The 49ers have had a fairly busy offseason that has many folks discussing them as favorites to win the NFC West. Division titles certainly aren't won in the offseason, but teams can obviously better position themselves with player acquisitions.
Beyond just the momentum of an offseason, there is often discussion about a team's own momentum at the end of the season. A year ago, I put together a post titled "2008 to 2009: Can the 49ers 'momentum' carry over?" It was based off a Don Banks SI.com column in which he suggested the 49ers would be a new playoff team in 2009 thanks to a combination of the strong finish to 2008 and the positioning of Mike Singletary as head coach. The 49ers did start 2009 strong, but a rough patch midway through, followed by inconsistency against good teams, was enough to derail any playoff chances.
In that post I expressed some skepticism about the idea of momentum carrying over from season to season. While I do think it's possible a team can build on a previous season, I think the 49ers are proof that it takes more than that kind of momentum to turn into a playoff team. One can look back to 2006, when the 49ers finished 7-9. I know I was quite excited at the end of the season, and anxious for the 2007 season to begin. Throw in a solid offseason, and I was convinced the 49ers would be headed to the playoffs. The team quickly proved that wrong when they fell apart in 2007.
In both 2006 and 2008, strong finishes came against relatively questionable competition. The best victory in 2006 was against a questionable Denver team. It eliminated them from playoff contention the final week of the season, but it's not like we were talking about an amazing Broncos squad. In 2008, the best win was a home victory over a Jets team that finished 9-7 and in third place in the AFC East.
So, I come back once again to the momentum issue. The 49ers finished 2009 3-1 in their last four, 5-3 in their last 8. Their best win was of course against Arizona, with the next best over the 7-9 Bears and Jaguars. Dominant defensive performances were key to all three wins. Does that finish really matter? I think one plus to the finish was that even though they "only" beat the lowly Lions and Rams, they did it in fairly convincing fashion.
So who out there believes in the possibility of season-to-season momentum? Initially I was going to say it's more a matter of taking that momentum and then building on it with the offseason acquisitions, but the 49ers proved in recent years that adding the talent won't ensure the victories. So, what can the 49ers take from the close of the 2009 season to potentially improve their level of success in 2010?