Are the 49ers contenders?
Based on looking at each of these so-called contenders (and apologies to Bucs, Panthers, Lions and Vikings fans for not including basically every team in the NFC), the 49ers seem to fit the bill of a team that could make noise in a very crowded NFC.
San Francisco 49ers
They have Football Outsiders’ sixth ranked offense by DVOA at 13.1 percent, a unit that is Pro Football Focus’ fifth rated with a grade of 77.0. These numbers are not terribly surprising, given Kyle Shanahan and his ability to produce offensive numbers and efficiency. They’ve managed to keep quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo upright and healthy, which means the sky is the limit for the offense.
The major shock is how good the defense has been through three games in 2019. Football Outsiders has the 49ers as their second most-efficient defense with a DVOA of minus-35.9 percent, while PFF grades that unit out as fourth in the league, with a grade of 79.7.
The short answer, then, is a resounding one: absolutely.
Granted, the Niners have played one fewer game than the rest of the teams listed here, and there is always the question of whether or not this is just a hot start, the flames of which to be expunged by improved competition in the coming weeks.
All that said, other than the Monday Night Football contest coming up this week, and a trip to Los Angeles to play the Rams the following Sunday, the schedule, at least through the first half of the year, looks reasonable, if not outright working in the 49ers’ favor.
It’s important, then, the 49ers do what good teams do and take advantage of weaker opponents (like Washington, Arizona and, arguably, Carolina and Atlanta), to give themselves some wiggle room against teams they don’t match up with as favorably.
If they can do that, and then maybe sneak a win against a team that’s their equal or better, the 49ers should absolutely be considered among the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, if not just to make a strong run in the postseason.