It’s a shame Justin Smith had to get hurt. I was really interested to see just how much of a quarterback league this really is. We know it’s a quarterback league. Of the last 21 Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, 20 made a Pro-Bowl first. As meaningless as the Pro-Bowl is and as bad a job as the fans do in voting in the correct players, they generally do a good job picking the correct quarterbacks as the traditional, easily available stats do a very good job of evaluating them (by that rule the only true Super Bowl contenders this year are Denver, New England, Atlanta, Washington, Houston, Green Bay, and Cincinnati.)
However, this team is one of the most complete in a long while and has some of the most non-quarterback talent. Colin Kaepernick has never made a Pro-Bowl; in fact, he has just 7 starts under his belt, but he’s played well and he gives them a better chance to win the Super Bowl than game manager Alex Smith. With Justin Smith healthy, I could see no reason not to make them the Super Bowl favorites and Kaepernick a strong candidate to be an exception to that rule. They have a ridiculous 12 players (none of whom are quarterbacks), who I thought had borderline Pro-Bowl seasons: (in no order) Frank Gore, Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Alex Boone, Michael Crabtree, Jonathan Goodwin, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Dashon Goldson, Ahmad Brooks (none of them were Pro-Bowler Donte Whitner).
However, Smith’s injury really hurts them. On a loaded defense, he’s the most irreplaceable player. In the first 6 quarters they were without him after he got hurt, they were outscored 80-23. They settled down somewhat against lowly Arizona, beating them 27-13, but still allowed them to pass for a touchdown for just the 3rd time since Kevin Kolb got hurt week 5.
He frequently takes on double teams and is the guy they center their defensive scheme around. He allows Aldon Smith to have one on ones, where he’s almost impossible to block (Smith not so surprisingly saw very little production in the final 10 quarters of the season without Justin in front of him). He’ll play this postseason, but whether or not he can be effective is questionable at best.
For that reason, I knocked them below the 3 teams above them in these Power Rankings. For the first time I can remember, we have significantly more quarterbacks in the playoffs who have never started a playoff game (6) than have ever won a Super Bowl (3). For that reason, the 3 who have (Rodgers, Brady, and Manning) have a tremendous advantage over the rest of the field and I think they are the three favorites right now. The 49ers would have not just been in that group but probably atop that group had Smith been 100%, but I don’t trust Kaepernick to win against any of the aforementioned quarterbacks without his full 100% supporting cast.
Projected fate: Lose to Green Bay in divisional round