When a team is good enough to make it to the Super Bowl it usually becomes a bitter sweet moment. The joy that comes with the success of the big game is followed by a team that gets the roster picked clean in free agency and the let down of probably not making it back next year. It appears the 49ers have at least avoided the former. The team will certainly miss some key guys from last years team with the departure of Alex Smith, Goldson and Walker, but they have also made some additions. Anquan Boldin is a huge upgrade at the position, especially since Crabtree is going to miss significant time. This team still has the talent to make a deep playoff run...at least.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman runs a detailed system that calls for a variety of personnel groups. It constantly keeps defenses on their toes because the 49ers can change looks completely from one play to the next. However, at their core the team is old-school all the way. They have a big strong offensive line that likes to get out there and rough the other team up. All the read options and deep balls are built off of that.
Colin Kaepernick burst onto the scene in mid-November last season and quickly became the driving force of this offense. In his first start he against the Bears he showed he had the ability to throw the ball well from the pocket and with each game proved he had more wrinkles than expected. His versatility and not having any glaring weaknesses is what makes Kaepernick effective. One likely let down this season will be his interceptions. He only threw an amazingly low 3 interceptions last season, but that doesn't count the 5 drops by defenders and the throws broken up by Randy Moss. As he plays a full season and doesn't get those fortunate breaks his interceptions will definitely climb into the teens.
Even though Frank gore looked like he started to sputter out at the end of 2011, he proved it was a mirage by putting up over 1,200 yards last season. The team depends on his consistent play to open up the big runs for Kaepernick and the downfield throws to the receivers. Gore should put up another year of impressive numbers. They're going to need it too considering how they stack up in the receiver department. The front office must have felt like they were putting the final piece in place in a jigsaw puzzle when they picked up Boldin in the offseason. I think he is going to be a great fit for the team. However, he has a style of game that is unlike that of Crabtree. They are good complements to each other, not replacements. With Crabtree out the team is missing a skill set that they can't replace with who they have on their roster. He is going to be missed.
Last year defensive coordinator Vic Fangio schemed this defense to be one of the best in the NFL. Ranking 3rd overall and 4th in both pass and run defense it obvious these guys know how to play. However, some of the key memories from last season are a few late season mishaps including plays in the Super Bowl.
The strength of this defense is the linebacking corp, it's the best in the NFL. All four starters return and that can only spell more success for the 49ers defense. Three of the starting four linebackers are big name guys; Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and the latest bloomer Navorro Bowman. Everyone knows how good Willis is, Smith set a franchise record with 19.5 sacks last season and Bowman quietly led the team in tackles. The 4th starter is the much lesser known Brooks. Don't mistake his unheralded play for a weakness, he is a solid player who consistently performs. His only problem is there is there is only so much media attention to go around, on most other teams he would be a bigger name.
Even though the linebackers are the strongest unit on this team, no one player effects overall production more than Justin Smith. Late last season he was playing with a bicep that was more than 50% torn and it's no coincidence when that happened is when overall production also dropped. How he comes back and his ability to disrupt opposing offenses will determine whether or not this unit remains in the top 3 this year.
As good as this team is, it's going to be tough to make it back to Super Bowl Sunday. Not only are the odds against them but the team lost Crabtree for a big part of the season and Smith and Rogers are both a year older. However, you would be a fool to count them out. Once the playoffs start the team could easily get hot and go on an amazing run. You don't have to be the best team all season, just at the end.