The San Francisco 49ers have had an incredible 3-0 start to the 2019 season. However, their schedule is about to get much more challenging, which should allow the Niners to prove whether they really are the top of the NFC.
The San Francisco 49ers have been electric this season. After years of consistently picking near the top of the NFL Draft, the Niners seem to have finally put all of the pieces together and become a contender again. The Niners have started the season 3-0 for the first time since 1989, a season in which they won a Super Bowl.
The 49ers’ incredible start to the season didn’t even stop when they were on bye this week. After Week 4’s Sunday slate of games, the Niners are now the only undefeated team left in the NFC. This puts them at first in the standings for both the NFC West and the NFC as a whole.
Additionally, the 49ers are second in point differential in the entire NFC, despite playing one less game than the rest of the conference. And, the only team they are behind is the Dallas Cowboys, who played the Miami Dolphins, so their point differential shouldn’t exactly count.
All three of the Niners’ wins have shown how the 49ers have improved this season. Week 1’s defensive lockdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers showcased the new and improved defense. Week 2’s offensive blowout against the Cincinnati Bengals showed what quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners run game can do when they hit a groove. And Week 3’s ugly, turnover-filled win over the Pittsburgh Steelers showed the Niners finally found a way to win the close games, which eluded them in recent seasons.
The fact the 49ers have turned it around cannot be denied. They have clearly improved significantly on both sides of the ball, and seem to be in a position to contend this season. However, it has to be taken into consideration not all of these wins have come against particularly good teams. The Buccaneers are coming off of a victory against the reigning NFC champion Los Angeles Rams this week, so they clearly are a solid team, which is a positive sign for the Niners.
But the Bengals and Steelers are not good teams at all this season. Both teams were 0-3 until they faced each other on Monday Night Football. The Bengals have been in complete disarray this season, despite reasonable production from their offense, and were missing star receiver A.J. Green. The Steelers were without future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and the Niners faced backup QB Mason Rudolph in his first NFL start.
So, both of those wins have to be taken with a grain of salt.
However, this does not mean the 49ers’ early success should be discounted. They have clearly been one of the best teams in the NFL to start the season. What it does mean is the next couple of weeks, in which the Niners will face some tougher opponents, are going to be crucial to fully evaluating the 2019 squad.
San Francisco’s next two games should allow the Niners to show what they are truly made of this season. First up is quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football in Week 5.
The Browns were the NFL’s most hyped-up team this past offseason. With Mayfield coming off of a record-setting rookie season, and the acquisition of superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns were expected to dominate the AFC.
It turned out to not be the debut they expected, when the Tennessee Titans pummeled the Browns in a 43-17 blowout. The Browns followed that up with a dominating victory of the New York Jets. But, well, that was against the New York Jets. Cleveland then played the Rams close, but ultimately lost. It seemed like the Browns, while very talented, were inexperienced, undisciplined and lacking good leadership from rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens.
But then, this past weekend, the Browns played the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens, who many considered one of the best teams in the NFL, with the high-scoring offense led by quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Browns played this Ravens team and absolutely stomped them 40-25.
This makes it very hard to truly evaluate Cleveland. But, it does seem it is a better team than any the Niners have faced so far. Therefore, a victory over the Browns would be a positive sign for the 49ers, but will still leave room for doubt as to whether or not they are as good as their record would say.
But a victory in the next week’s game would leave no room for doubt. In Week 6, the 49ers face the Rams, the reigning NFC champions, led by offensive wunderkind, head coach Sean McVay, with a bullying defense led by back-to-back reigning defensive player of the year, Aaron Donald.
Sure, the Rams just lost to the Buccaneers, but there is no doubt that they are the cream of the crop in the NFC.
If the Niners can go into Los Angeles and win, no one would be able to deny they are one of the NFL’s elite teams.
The 49ers seem to have a top NFL team right now. However, it is still unclear what that team’s ceiling is. If the Niners are 5-0 in two weeks after facing the Browns and the Rams, it will be clear they are one of the best teams in pro football, and that postseason success is a reasonable hope.
And, since they play the lowly and winless Washington Redskins Week 7, San Francisco is basically guaranteed to be 6-0 if it can make it to 5-0.