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Introduction to the San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers are a formidable defensive team

When your team comes within one play of making the Super Bowl one year and winning the Super Bowl the next, you must be doing something right. With the 2013 season shaping up, it looks like once again the San Francisco 49ers are the team doing everything right, and remain the team to beat this year.  If forced to pick one reason why the San Francisco 49ers are what they are now, you would have to look at 2011's Coach of the Year Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh, who was hired in 2011, immediately transformed a struggling team into a title contender and a powerhouse in the NFC. His work is not done however and after the disappointment of losing to the Ravens in the Super Bowl last year, coached no less than his older brother John, Harbaugh is seeking to guide his team to its first Championship since 1994. Luckily for the 49ers they have managed to retain the core of their Super Bowl making squad and have even made some offseason moves to improve it.

Fear The D

When looking for a place to start on this San Francisco line up there really is no better place to start than their front seven on defence, which is widely considered to be the best in the league. This formidable unit is led by middle linebacker Patrick Willis who has already garnered favorable comparisons to other great linebackers such as Ray Lewis and has made the Pro Bowl every year of his career. Beside him stands third year star Aldon Smith at outside linebacker, a sack machine who is the fastest player to reach 30 sacks in NFL history and is guaranteed to give any opposing quarterback many a sleepless night. Paving the way for Aldon is another Smith; Justin Smith at defensive end, a veritable man mountain who despite being double teamed every down consistently makes plays and therefore allows the rest of this defensive corps to impact the game even more. The rest of this impressive line-up is rounded out by Ray MacDonald at defensive end, NaVarro Bowman at middle linebacker and Ahmad Brooks at outside linebacker, all great players in their own right but together this unit has proven it can cause difficulties to even the most high powered offense.

A New Identity

Speaking of high powered offenses, the 49ers aren't too shabby in the offensive department either. Harbaugh, a former quarterback himself, has shaped the offense into a multi-faceted threat that can gain yards in a variety of ways. Heading up the offense is breakout quarterback Colin Kaepernick who only won the starting job midway through last year and whose tenth game as a starter was the Super Bowl, not a bad resume for your first year but Kaepernick is not willing to rest on his laurels as he prepares for his first full season as starter. The key to Kaerpernick's success is his dual threat nature, a powerful and athletic player whose speed allows him to burn you on the ground, but also with the arm strength and accuracy to make throws all over the field. He is gifted with an abundance of potential targets as well. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree also had a breakout year last year as the two young players developed instant chemistry, offseason signing of wide receiver Anquan Boldin is a powerful player who can make catches in any coverage and tight end Vernon Davis is one of the best receiving tight ends in the game. Add to this a stout offensive line and the 49ers have potential to rack up points like it's going out of style.

Time To Step Up

The key for Harbaugh and company is keeping these players healthy, Crabtree has already suffered a season ending injury, and taking advantage of the opportunities given to them. Football is a cruel game and with two near misses already the team must capitalise on having such a talented roster while it can. Just ask the Buffalo Bills of the 1990s who made four consecutive Super Bowls and lost all of them what it means to not live up to the moment. For the San Francisco 49ers however, the pedigree and tradition is prevalent.  This is a franchise forged on the back of visionary coach Bill Walsh and one of the greatest postseason quarterbacks ever, Joe Montana. During their reign the 49ers won all 4 of their Super Bowl appearances, the first in 1981 and the last in 1989 while the next era with Steve Young under centre won another in 1994. Harbaugh and the rest of the San Francisco organisation are aware of this and will be making every attempt to make this their winning year.

It's Never Easy

Playing in the NFC West however means it won't be a walk in the park as its one of the strongest divisions in football. The Seattle Seahawks have championship aspirations of their own and have already beaten the Niners in Seattle, a notoriously difficult place to play, in week two of this season. The Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams have also been steadily improving and provide tough tests for even the most talented of teams, playing them twice a year is no easy task. If the Niners were to make the playoffs the NFC holds many formidable opponents. The Green Bay Packers are a threat to everybody on their day and will be looking to avenge not only their playoff loss last year in San Francisco but also their week one loss this season. After the disappointment of previous years the expectation and pressure is high in the Bay Area for this Niners team and it will be up to Harbaugh to guide his talented roster back to the Promised Land once again but this time not comeback empty handed.

Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh

Super Bowl Appearances:  1981, 1984, 1988, 1989, 1994, 2012

Biggest Rivalries: Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers

Jersey to buy: #7 QB Colin Kaepernick, #52 MLB Patrick Willis, #99 OLB Aldon Smith, #94 DE Justin Smith, #85 TE Vernon Davis