Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the 49ers in 2012:
Dream scenario (14-2): The 49ers pick up where they left off last season. They continue to force turnovers and protect the football while dictating field position with their dominant special teams. This time, however, the offense has more firepower.
Receiver Michael Crabtree backs up coach Jim Harbaugh's comments suggesting Crabtree has all-time great hands. A rejuvenated Randy Moss strikes fear into secondaries. Quarterback Alex Smith, armed with sufficient weapons, strikes for explosive plays more frequently. The offensive line, stabilized by Alex Boone's emergence as a top young guard, sustains drives on third down and finishes them in the red zone.
Rookie receiver A.J. Jenkins hits stride in December as the 49ers clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs heading into Week 17. Colin Kaepernick throws for 350 yards and four touchdowns in the regular-season finale as San Francisco eliminates division-rival Arizona from playoff contention. Sufficiently rested, the 49ers score a dominating victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, delivering San Francisco its first Super Bowl title since the 1994 season.
Nightmare scenario (6-10): The odds catch up to Smith when the Detroit Lions' Ndamukong Suh delivers a controversial hit at the knees in Week 2. Kaepernick isn't ready, Moss loses interest and the offense can't score enough points. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning has the Denver Broncos looking like contenders.
The 49ers realize they were fortunate to have Smith start 18 games the previous season despite taking 51 sacks. They realize how risky it was going into the season without a proven right guard. How hard would it have been to pay one of the veteran options the team considered in free agency? That's a question reporters keep asking, even though none of them said much before the season. The question stings now that Smith is done for the season and Kaepernick is running for his life.
Tough defense and special teams keep the 49ers reasonably competitive. The coaching staff does its best to stabilize the situation. The 49ers compete and steal victories from other teams with quarterback issues. In the end, however, they become the latest team to suffer a hard fall after posting a glittering record the previous season. Rock bottom arrives when Sando notes, again, that the 13 teams finishing 13-3 from 2004 to 2010 averaged 8.3 victories the following season.