Two weeks until the beginning of the end – that's the low-brow fortune-telling amongst many of the NFL's very best armchair quarterbacks this week. Indeed, it's only a matter of time before the 49ers disintegrate before our very eyes, and we're just one game away from the wheels falling off the proverbial wagon in Los Angeles.

For those who are ready to embrace that epiphany of football's elite thinkers, I just happen to have a newly repainted section of the Golden Gate up for sale. Ignore the fact that both the paint on the bridge and the printer's ink on the deed are both still wet. And maybe for those not in need of a bridge, or who perhaps just want to take a more intellectual and analytical look at the 49ers and the state of the NFL, here's another idea that perhaps deserves a warm hug: The 49ers aren't going anywhere except upward and onward.

Reported to you right here by the 49ersWebzone's own David Bonilla after Game 2, ESPN's Ryan Clark called the 49ers "pretenders," and he hasn't been the only one to voice that opinion.

Not to impugn Ryan Clark or anyone else downplaying what the 49ers have done in the first handful of games this season; an opinion is, after all, just that – an idea. But there's something to be said for the contrary argument: that the 49ers are in fact "the real deal," to steal Clark's vernacular.

Off to their best start since the Steve Young-led 1998 team, San Francisco enters its Week 4 bye with its offense ranked second in the NFL in total yards and its defense ranked fourth in total yards allowed. That "combined" ranking places the 49ers first in the league overall, tied with the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.

The team ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing and second in the NFC in scoring. Originally positioned in the lower third of the NFL's well-regarded power rankings, the 49ers are now on the NFL.com ranking at #7. The 49ers also have two of the NFC's top-10 ranked running backs in Matt Breida (fifth) and Raheem Mostert (eighth).

Impressive numbers for a team that, according to Ryan Clark and others, is this year's NFL version of Milli-Vanilli.

Some of the reasons offered for the 49ers' inevitable freefall are suspicious at best. Chief among these is that the 49ers' offense will be shackled by the loss of starting left tackle Joe Staley, by Jimmy Garoppolo's inconsistency, and by the injuries to two of the 49ers' top running backs. And, most prominent of all, that the 49ers' schedule becomes utterly terrifying as they move forward.

But exposed to the harsh light of day, the doomsday predictions look more like the product of backroom tea leaves than real analysis.

Out for another 5-7 weeks, Pro-Bowler Joe Staley spent some quality time prepping his rookie replacement Justin Skule before the matchup with the Steelers, and it showed. Though flagged twice late in the game for holding, Skule otherwise did a respectable job at keeping defensive linemen standing still and off Garoppolo's back side, and he seemed as capable as anyone else on the line.

The test, of course, will be in fending off defensive fronts from the Rams, Packers and others ahead, but from what the 49ers' coaches and Staley himself have to say about Skule, the concerns about the next four or five games without Staley seem largely to be without merit.

Pondering over Garoppolo's inconsistency seems just as much the product of hysteria, mostly because it's based on the wild imaginations of his detractors. Garoppolo has had a few errors here and there, including a bungled snap against Pittsburgh last week, but his performance has gotten steadier and more reliable with each game. His two interceptions against the Steelers were first in the hands of his receivers and should have been caught.

Further, Garoppolo's decision making was sharp and he managed to pull off effective drives when it counted, despite being hurried by the Steelers' pass rushers. Other phases of the 49ers' performance have been a bit inconsistent over the three games, but Garoppolo's play certainly isn't among them.

The concerns of NFL pundits over the 49ers running back situation similarly seem to be constructed mostly of lint and feathers.

Looking to bolster a less than stellar running game, Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch went out and signed elite running backs Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman. Both have been out with injuries, McKinnon lost for the season, yet the team's three rotation backs in Breida, Mostert and newly promoted Jeff Wilson, Jr. have quietly and systematically destroyed the run defense stats of other teams.

The fact is, the 49ers are much deeper at every position than they have been in over a decade, and unlike the 49er teams of the past six years, this team does not seem to get rattled. The offense turned the ball over three times in the red zone during its home opener, but, in business-like fashion, simply shrugged it off and went out and won the game anyway.

As to the schedule: much like a monster under the bed, it's far worse in the imagination than it is in real life. As always, the 49ers have two games with each of their division rivals --- the L.A. Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. They add in road games against New Orleans, Baltimore and Washington, and home games against the Falcons, Panthers and Packers, plus their next home game against Cleveland.

While it makes good NFL drama to hype up the "monsters" of that group, it's hardly the murderer's row it's being made out to be by the pundits. Of those future opponents, only the Rams are undefeated, and they would certainly have lost to Cleveland if not for the latter's total implosion with a first-and-goal from the 2 in their September 22 matchup.

Seattle has looked nothing if not beatable in all three of its games, and the Falcons, Panthers and Browns are all 1-2. Washington and Arizona are both winless. Apart from the two games with L.A., that leaves tough games with the Saints and Ravens, both at 2-1, and the defense-heavy Packers, who fell to the Eagles this week, at 3-1.

It's important to note that Saints quarterback/magician Drew Brees is out (though he may return in time for the 49ers), Rams quarterback Jared Goff has been looking more like the Austin Davis of 2013 than the Jared Goff of last year, and Aaron Rodgers is 35 years old and potentially one blindside sack away from selling insurance full-time.

It's true, the 49ers have not yet proven themselves to be one of the NFL's best. But the fact of the matter is, no one they are scheduled to play has really earned that distinction either. The Rams are, admittedly, defending NFC champions, and of course deserve respect. But, as we all know, what you did last year only goes so far, and after three games, they seem less than terrifying.

This is the NFL and, of course, anything can happen. Injuries, trades, position adjustments and off-the-field escapades of players can change the landscape quickly, robbing any team of its momentum. But what seldom changes from game to game is character, trust between teammates and a sense that, as a group, you can overcome adversity and even the harsh criticism of the public and pundits.

In that way, it seems, these 49ers are anything but pretenders.