The team that finishes second in the NFC West this season might be the second-best team in football.
San Francisco and Seattle finished last season each playing as well as any teams in the NFL. In the offseason, each made improvements. San Francisco added Anquan Boldin, Seattle added Percy Harvin. San Francisco added Nnamdi Asomugha, Seattle added Cliff Avril. The arms race went through the offseason, and the expected natural development of quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson make the NFC West foes very strong.
Vernon Davis, the tight end of a 49ers team who fell just short of a Super Bowl title last year, has noticed what San Francisco's rival up north has been putting together.
"They're building a dynasty over there," Davis told NFL.com. "These guys are coming to take us out. I respect them, but we want to win, too. We have to ... play each game like it's our last game."
Maybe the "dynasty" comment is a little bit of gamesmanship, but the 49ers know what Seattle is capable of. After Oct. 14 last year, San Francisco lost three games, two down-to-the-wire three-point losses to St. Louis and Baltimore, and an absolute 42-13 blowout at Seattle. That game is the worst the 49ers have looked in the last two seasons. And they know they have to play the Seahawks at least twice again this year. The Seahawks have a very tough and physical defense, some playmakers on offense, a fired-up coach who gets a lot out of his roster and a young quarterback who plays well beyond his years ... which could describe the 49ers as well.
So clear the calendar on Sept. 15 and Dec. 8. That's when Seattle and San Francisco are scheduled to play this season. Those might be the two best games in the NFL this regular season.