2012 Record: 11-4-1

2012 Downfall

Defense Cut to Pieces
The 49ers defense allowed just 17.1 PPG during the regular season, second best average in the NFL. In five games, their stellar D held opponents to seven points or less, including a 34-0 bludgeoning of the New York Jets in Week 4. But their stonewallings wouldn't last.

By season's end, Seattle and New England were piling up points on them. In the playoffs, Green Bay and Atlanta scored 31 and 24 points on them respectively. Baltimore dealt the final blow, defeating them in Super Bowl XLVII 34-31, after piling on the offense early.

The 49ers barely allowed 200 passing YPG during the season; Joe Flacco drilled them for 274, three touchdown passes (building to a 21-3 lead) and no picks. San Francisco also possessed the third best third-down percentage in the league, allowing only 33 percent conversions. The Ravens converted 56.3 percent (9 of 16) in making their championship case.

Last Gasp Drive Stalls
Down 28-6 after a Jacoby Jones 108-yard kickoff return opened the third quarter, it looked bleak for the team by the Bay. But Colin Kaepernick and the gang dug in, scoring 17 points in the third quarter to make it 28-23 heading into the final act.

Between two Ravens field goals, Kaepernick scored on a 15-yard run, with the two point conversion missing. With four minutes and change remaining, down 34-29, Kaepernick led the 49ers back down the field, getting goal to go on the Ravens 7.

LaMichael James ran for two yards on first down. An incomplete pass to Michael Crabtree followed. On third down, Kaepernick went back to Crabtree, getting another incompletion with an interference non-call. Another incompletion on fourth led to the Niners losing the big game for the first time ever.

2013 Projected Wins: 11.5

Top 3 Rookies
-Eric Reid, S (1/18): The 49ers traded up for this sure-tackler who stood out for an LSU team that lost Tyrann Mathieu last season, compiling 91 tackles and two picks.

-Cornellius Carradine, DE (2/40): "Tank" comes off of an ACL tear this past November, and hopes to return to the form that made him a potent run-stuffer.

-Vance McDonald, TE (2/55): Necessary for use as a run-blocker in an offense filled with a multi-faceted running attack, but has cases of dropsies as a pass catcher.

Other Moves
The biggest story involving the 49ers this offseason saw the team deal former first-overall pick Alex Smith to Kansas City for a couple of draft picks. Now backing up Kaepernick is Colt McCoy, for which San Francisco shipped their fifth and seventh round picks to Cleveland.

In the, "if you can't beat em, trade for em" category, San Fran sent their sixth rounder to Baltimore for Anquan Boldin. Struggling kicker David Akers got ditched this offseason, and fellow 1990s hanger-on Phil Dawson will be his replacement.

The 49ers are also adding depth to their secondary after some late-season hiccups in the pass defense. Suddenly-maligned corner Nnamdi Asomugha will back up at corner, while Craig Dahl and Darcel McBath provide padding at the safety position.

Potential Starting Lineup
QB - Colin Kapernick
RB - Frank Gore
FB - Bruce Miller
WR - Anquan Boldin
WR - Mario Manningham
TE - Vernon Davis
LT - Joe Staley
LG - Mike Iupati
C - Jonathan Goodwin
RG - Alex Boone
RT - Anthony Davis

DE - Ray McDonald
NT - Ian Williams
DT - Justin Smith
OLB - Ahmad Brooks
ILB - NaVorro Bowman
ILB - Patrick Willis
OLB - Aldon Smith
CB - Carlos Rogers
CB - Tarell Brown
FS - Eric Reid
SS - Donte Whitner

K - Phil Dawson
P - Andy Lee
LS - Brian Jennings

2013 at a Glance
Five of the last ten teams to lose the Super Bowl have missed the playoffs the following year, though it hasn't happened since the 2008 Patriots just missed.

Still, if the 49ers are looking to rekindle the recent tradition of the "Losers' Hangover", Michael Crabtree provides them with an onerous omen.

After a year in which he had 1105 yards and 9 touchdowns, Crabtree tore his ACL in May OTAs. Though the injury isn't the surefire season-ender that it once was, Crabtree will likely begin 2013 on the team's PUP list.

The Boldin trade ended up being a prescient move on San Francisco's part. But until Crabtree's return, Boldin's partner-in-crime will either be Manningham (449 yds) or the still plastic-wrapped AJ Jenkins.

Even if Crabtree was healthy, the offense still faces questions heading into the season. Chief among them is if Kaepernick will be as dynamic as he was in 2012, or if he'll be a one-hit-wonder.

There is now a whole season for opponents to game-plan for the offense Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman have assembled around the 25-year-old. As more and more teams run pistol/spread offenses, more and more defenses will know what to expect.

If Kaepernick is to continue his successes, he has to be adaptable. Seven teams that San Francisco plays next season (Seattle twice, Arizona twice, Green Bay, Houston, and Carolina) finished in the top 12 in least yards allowed.

Another question facing the 49ers is their pass defense. After allowing just two teams to clear 250 passing yards in their first eight games, three did it in the second half of the season. This was followed by three playoff games of allowing 248 (Green Bay), 396 (Atlanta), and 274 (Baltimore).

As alluded to earlier, for the year, San Francisco boasted impressive defensive numbers (200.2 YPG). That average was a mere 184 YPG after eight games, including holding three opponents to 115 yards or less.

In spite of the Super Bowl loss, and bits of uncertainty regarding how 2013 will shake out, the 49ers are at least back among the NFL's elite once more. Not only is their quality of play on the field among the NFL's best, but they've even developed a headline-worthy blood feud with Seattle.

Harbaugh's rivalry with Pete Carroll goes back to their Stanford-USC days of the recent past. Harbaugh has been quick to point out the scandalous nature of Carroll's squads, most recently by noting the PED use among the Seahawks.

Carroll took the high road, but Seattle corner Brandon Browner indicated he wouldn't mind getting his hands around Harbaugh's neck. Week 2 on NBC Sunday Night Football, get the hype machine rolling.

The only thing harder than getting to the top is staying there. With a speed-heavy offense, and a run-stuffing defense that contains the majority of their foes, the 49ers are the epitome of a target. If a team wants to reach the apex, they have to know how to beat a team like this.

Luckily for the 49ers, there aren't many run-stopping roadblocks on their 2013 schedule. Tampa Bay and Houston are their only opponents that allowed four yards a carry or less in 2012. If the defense continues to play strong, it'll be another strong year ahead.

Prediction: 11-5