From a distance, things look fine.

At the midway point, the 49ers are six-and-two, two games up in a division that's quickly come back to earth. Their defense is ranked #1, and their offense, so often the source of so much dismay, is ranked a respectable #11. And as for #11 himself? No need to worry; he's ranked #4.

So no, the issues aren't visible from a distance. Stand back far enough, and you'd swear that the Niners are Super Bowl locks. But as with most things, the devil's in the details. Look a bit closer, and you might just see that the Niners are running barely ahead of the Football Fates, who are so fiercely determined to punish them for the chance they squandered in 2011.

The question for the second half is whether the Fates will finally catch up.

Individually or as a group, these four men will provide the answer.

1. Alex Smith (of course)

As I'd predicted, he put up a gaudy stat-line in Arizona (though I'd predicted 350—only half-jokingly—not 18 of 19). I'm tempted to point out his throws' generally low degree of difficulty, with his receivers gaining most of his yards by running past corners unwilling to tackle. But I'm not looking for another exhausting debate. By now, I get it: when Smith is great, it's because he's great; and when Smith is awful, it's because of someone or something else. It's all there in the Smitheists' bible—read it at Alex 3:16.

Let's just agree on a larger point. Last year, Smith was steadily good; his rating was below 85 in only 5 of 18 games. This year, Smith has already had four such games. Indeed, in the last six weeks, he's exceeded that rating only twice; in each of those games he went over 150, and it's those two outlandish showings that are largely driving his fourth-place ranking. So obviously, there's a deeper issue. Despite the offseason commitment to consistent explosiveness—or maybe even because of it—Smith has gone from steadily good to wildly inconsistent. Call that what you like, but I call it regression.

In the second half, one of two things will happen. Either Smith will remain inconsistent, or he'll once again be steadily good. If it's the latter, the Super Bowl will be a distinct possibility (though not as distinct as it'd be if he could somehow summon that consistent explosiveness). But if the inconsistency remains, a playoff defense will surely exploit it. There isn't any doubt about that.

2. Aldon Smith

Let's ignore the disturbing fact that he can't seem to go two weeks without landing himself in some kind of trouble. Let's stay on the field, where the Niners' pass-rush has been spotty at best: after notching 42 sacks last year, it's now on pace for only 30. The issue isn't with Smith's production—his 7½ sacks are tied for fourth. Yet the teamwide drop is attributable to Smith, or specifically the way he's used. Last year, when he was almost exclusively a part-time pass-rushing defensive end, he was such a disruptive force that usually he either got the sack or opened up opportunities for his linemates. This year, he's a full-time rush/coverage outside linebacker. So now, by and large, either he's getting the sack or there's no sack at all.

When Smith was drafted, my concern was that he'd be much more effective as the 4-3 DE that he was in college than the 3-4 'backer the Niners envisioned. Nothing since has changed my mind. I know it'd be easier to put Smith back on the line if Parys Haralson were around to play 'backer. But it might be the only way to inject some life back into the rush, which obviously is vital. The Niners' coverage has been amazing, but if their rush stays like this, a playoff QB will surely exploit it. There isn't any doubt about that.

3. David Akers

As great as he was last year, no one wanted to see him kick 44 field goals again. So though this year he's on pace to drop all the way to 28, there's nothing inherently wrong with that. What's more disturbing is his drop in accuracy. After missing only eight times last year, this year he's already missed five. Accordingly, his percentage has plunged from 85 to 74. And shockingly, only three kickers are worse.

Akers was so automatic last year, it's easy to forget why he was driven out of Philly. In a playoff game against the Packers, he missed on tries from 41 and 34, and the Eagles ended up losing by five. And that was after a good season, with a percentage of 84.

Though we're not as much a field-goal O, we're still not quite a touchdown O. There will be a playoff game where Akers must make a crucial kick. And unless he comes up with a huge second half, we will be nervous. There isn't any doubt about that.

4. Jim Harbaugh

Though he remains the perfect coach for this team, his season's been a bit choppy so far. Whereas last season's magic was such that it never seemed like the Niners would lose—and they never did lose by more than 10—here they've already been blown out twice. That the Niners could ever look so lifeless—much less twice in the span of a month—put a serious dent in Harbaugh's motivational mojo.

Meanwhile, his tactical maneuvering hasn't been as smooth either. After loss one, when it was obvious that his O was still lacking that explosive dimension, he started using Colin Kaepernick. But then, when our offensive implosion during loss two was widely pinned on Kaepernick's appearances—see again Alex 3:16—Harbaugh retreated, in a surprising concession to popular belief.

Yet strangely there's even a bigger concern: whether Harbaugh is losing his mind.

It's no secret that there's a very fine line between genius and insanity, and Harbaugh seems to be dancing on it. In the preseason, he embarrassed himself by denying his interest in Peyton Manning, incoherently. While defending the honor of A.J. Jenkins—who still hasn't played, it must be observed—he almost challenged the press to a fight. And once the games began to count, things only got worse. He literally foamed at the mouth in Green Bay. Before the Giants game, he unloaded on Kevin Gilbride for publicly trying to influence the refs, yet the very next week, he himself did exactly that. Despite his constant chiding of those who use stats to evaluate players—as Justin Smith put it, "stats are for losers"—he asked the league, baselessly, to award Alex a meaningless record. And last but not least, he gave us "gobble gobble gobble turkey from jive turkey gobblers," which will live forever as the craziest thing a coach ever said.

Some of this is coachspeak, and some of it is gamesmanship. But none of it bodes particularly well for Harbaugh's long-term stability, and thus his long-term effectiveness.

As we begin a second half that threatens to test him like never before, there isn't any doubt about that.