Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 7/9/12
The San Francisco 49ers are coming off a 13-win season, but look hungry after being exited by the New York Giants in the NFC championship game.

Their season ended after a few crucial fumbles in that NFC Championship which ended with a final score of 20-17.

San Francisco has been very active in the offseason acquiring a few key players in free agency (no not Peyton Manning), and also through the Draft.

They are as ready as can be for the upcoming 2012 NFL season.

This new and improved San Francisco team is absolutely loaded with Pro Bowl caliber players.

One of them is not Peyton Manning who San Francisco tried pursuing in free agency, but Manning chose the Denver Broncos.

If Peyton Manning did happen to chose San Francisco they would have been the clear cut favorite to win the Super Bowl, but they were unable to pull him in and are stuck with Alex Smith. Smith is a mediocre quarterback at best who had a his best season in 2011. His decent season did lead San Francisco to a 13-3 record, but surely the surrounding players had a huge impact.

San Francisco ended a nine-year playoff drought just one year after hiring the most intense coach in the NFL, Jim Harbaugh. After a phenomenal regular season San Francisco was ready to face off against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs.

Alex Smith displayed a glimpse of why he was the No. 1 overall pick back in 2005 (something he does not do often) by throwing the game-winning touchdown in the last few seconds of the game to tight end Vernon Davis.

San Francisco won the game 36-32 but were unfortunately knocked out in the next round by the New York football Giants. Alex Smith showed just a tad bit that if given the chance he can be the guy for this San Francisco team, but can he really be that guy?

Who is Alex Smith, and why is he the starting quarterback for this star studded San Francisco team?

Alex Smith was drafted out of the University of Utah, first-overall by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2005 NFL Draft. In this same Draft, All-Pro running back Frank Gore was drafted in the third-round by San Francisco. Gore was an extraordinary third-round selection considering what he has done in his career so far (3x Pro Bowler). What seemed like a great draft at the time for the team, you can now look back and say they made one of the biggest mistakes in franchise history taking Smith No. 1 overall.

San Francisco was looking to fill a void at the quarterback position so even though players such as Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Shawne Merriman, DeMarcus Ware etc., were drafted after Smith, they were not worried about it.

San Francisco got what they wanted, or what they thought they wanted, There wasn't another quarterback drafted until the 24th pick was made by the Green Bay Packers. This pick was quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Yes, Aaron Rodgers, currently one of the best in the league. San Francisco failed miserable not drafting Rodgers, and they absolutely know this as a franchise, but they must work with what they have and that is currently Alex Smith

Alex Smith's numbers have not been great since entering the NFL, but Smith led his team to the NFC Championship this most recent season, and with feasible numbers. Smith's stat line consisted of 273 of 445 (61.3%), 3,144 yards, 17 TD, 5 INT, 5 fumbles; with a quarterback rating of 90.7, and he even ran for two touchdowns.

Also on the fully loaded offense is Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, specialist Ted Ginn and tight end Vernon Davis, who are all players at skill positions that played for San Francisco in the previous season. The acquisitions from free agency were big acquisitions and include wide receiver Randy Moss, former New York wide receiver Mario Manningham, and another former New York running back in Brandon Jacobs. Joe Staley is the lone Pro Bowler leading the offensive line.

Then there was the Draft in which San Francisco did another exceptional job adding wide receiver, A.J. Jenkins and former Oregon Duck and Heisman finalist LaMichael James. These additions were great for the franchise and expect the San Francisco 49ers' offense to be in full swing in the 2012 NFL season.

Then there is the defense, which is top notch, arguably the best in the league. Defense is stacked with players such as linebacker Patrick Willis, second-year player Aldon Smith, cornerback Carlos Rogers, and safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner.

Patrick Willis is the clear leader of the defense, and is quite possibly the best defensive player in the NFL. Willis is a 5x Pro Bowler, consecutively for the past five seasons. Willis made an immediate impact coming into the league winning Rookie of the Year.

He has been named to the Pro Bowl and received All-Pro honors ever since entering the NFL five years ago when he was drafted eleventh overall in 2007. His impact has been made and it doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon. A poll was taken by ESPN and Willis was named as the best linebacker in the NFL, as he won this in a complete landslide.

This team is coming off a great regular season of 13-3 which will certainly be hard to match but they are in a very mediocre division which contains the Seattle Seahawks,  St Louis Rams, and Arizona Cardinals.

Its clear that San Francisco is the best team in this division so expect them to to take the NFC West, but it's not all about the regular season though -- as we all know when the 15-1 Green Bay Packers were knocked out after their bye week, and San Francisco knocked out after a stellar 13-3 season.

Its all about that playoff push, and being hot, catching fire. Will the San Francisco 49ers catch fire heading into the playoffs for the upcoming season? They certainly should. Look out for this San Francisco 49er team, lead by their defense, in 2012 as they try and make a push towards the Super Bowl.



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