San Francisco 49ers
2009 record: 8-8 (Second in NFC West)
Steve WycheEverything hinges on Alex Smith. Young O-line could have issues but there is talent everywhere. Adding Brian Westbrook is nice touch.
18Touchdowns Alex Smith threw in 11 games (10 starts) last season. He needs to maintain that pace for a full season if the 49ers are to fulfill expectations and if he is to save his career.
The former No. 1 overall pick is viewed as the weak link on a team with serious postseason aspirations. Although Smith showed promise at times last season, his previous history of underperformance has inspired little confidence in his ability to win big games under pressure. With so many of the 49ers' hopes resting on his shoulders, the pressure is on Smith to deliver this season.
Josh MorganMorgan has been overshadowed by the 49ers' more prominent young receivers, but his emergence as a playmaker has made the passing attack lethal. As a crafty route runner with outstanding hands and running skills, Morgan is an underrated home run hitter. With defenses intent on slowing down Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree in the passing game, Morgan should continue to carve up opponents without much fanfare.
Crabtree ready to break outMichael Crabtree won't be the next Jerry Rice overnight, but he has a ton of talent and could be on the verge of a breakout fantasy season. With a full training camp and preseason, the Texas Tech product could post 70 catches and 1,000-plus yards for fantasy owners in 2010.
Three pivotal games
Sept. 20 vs. New Orleans
This isn't just any ol' home opener. It's Monday Night Football. And it's against the defending Super Bowl champions no less. All offseason we've heard about the potential the 49ers have to take over the division and perhaps become a contender in the NFC. This is their chance to prove all the prognosticators correct. Beating the Saints is the biggest statement they could make.
Oct. 10 vs. Philadelphia
This matchup already featured two teams with playoff aspirations, but when the 49ers signed veteran RB Brian Westbrook, the meeting took on greater importance. Westbrook spent the first eight years of his career in Philadelphia and will get a chance to show the Eagles he still has something left in the tank. As for the 49ers, they must win games like this at home to make the playoffs.
Nov. 29 at Arizona
When you get into Week 12 and the final game before December rolls around, wins and losses tend to have division and playoff implications. And the result of this Monday night affair against Arizona might give the winner the inside track to the NFC West title. These teams meet again in the season finale, but the Niners could make that one less important with a win here.