The key difference that I have noticed between this season and last year is that all of our losses (save for the blowout vs. Atlanta) was by one score or less.
Fundamentally, this means that we were one decisive play away from wins in 3 of 4 losses. In the end, the record is the record. However, I view this as a harbinger that the 49ers are on the cusp of big things in the near future.
I am still quite hopeful about making the playoffs this year, but am also upbeat about the prospects for next year, since a few more tweaks, a little better play timing, and one more big play per game can take the team from middle of the pack to elite.
Overall, I think that the next level is a lot closer than most people think.