When the dust had cleared from the amazing NFL season that was 2001, the San Francisco 49ers had emerged as one of top franchises once again. This team was expected to contend for a playoff spot, but no one expected the season they had. Terrell Owens positioned himself as the second best receiver in the league. Garrison Hearst capped an amazing comeback with a solid season. Kevan Barlow emerged as the heir apparent to Hearst. And Jeff Garcia continued to shine as the 49er tradition of quarterback excellence continued.
#7 San Francisco 49ers (12 - 4) Second in the NFC West
The 49ers made a few key moves in the off-season. One was the signing of Pro Bowl guard Ron Stone. They held onto center Jeremy Newberry and signed Tony Parrish from the Bears to replace Lance Schulters. Steve Mariucci realized what a great situation he had in San Francisco and turned down Tampa Bay's offer to come to Florida.
The Good: For once, the 49ers can be considered a running football team. The two-headed monster that is Hearst and Barlow made the 49ers the top rushing team in the NFC last year. There is no reason to believe that will be any different this year, pending Ron Stone staying healthy (he didn't do a good job of that on Saturday night). Terrell Owens is unbeatable at wide receiver and gives Jeff Garcia a dream target. The defense will be better than last season and should have a chip on its shoulder all season, after it's inability to corral their nemesis St. Louis.
The Bad: Owens' decision to play summer league basketball may take his focus away from football enough that he won't be ready for the season. While it probably won't, it's never good when a star player decides to risk injury in the off-season. Hearst is on his last legs and Barlow needs him to stay healthy for at least one more season-and-a-half until Barlow can officially take over.
The Ugly: Mariucci and Owens have never had a Brady Bunch-type relationship. Peace accords aside, these guys could easily butt heads again this year.
Synopsis: The 49ers have closed the gap on the Rams more in terms of drive, revenge, and effort, than in actual talent. But, until the Niners defeat the Rams, they'll play second fiddle all year. I really see this team losing in the Divisional Playoffs this year. 11 wins.