Michael Lombardi:49ers a Playoff contender

In his recent breakdown of the NFC teams, Michael Lombardi of NFL.com gave his opinion on how much of a power each NFC team would be this coming season. He had them in five categories:

Blue-chip team: Super Bowl contender
Red-chip team: Playoff contender
Green-chip team: Middle-of-the-pack team
Orange-chip team: Improving but still not near the playoffs
Brown-chip team: No chance to win and the year will be a long one

According to Lombardi, the 49ers are a Red-chip team, meaning they should make the playoffs.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers are a solid team in almost every area. In fact, they might have made the playoffs last year had they not faced the AFC South. Losing on the road to Houston and Indy, and then at home to the Titans, all but ended their playoff chances. But the 49ers discovered their offensive identity during that losing stretch and the best way to utilize quarterback Alex Smith. Smith is best when he can run the spread offense like he did in college, and if the 49ers can pass protect better and improve their ability to convert on third down, they will be a very good team in 2010. They have many of the pieces in place to be a playoff team, but playoff teams win on the road; the 49ers can’t go 2-6 when they leave San Francisco this coming season. They won their road opener and finale, but lost every away game in between. Winning on the road in the NFL requires an offensive line that can handle the elements without affecting execution. Behind an improved offensive line, I believe the 49ers will be a red-chip team.

Indeed, the 49ers were woeful on the road last season, a common trait of young, inexperienced teams. This season, they should at worst have an even road record. Will that be enough to carry them onto the playoffs? It should be, as long as they also continue to improve on the other areas that hurt them last season.

The 49ers are the only NFC West team considered a Playoff contender by Lombardi.

The Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints are the only Super Bowl contenders.

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