How big was “The Pick at The Stick” on Monday night? Huge. The San Francisco 49ers were on the brink of a bad loss to the Atlanta Falcons and staring an elimination game with the Arizona Cardinals right in the face. That play by Navarro Bowman wrapped up the Niners’ third straight postseason appearance, and more than likely locked the Niners into the 5 seed, assuming they beat Arizona this weekend.
The big question that’s being asked around the NFL is how good are the Niners? It’s hard to know until the postseason starts. If recent history means anything, the Niners would seem to be in an ideal position as a 5 seed; as the past three Super Bowl Champions were all Wild Card teams that got hot at the right time. The Niners seem to resemble those teams ( Packers, Giants and Ravens) in that respect. The Niners bring a 5-game winning streak into Arizona this weekend to battle an upstart Cardinals team that will be a formidable foe this weekend.
Looking at the Niners right now, the defense is playing at a championship level, the running game with Frank Gore and Company is elite, the offensive line is one of the best in the NFL and Phil Dawson is a reliable kicker having a great season.
The only question mark that remains is the passing game and Quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Niners will go as far in the postseason as he will carry them. He’s looked better recently as Michael Crabtree has returned to the lineup. However, he still has the same tendencies that have plagued him all year. He’s still a one read quarterback. If his first read isn’t there, he gets happy feet in the pocket and looks to run far too early. Or, as ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said on Monday Night Football, “ It looks like Kaepernick’s seeing ghosts back there.”
Even though there are times when Kaepernick doesn’t look comfortable, he’s done a good job of not turning the ball over, and running the Niners offense effectively. That’s what the Niners need him to do. Make plays when they are there and don’t turn the ball over. If the Niners need a key offense play they will go to Gore as they have all year long. If Kaepernick doesn’t do anything that loses the game for the Niners, they will be in every game in the postseason. In order to beat the Seattle Seahawks or Carolina Panthers, he’s going to have to make key plays in the passing game.
Looking at the NFC, the two teams that would give the Niners trouble would be the Seahawks and Panthers. Those teams are both extremely physical and match up well with the Niners. The Niners haven’t showed the ability to win in Seattle with Kaepernick at the helm and that will have to change if they want to get back to the Super Bowl. Carolina is a good team, but inexperience could work against them in the postseason.
Another team that could give the Niners some issues is the Philadelphia Eagles, assuming they beat the Dallas Cowboys. They have speed at the wide receiver position, the best running back in the NFL this year with Lesean McCoy and a quarterback, Nick Foles, playing as well as anyone in the NFL. They have the kind of offensive personnel that the Niners defense could struggle against. The only weakness in the Niners defense is their secondary. Desean Jackson and the other Eagle receivers could stretch them down the field. Also Foles gets the ball out quickly, which is another way to beat the Niners defense.
However, when it’s all said and done, the two teams that would most likely be able to beat the Niners would be the Seahawks and Panthers.
It’s nice to be peaking at this time in the season, which the Niners are doing, but there’s also the fear that they are peaking a little too early. If the Niners beat the Cardinals this Sunday they would have a six game winning streak going into the postseason. Being a Wild Card Team would mean that the Niners would have to play and win four games in the postseason to win the SuperBowl. So essentially they would have to win either 10 in a row or 9 out of ten, which is very hard to do. However, based on how the Niners are playing right now it’s possible.
Moving forward, the Niners postseason’s future looks very promising, but anything can happen, which is why the game of football is played. The Niners are a confident team and feel they can beat anybody. Postseason football should be fun.