Are the San Francisco 49ers the best team in the NFC?
Half a season? I’d say that’s a large enough sample size to start taking the San Francisco 49ers seriously.
It is true that the schedule has been friendly. San Francisco has defeated Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, the Rams, Washington, Carolina, and Arizona. Only the Rams (5-3) and Panthers (4-3) have winning records. One opponent (Cincinnati) has not won a single game and another (Washington) is 1-7.
In the immortal words of the Hawks from The Mighty Ducks, “It’s not worth winning if you can’t win big.” And against that kind of unspectacular competition, those words ring especially true. But the 49ers have won big, making their resume impressive even though the opponents have been lackluster for the most part. They have outscored their opposition by a combined 133 points en route to their 8-0 record. For those counting, that’s an average margin of victory of 16.6 points. Not bad for a team that went 4-12 last season! San Francisco is second in the NFL in margin of victory behind New England, and no other squad is even close. The Niners beat the Panthers—yes, one of the two foes with a winning record—by an eye-popping 51-13 margin. Cleveland, which was supposed to be decent this year, took a 31-3 beating.
Defense leading the way
Led by rookie defensive end Nick Bosa, the 49ers’ defense ranks second in the entire league (behind…you guessed it…New England) at 241.0 yards allowed per game. The unit is No. 1 against the pass, surrendering a shockingly miniscule average of 138.1 yards through the air. Bosa has seven sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble. Arik Armstead and Dee Ford have 5.5 sacks apiece, so opposing quarterbacks are being suffocated from a number of different directions. Veteran cornerback has three of San Francisco’s 10 interceptions.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has accounted for 14 touchdowns (13 passing), while a trio of running backs (Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, and Raheem Mostert) make for the second-best rushing offense in the NFL (171.1 ypg).
Competition on the way
Only because of the simple schedule, San Francisco probably cannot be considered the undisputed best team in the NFC despite its perfect record. The Packers are 7-1 with wins over Minnesota, Dallas, and Kansas City; the Saints—even without Drew Brees for five games—are also 7-1 with wins over Houston, Seattle, and Dallas.
To steal a quote from Dennis Green, Brees and Aaron Rodgers are who we thought they were. We don’t yet know who the 49ers are (aside from an incredible defense), but we’re about to find out. The upcoming schedule, for which we will providing our weekly NFL picks, includes the Seahawks, Packers, Ravens, Saints, Rams, and Seahawks again.
This team is going to the playoffs. The question now is: with what kind of seed?