the stretch. With a new head coach, some growing pains are expected early in the season but the 49ers can be contenders if they make it through November.
About the Author: Will Selva grew up in the San Francisco region and returned to the area later in his career as the Sports Director at Sacramento’s ABC affiliate, providing coverage of all of the local professional and high school teams. Recognized as a leading bilingual sports anchor, Selva has hosted some of the most popular programs on ESPN since joining the network in 2007.