This season has been incredible for the Faithful - our team, which was projected to maybe finish at 8-8, or 9-7, or possibly 10-6, if things broke right and injuries didn't hit too hard, is currently 9-1. The best record in the NFL. Think about that for a moment. The Niners are once again relevant. They are in position to make the playoffs, possibly win their division, and make a legitimate run at the Lombardi Trophy. The work put in by the front office, the coaches, the entire organization, has suddenly and dramatically paid off. There have been some challenges, however, and more lay ahead for the team. The fact that the team has managed to keep things moving in the right direction to this point, coupled with the fact that it looks like players will be getting healthy and the team as close to full strength as it will be as December rolls around, bodes well for its chances in the playoffs. There are some other elements to this season that play into what I expect will be both short- and long-term success for our team. Let me explain.

Every team has to deal with injuries. It is simply part of this incredibly brutal and ruthless game. The 49ers have had more than their fair share in this department, losing both starting tackles (Staley and McGlinchey), their fullback (Kyle J), their starting cornerback (Akhello Witherspoon), their defensive leader and best linebacker (well, maybe Fred Warner is as good as Kwon, but it's really close), and one of their stable of edge rushers (Ronald Blair). They have had less serious injuries to many more players, from Dee Ford to Deebo Samuel to the relatively new Emmanuel Sanders (can you believe he has only been with the team for three weeks?), the list goes on. The players who have filled in have done exceptionally well. Yes, I said exceptionally well, because while there were and are mistakes and missed assignments, while the running game has dwindled to a trickle, while the defense seems to be giving up more and more rushing yardage, especially early in games, the team just keeps winning. Hell, if the replacement kicker (forgot about that injury) had made his fourth field goal of the night, the team is 10-0. With all of the shifting and filling in, the team just keeps on winning.

This bodes well for both the rest of the season and beyond, as coaches and players have confidence in the backups, knowing that they have been in seriously challenging situations, playing in regular season games that truly matter, and they have stood up and held their own. It also builds unity in the locker room, everyone knowing that they have contributed to the season, to the success, and wanting to continue to win as a group. The team is unified and supports one another, something that was evident last season but which has become more of a culture in Santa Clara this season. If it can keep players around, this team looks to be in the mix for the next several years.

But this year is what matters, right? We have had a taste of success, something that we had not experienced in so long, and we want to see them win now. Well, the season's events, and those ahead, create the possibility that this team, while young and inexperienced, will actually be playoff ready when the time arrives. It has had to win every way this year. It overcame 5 turnovers and beat Pittsburgh. It has had to chase Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson around each of the last three weeks. It will have to chase Lamar Jackson and Wilson again before the end of the year. This will prepare it for facing a mobile quarterback in the playoffs, should that happen. It has played in big, prime time games, against Cleveland and Seattle, and will play more against Green Bay, the Rams and likely one or two others, given that it plays New Orleans, Baltimore and Seattle on top of those games. While not exactly the same as a playoff game, these are big games, with big emotion, media, heightened expectations and distractions, and the team will have experienced it all multiple times before the playoffs.
In addition, the Niners will have played what are, to this point, four of the best teams in the league, one of them, Seattle, twice. They are likely to see one or more of them again in the postseason, and familiarity with the way Drew Brees gets rid of the ball, or how the Ravens run the ball, or any number of other unique aspects to these teams, will benefit the Niners. But won't those teams have seen the same thing, you ask?

The answer to that is that yes they will have, but the fact that the Niners have had to basically be two completely different offenses this season, a run-first team for seven weeks and a passing offense for the last three, means that preparing for them will be twice as difficult as it generally is for a team, as well as letting the Niners see what works against these teams and what might not be used in the playoffs. Given Kyle Shanahan's creativity, I fully expect that he will learn from the regular season games and have new and different wrinkles come playoff time. In addition, it looks as though Dee Ford will be healthy when things get serious, as well as Kittle and Sanders. Staley should be back and McGlinchey, who has really struggled in his two games back, should be back to his solid self by the playoffs.

Finally, the coaching staff is still figuring out how to use this team. Remember, it was 4-12 last season, and Jimmy has started 19 games in his entire career. Kyle is still seeing what he can do, and Jimmy is still learning how to be a starting quarterback. One hopes that he starts to figure out how to avoid those one or two (or three) "NO JIMMY" throws each game. Time and playing, especially in big games, are what develop that sixth sense that the truly great quarterbacks seem to have.

The Niners have had a magical season to this point - although the fact that they have managed it, given the many challenges that the team has faced, makes their season even more impressive. They should make the playoffs, barring catastrophe, and will hopefully have a relatively high seed. I for one look forward to see how they look and play in January and beyond.
  • Written by:
    Matt Mani is a lifelong Bay Area resident, having benefitted from attending every Niner home game from 1973 to 1998. Along the way, he developed a deep love of the game and for the team. He is a practicing attorney in Marin County and, aside from pulling hard for the Niners, Warriors and GIants, writes in his spare time. He is father to three sons who all bleed red and gold. He somehow convinced the editors at 49ers Webzone to give him a chance to prove himself as a content provider, which has fulfilled one of his life's dreams.