3. Is it fair to say that the 49ers’ ability to “take the next step” rests solely on Alex Smith?
The defense no doubt carried the 49ers through the season and the playoffs. Alex Smith did have a good season with 17 touchdown and most importantly, only 5 interceptions. But the Giants in the NFC Championship game showed the 49ers lacked a strong passing game and was a blueprint on how to beat the 49ers. Now that we have upgraded with Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and rookie A.J. Jenkins, there will be no excuses for Smith and the passing offense. If the 49ers want to take the next step, Smith is important because this season he needs to become a play-making quarterback and not continue like last season as a game manager.
4. The 49ers defense turned out to be very good in 2011 and the group largely returns intact for 2012, can they be the league’s best next season?
The 49ers D will still be the best league. They will be number 1, or close to it, in defending against the run. The 49ers had a weakness in defending against the pass last season but they are expected to improve with a better pass rush this season. The 49ers’ secondary will be tested often this season as they will face the top-five passing offenses from 2011 (Lions, Packers, Saints, Giants and Patriots) in the regular season. In overall defense they will be in the top-five.
5. What are your expectations for the 49ers in 2012?
When a team like the 49ers goes from a 6-10 record one season (2010), to a 13-3 record the next season (2011), there schedule certainly gets tougher. That is the case for 49ers this season. Luckily, the 49ers NFC West rivals are still in rebuilding mode so they can expect to have a winning record against their division. The 49ers will win the NFC West for the second year in a row, however, their record will slip by one game to 12-4. Watching the 49ers reach one win shy of the Super Bowl was heartbreaking. This season I expect the 49ers to get back to the Super Bowl for the sixth time in franchise history.