By Jerrell Richardson
The NFC Playoff picture is an ugly one. There is no easy path to the Division’s Championship Game and if the 49ers hope to make it there for the 3rd consecutive season they are going to need to clear some high hurdles. First up is Aaron Rodgers and the explosive Packers who almost beat the 49ers earlier this season at Candlestick. If they can get past Green Bay, next up for San Francisco would be a road game against the same Panthers team that beat the 49ers in week 10. If they get past Carolina, the 49ers have a plane ride to Seattle to take on their division rivals for a chance to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Of course, upsets happen, but all signs point to an eventual showdown with the Seahawks, if San Francisco can make it that far.
Several teams snuck in late, but every team in the NFC is talented, well coached and very dangerous. It will come down to the little things to decide the NFC Champions. What separates the 49ers from their foes is experience and momentum.
San Francisco Has Been There And Done That
In terms of playoff experience, no team matches the 49ers. Sure, the Packers and Saints both have Super Bowl titles in recent memory but, neither team has had playoff success since. Of all the teams in the NFC playoff race, the Packers have been the most consistent, but that’s been by default. After winning it all in 2010, Green Bay reached the post season but failed to win a playoff game in 2011, and in 2012 they fell to the 49ers after beating the Vikings. The Saints were not even in the playoffs last year and, in 2011, were knocked out by San Francisco. San Francisco has quietly become the most consistent NFC contender.
While the Eagles and Panthers franchises are no strangers to the playoffs, their current rosters are. The Seahawks are a little better off, but not by much. Seattle’s only real taste of the playoffs was last year where they won a game before losing to the Falcons. San Francisco, on the other hand, returns most of the Super Bowl roster from a year ago. Unlike any opponent they face, the Niners know what awaits them every step of the way. This will allow the 49ers to focus on the game and not on the many other distractions that surround playoff football. None of the Niners playoff worries are within the team’s control, meaning they are as prepared as they can be for their final tests of the 2014 season.
49ers On A Roll
San Francisco has managed to avoid some of last year’s problems, like injuries and concerns with the Special teams. The season has been a roller coaster ride with some ups and downs, but they are playing the best football right now. The biggest improvement is the passing game, which along with the the defense and special teams, has had a lot to do with the 49ers six-game winning streak. They have not lost a game since week 11 and have momentum pushing them in the right direction at the right time. The only other NFC teams on a roll like the 49ers are the Panthers, who have won 11 of their past 12, and the Eagles, who have won seven of eight. Both teams have lost in their past four games. They’re not quite as hot as San Francisco.
Paid Their Dues
Last year, the only thing that stood in the 49ers way for the Lombardi Trophy was a more experienced team that was firing on all cylinders. This will not be the case this year as the 49ers are the hottest, most experienced and hungriest team in the tournament. It also doesn’t hurt that they are the most balanced team in the NFL. All of these elements were not present on the 2013 team that couldn’t get it done, and could be the advantage the 49ers need to pull off the likely very difficult run to the Super Bowl this year.
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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.