By Jerrell Richardson
The NFL season is almost a third over and the 49ers have to like where they are, and love what stands in front of them. The fact that they are 3-2 is more than acceptable, especially when considering how they got there. They suffered their first loss when they went to Seattle, where nobody wins, and then fell the next week to the Colts. At the time it seemed worse than it was, but Indianapolis is now 4-1 and better than anyone imagined.
In between their defeats, San Francisco beat the Green Bay Packers; a playoff caliber team led by perhaps the most skilled quarterback in the NFL, the St. Louis Rams who the 49ers failed to beat in two meetings last season, and the Texans who are one of the most complete teams in the NFL. San Francisco has done all of this with injuries plaguing both sides of the ball, and during their two-game winning streak have dominated, outscoring their opponents 69-14.
There is no such thing as an easy win in the NFL, but the 49ers schedule the rest of the way is as favorable as they could hope. Combine that with several big names scheduled to return sooner than later, and San Francisco will control their fate as they try and make it back to the Super Bowl.
49ers Schedule Gets Easier
What team had a tougher stretch than the 49ers to start the season? Green Bay, Seattle, Indianapolis and the Texans all had 11 wins a year ago and above average football teams. So for the 49ers to go .500 against these opponents is not as bad as it was made out to be. The 49ers have 11 more games left, but will lose no more than three. The games they might lose will be their week 10 game against the Saints, the week 13 rematch with Seattle and their week 15 game against the Falcons. However, the only road contest will be the game against the Saints, at least giving them home field advantage for the other two. The rest of the schedule has a few teams that can give San Francisco trouble, but none that have any business beating them. They have two division games with the Cardinals and one more with the Rams, and the rest of their opponents have a combined record of 2 and 15.
By the end of the season, the 49ers will have played just about any NFC team they will see in the playoffs, and the rest of the schedule should provide little resistance. This means that San Francisco will be in the playoffs, it’s just a matter of what seed and how healthy.
Help Is On The Way
The player who the 49ers miss the most is Michael Crabtree. He was Colin Kaepernick’s go-to-guy last year, and the passing game has struggled without him on the field. Recent reports have Crabtree not only practicing soon, but Coach Jim Harbaugh reports that he could be “game-ready” by the middle of November. This is huge, as a balanced 49er offense is what is needed for them to get back to the team they were last year, and it’s the passing game that is playing catch up to the running game.
While Crabtree’s return is still some ways off, both Mario Manningham and Eric Wright plan to hit the practice field as soon as next week and could be available to play before the month is over. Manningham is no Crabtree, but will still offer some much needed help to a hurting receiving core. Wright is a cornerback with the skills to work his way into the starting lineup, and will be needed as the entire NFL seems more focused on passing these days. The team also has rookie defensive lineman, Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial both whom plan to practice soon, adding depth to a thinning defensive front.
Once these players are able to join the roster, the 49ers will look more like the team that was one play away from winning it all a season ago. These past two weeks, they have also been without their defensive superstars, Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis. Smith is taking care of personal issues and is the only big name player left whose return is still a complete mystery. Willis is dealing with a groin injury, but his resting is more of a precaution.
Light At the End Of The Tunnel
While injuries have affected San Francisco, the silver lining is that they are seeing who else on the roster can contribute, and the next tough stretch of games are not until after the expected return date of everyone, including Crabtree. If the 49ers are full strength by week 10, they will have six weeks to get everyone on the same page for another playoff push. The only things that can stand in the way of another 49ers run at the Super Bowl are more unforeseeable injuries and themselves.
For more 49ers news and updates, visit 49ers Central.
Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.