Around the NFC West: Where 49ers stand

Alex Smith, Justin Smith and Vernon Davis were the three San Francisco 49ers players with signature performances in the playoffs last season.

None has factored much for the 49ers lately.

Around the NFC West: Dec. 31, 2012

The 49ers' evolution from the known to the unknown in recent weeks has been unsettling for those accustomed to knowing where the team has stood. I suspect it's been a little unsettling for the 49ers themselves.

That is why earning the NFC's second seed and a first-round playoff bye appears even more important than usual. The bye amounts to a free first-round playoff victory. It should always be welcomed. For the 49ers, the additional time could also help coaches more sharply define how they want to play moving forward.

To what degree should the 49ers tailor their offense to Colin Kaepernick's strengths? What are the consequences for other players, namely Frank Gore? What is the best plan for this team?

Having a week to recover from injuries and gain rest time should also help the 49ers. They're counting on 35-year-old receiver Randy Moss to a degree they had not anticipated. Moss can certainly benefit from rest. The bye also means Justin Smith will have 27 days between games, improving his chances for playing through a the triceps injury he suffered Dec. 16 at New England.

The 2012 season has felt disjointed for the 49ers. They have yet to win more than two games in a row. They have changed quarterbacks. They've endured key injuries to a degree they did not last season.

Despite all the change, they enter the postseason in a similar position as they did one year ago, with a free pass to a divisional-round home game.

That is always a good place to start.