"Four straight wins should be five against the Falcons. The 49ers will have an interesting Week 17 road matchup against the Cardinals, possibly with a playoff berth on the line."
This is the high-water mark for San Francisco in ESPN's power rankings since Week 1 of the season. The interesting dynamic about their analysis is the fact that if the 49ers win on Monday Night Football against the Atlanta Falcons, they will have locked up a postseason berth. This means that their Week 17 matchup with the Arizona Cardinals would mean little for the defending conference champions.
ESPN does have San Francisco ahead of two teams, the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, who possess the very same 10-4 record and have already beaten the 49ers this season. Based solely off of recent play, this is hard to argue. With that said, I don't see how it's possible to put San Francisco ahead of two teams that has beaten it in the second half of the season. That makes little sense.
"Quality win on the road in Tampa for the 49ers, a team we're not sure anyone wants to play right now. That said, it would be nice to see Colin Kaepernick occasionally put air under a throw. He still misses open receivers by gunning everything. If there is one part of his game that is sorely lacking, it's touch."
This analysis begs one question. How many 49ers games has Harrison watched in 2013? The term "open receivers" hasn't been something we have been able to utilize in San Francisco this season. It's hard to miss open receivers when they actually aren't getting open down the field. Once Michael Crabtree returned from injury, it appears that Kaepernick found his comfort zone. As it relates to "gunning everything," we have seen the third-year quarterback do a much better job with finesse over the course of the past few games. While it is still a shortcoming of his, Kaepernick is improving in this aspect of the game.
The NFL.com scribe does have San Francisco ranked No. 6 overall, which is about where it should be ranked in the grand scheme of things. Unlike ESPN, Harrison places both Carolina and New Orleans ahead of the 49ers.
"They're as good as any team in the league. I just don't think they'll go into Seattle and win next month."
The "Seattle won't lose at home" storyline is getting a bit worn out at this point. How about we get to the playoffs, see how they play out, and then come to a conclusion about a specific matchup? While it must be noted that Seattle is nearly unbeatable at home, there is a reason why teams make the playoffs...they normally had a darn good regular season run. This is very much the case with a 49ers team that has the most wins in the NFL since the end of September.
Schwab pretty much splits the difference between where ESPN and NFL.com have the 49ers at this late point in the season. He places both the New England Patriots and Carolina ahead of San Francisco, while dropping the Saints down three spots following their Week 15 road loss to the St. Louis Rams. In reality, the Saints most recent mishap could be telling moving forward. If they are unable to win the NFC South, I find it hard to believe that they will be able to go on the road and win the necessary games to grab a conference title. Fortunately for the wildcard-bound 49ers, they have the ability to do just that.
"The 49ers are getting it going at the right time and may be the only team to be able to go into Seattle and stand a chance."
Again, with the Seahawks and 49ers matchup. Listen, you will be hard pressed to find a fan outside of the four cities that will make up the rest of the NFC Playoff picture that doesn't want to see this game next month. That's not really the point. Any team can go into Seattle and put up a good fight. This was magnified by its overtime victory over the then hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers a few weeks back. Let's not sit here and hand Richard Sherman the Super Bowl MVP. Stranger things have happened, including Sherman himself sporting a pair of Beats. Okay, maybe not that.
As it relates to Kirwan's point, it does appear that San Francisco is the one team that stands the best chance to go into that hostile environment and win in January. Is that chance minimal at this point? Likely. Both San Francisco and Seattle have a lot more work before we can even think about this matchup.
Overall, Kirwan has only Seattle, Carolina and the Denver Broncos ranked ahead of San Francisco. I am not too entirely sure how he has the Kansas City Chiefs at five after their recent performances on the offensive side of the ball. Apparently, Alex Smith continues to be coined the Rodney Dangerfield of the football world.
"The Niners have now won nine of their last 11 and four straight. No team has more wins since Week 4 this season."
This is mighty interesting. Billick has the two top teams in the NFC West ranked atop his most recent article. As we have seen all season long, the former NFL head coach has been higher on San Francisco than his counterparts. Maybe it has something to do with its defense and how Billick led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title with one of the best defenses in the modern history of the league. Obviously, that's pure conjecture on my part.
Subjectivity can cloud everyone's better judgment. Heck, I have been called a homer for about 10 teams around the league this season, none of them being the Seattle Seahawks. With that said, there is absolutely no reason that San Francisco should be ranked ahead of the Denver Broncos at this late point in the season.
Overall, the 49ers are about where they should be right now. They are riding a four-game winning streak and have won nine of their last 11 games. They have also outscored their opponents by an average of 28-13 during that 11-game stretch. Talk about utter domination in nearly every aspect of the game.
Moving forward over the next two weeks, it's all going to be about tying up loose ends in certain aspects of the game and continuing this hot streak into January. If San Francisco can do that, it stands as good of a chance as anyone to hoist the Lombardi in February. These rankings seem to be a prime example of that being popular opinion around the football world.
Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Bleacher Report and is currently the head editor at eDraft and a columnist at Pro Football Focus. Vincent co-hosts a weekly radio show called "Football Debate Central" with former NFL player Ryan Riddle and has seen his work featured on CNN, BR and Los Angeles Times, among many other outlets.
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