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Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Healthier 49ers can be a scary team going into the playoffs

Jan 9, 2023 at 9:48 AM--

A healthy San Francisco 49ers team will be the most dangerous team in the NFL Playoffs.

After an embarrassing 44-23 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on October 23, the 49ers have won 10 games in a row, clinching the NFC West and earning the second seed in the NFC playoff bracket, but some key players were injured throughout the season. Some of these players are returning from injured reserve and some are returning after missing games due to lingering injuries. They will make the 49ers more dangerous than what was on the field these past 10 weeks.

The 49ers leading rusher last season, Elijah Mitchell, had been on injured reserve since December 3. He played in the final game against the Arizona Cardinals and can add a lot to the expected one-two punch of he and All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey.

In his first season with the 49ers, Mitchell played in 11 games and led the team with 963 rushing yards. He finished this season with 279 rushing yards through five games.

In his 11 games with the 49ers, McCaffrey has 1,210 scrimmage yards and 10 total touchdowns, adding another dimension to head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense.

With a healthy Mitchell returning for the playoffs, he can spell McCaffrey, who has been playing with a sprained ankle, and be an extra spark for the 49ers offense. In the 38-13 victory, Mitchell had 55 rushing yards and two touchdowns on five carries.

The 49ers have not been a prolific passing team since the 1998 season, but they have the weapons on the outside to make life miserable for their opponents' secondaries. Since Deebo Samuel suffered an MCL sprain in a Week 14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk have helped lead the way for the 49ers' passing game, while players like Ray-Ray McCloud and Jauan Jennings have made meaningful contributions as well.

Samuel caught two passes for 20 yards in the 38-13 victory against the Cardinals.

Second-year guard Aaron Banks, who has started to come into his own this season while allowing just one sack on the year, missed the Cardinals game with a knee injury. According to StatMuse.com, the 49ers have allowed 31 sacks, which is the sixth-best in the league, and hopefully, Banks is back for the home playoff game.

The 49ers defense is the best in the league but has been without defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw for half of the season. Armstead, who missed eight games this season, returned after suffering a hairline ankle fracture. He has eight tackles and no sacks this season. Kinlaw has played in five games and has played up to his rookie outing in 2020.

Defensive end and possible NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Nick Bosa, has 18.5 sacks. Others, such as Samson Ebukam, have also contributed to the pass rush. Ebukam finished with five sacks, and Charles Omenihu has 4.5 this season. Both have done an excellent job as run-stoppers as well.

The biggest return may be that of injured quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who has been sidelined since breaking a bone in his foot against the Miami Dolphins on 12/4.

Since he relieved Trey Lance in Week 2, Garoppolo led the 49ers to seven wins before the injury, but rookie Brock Purdy has come in and won six straight games (including the victory over the Dolphins). This scenario could be the same as the one Bill Belichick faced in New England in 2001 with Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe, the unquestioned starter, was injured in a Week 3 game against the New York Jets, and Brady, a second-year player, came in and led the Patriots to an eventual Super Bowl victory.

Belichick had a difficult decision to make because Bledsoe was cleared to return from his injury in Week 10, but the coach opted to stick with Brady, and the Patriots went on a remarkable Super Bowl run.

The quarterback position is not like all the other positions on the field, and Mr. Irrelevant has played well enough to make the decision difficult for the 49ers brass. However, both quarterbacks have played well enough for the team to believe either one is capable of leading them to a Super Bowl victory.
  • Written by:
    Sports has been my first love since I was 12 years old. At one point I wanted to play football professionally. I started to take photography as a hobby in my teenage years but this was when I followed sports. I started to listen to sports radio, I found my true calling and it was to be a sports talk show host. Though I follow football and basketball, I started to have a new love of cultures around the world. After graduating from San Antonio College in 2018, I worked for the Castroville News Bulletin before going to A&M San Antonio to get my communications degree. Since I have written for the Ranger of San Antonio College, the News Bulletin and the Mesquite of Texas A&M San Antonio, I met many people and went to a lot of events. My major milestone was being in the press box of the San Antonio Commanders game for the Mesquite and being apart of a press conference with the Medina County Sheriff and other local news outlets. When I am not doing anything, I like to watch old cartoons on the DC Universe, play video games such as Mega Man and the Mass Effect series. I have also created Youtube channel called "Anger Management" with my friend Aaron Donnell.
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