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Why The 49ers Are Still Contenders

The 49ers are coming off of an embarrassing 11-10 loss in Denver and entering Week Four with an underwhelming 1-2 record. Although the Niners have started slow, here is why they are still contenders.

The 49ers Have A Championship Caliber Defense

The 49ers currently rank at the top of the league in passing defense and starting safety Jimmie Ward still has yet to return from injured reserve for his season debut. Strong safety, Talanoa Hufanga, has been one of the best safeties in the entire NFL through the first three weeks of the season. Imagine what the secondary will look like once Ward returns. Tashaun Gipson has filled in tremendously for Ward since they signed him in the preseason. He is also one of the highest graded safeties so far according to Pro Football Focus and this will allow the Niners to play both Hufanga and Gipson at safety and slide Ward down to the nickel when need be.

The Niners also have one of the best, if not the best linebacking cores in the entire league. With Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair, it makes life even easier for the relentless pass rush. Nick Bosa is pacing toward a 20-sack season and Samson Ebukam has looked great on the opposite side of him as well.

The 49ers have faced a few inferior rosters in a rebuild, but that still doesn’t negate the fact that the Niners haven’t allowed a team to score 20 points through the first three weeks. Aside from a blocked field goal that the Seahawks returned for a touchdown, the Niners only allow ten points per game. That won’t continue, but that’s exactly how a dominant defense should perform against inferior teams which is a good sign.

The NFC West Is Weaker Than 2021

The 49ers last year were able to squeeze into the playoffs with a wild card spot. The mentality is to just make the playoffs at all costs regardless of your regular season record. Being in the playoffs gives you a chance to make anything happen on any given Sunday. Surely not many people expected the Niners to advance to the NFC title game the way they did last year and they did so in large part because of their defense. But they may not be in as tight a divisional race as last year.

The Arizona Cardinals started on fire last season and were in first place in the NFL for a good chunk of the 2021 season. To go along with the Cardinals, the Rams were obvious contenders. Even the Seahawks posed a matchup threat to the Niners because of Russell Wilson being their quarterback, but the NFC West looks different in 2022.

The Rams lost key starters including Von Miller, Andrew Whitworth and Odell Beckham Jr. Los Angeles still has a good roster, but those key players were what helped them move the needle last season. And to go along with that, the 49ers still swept the regular season series against them with a worse secondary than they have now. With a downgraded offensive line, pass rush and receiving core in LA, the Niners are still a threat to the Rams. Maybe even more than last year.

The Cardinals seem to be struggling in every area and could easily be 0-3 at this point. They will have to claw themselves out of their 1-2 start without DeAndre Hopkins for the next three games as well as he serves the rest of his six-game suspension. The Seahawks are also in a rebuild and the 49ers didn’t allow their offense to score a single point in Week Two. When we review the 2021 season, four of the 49ers’ seven losses were to the Seahawks and Cardinals as they were swept by both teams in the regular season. If they’re able to sweep the Rams again, Seattle and Arizona should not pose a similar threat to last year.

It’s early in the season either way. 1-2 is not the end of the world. The Eagles look like legitimate contenders this year but forget the NFC teams that are not in the west. The 49ers are competing with the Rams and Cardinals this season. Their best shot is to win this division, which is still very possible. Especially with a win against the Rams on Monday night, which would put the Niners in first place for the division at 2-2 and could be in a 13-game regular season race for the NFC West.

The 49ers have also already proven they can win despite quarterback play. So even if Garoppolo is the liability on offense, the Niners are good enough to be in a position to compete for a Lombardi Trophy.



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